James Bond is on the hunt, and Vladimir Putin is in his sights. The real-life counterparts of the most famous Commander in the Royal Navy have been publicly tasked to go after Putin’s thugs and assassins. The elite SAS Army operators (“The Regiment”, the original ‘Tier One’) are merging with MI6, Britain’s CIA, and being sent after Russian interference in Western democracy. This is an extraordinary move in the spy war, one full of aggression and escalation, so let’s look at what it means.
As the Canadian Armed Forces in the US once memorably put it, ‘Yes, we’re kind. Yes, we’re polite. Yes, we’re apologetic. Until we’re not.’
The same might be said of Her Majesty’s Government, who avoid confrontation and war whereever possible. The attempted and achieved assassinations on British soil of Russians who helped Chris Steele - Alexander Litvinenko, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, with Dawn Sturgess actually killed as collateral damage in the failed Skripal attempt - were answered, at least in public, with diplomatic action. Sources linked to UK intelligence told me in 2018 that in the case of Litvinenko, the matter was answered in kind by British operators, who eliminated an unspecified target with ammunition not sourced from the United States, so that there would be no doubt as to who was responsible. (Further details, such as the nature of the target or the action, were not offered nor did I seek them).
The interesting thing about last month’s announcement, therefore, is that it was announced. In espionage terms, it is not necessarily the black ops themselves that represent the aggression; it’s naive to think this stuff doesn’t happen all the time, in ways the public never notices. But normally, face is saved between nations by concerted efforts to disavow responsibility, in however laughable a manner, like Putin suggesting that “patriotic” private hackers who had nothing to do with him might have sabotaged the US 2016 election. The outrageous thing from the Kremlin’s point of view is not that Britain is sending the SAS into the field to f**k up the Russians, but that we are telling the world we are doing it.
In Christopher Felix’s seminal “A Short Course in the Secret War”, the master spy remarked on this phenomenon:
This is one explanation - whatever others there may be - of Krushchev’s rage when, even with the talkative U-2 pilot Powers in his hands, he stated publicly his certainty that President Eisenhower was not personally responsible, only to have the President publicly avow his responsibility…. avowal of responsibility has a specific meaning. It is interpreted by the enemy as a threat…. the avower puts himself in the position of demonstrating indifference to the international political balance…his avowal may even be taken to imply he intends to change it, by any and all means.
Avowal of a covert operation, however implicit, is a hostile act, and it is wise never to indulge in hostile acts unless one is able and prepared to back them up
There is no question that the spy chiefs and military brass of Great Britain know all of the above. A conscious decision has therefore clearly been reached to mess with Russia’s assasination squads and Wagner mercenaries and to tell Russia what we are doing. Furthermore, we have announced that this is taking place “due to Russian meddling” which has not yet stopped.
Sanctions have certainly had their effect. Putin has backed down from war with Ukraine, no doubt fearing that the United States would extend their sanctions against his nation into the secondary bond market, which would cause Russia true financial pain.
Read “Rudy Guiliani’s World of Hurt”, (for paid subscribers)… going behind the scenes on Toensing, Parnas, and Firtash and what these raids mean for Trump Russia prosecutions under Biden in general
But the economy of Russia was not hit as hard as it might have been, causing a small resurgence for their nation’s economy in the wider markets. In announcing what amounts to ‘avowed covert’ action, Britain, and by extension, America, may be telling the world how they plan to deal with Putin and his cronies; by ‘direct action’ as the euphemism goes, in other words, by finding and assassinating some of those responsible. (Because the British government is bound by its own laws and norms, these actions will be designated as classified military actions, and one way or the other you will never know what happened, as Russia will not announce that its enemies have been successful where the would-be assassins of the Skripals have failed). It is not as easy as it seems to punish Putin and the Russian government without causing chaos. Sources linked to the intelligence communities of more than one Western nation have long described the problem as a thorny one; Russia has many small nuclear weapons and rockets that are not as closely secured as they might be, and for all Putin’s bombast, there are worse and even stupider leaders than him in the Russian duma who might have gotten high off their own propaganda supply and who might truly be prepared to do something idiotic. The West has more than enough information on Putin to remove him at will, should they wish to do so, including exposing exactly how much wealth he has, how he stole it from the Russian people and where he keeps it. They do not - for now - wish to do so, but, on the other hand, minor sanctions that don’t really hurt United Russia all that much are insufficient deterrents to Russia not to do it again.
Avowed direct action is a calculated insult. It is also intended to make individual Russian ganglords, oligarchs and spy chiefs nervous, and angry with their boss, Vladimir Vladimirovich. If the West does not accept “we were just following orders” as an excuse, then the thugs and criminals (“mob mob mob”) who carry out Putin’s idiotic and suicidal orders are now going to have to watch their backs. President Putin, too, will be wise to think he should be careful. At the moment, he is regarded as useful to the West in terms of preventing chaos in the Russia he has steered into such decline. But Five Eyes, and the rest of NATO, are on Russia’s internal affairs, and as soon as a viable leader emerges whom America and Britain prefer to work with, the thin veil of protection Putin presently hides behind will evaporate. Vova might want to consider, seriously, the type of enemies he wishes to make. Because James Bond’s younger, rougher cousins have just been handed double-0 status, and they will be willing and able to make use of it, without being caught and needing to give television interviews about their burning desire to see the wrought-iron gates of St. Nicholas Church in Taganrog.
Tomorrow’s piece (subscribers) will discuss the UK’s previously secret real-life counterparts to ‘Strikeback’ and what this announcement means in terms of Special Operations and the spy world (spoiler: nothing good for the enemy).
Read: Exclusive: MI6's Real Life 'Mixed Teams' Strike Back Against Putin (for paid subscribers) - the UK decloaks the real ‘Strikeforce’ - explaining the secret units that have long existed in Britain and how they work hand-in-glove with American counterpart
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