Russian forces advancing in Georgia during the 5-days war which became known as the Russo-Georgia War
In Part 2 of this five part series we study the period between the Russian invasion of Georgia in support of the separatist Republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and how the military intervention shaped the Russian strategy for the annexation of Crimea around 6 years later:
Part 2: The Russo-Georgia War
A Timeline of Russian Interference / Continued ...
2008, August 08: Russia invades Georgia after the Georgian Army engaged separatist forces in South Ossetia. The invasion leads to a 5-days war, leading to an increased presence of Russian forces in the break-away Georgian republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia which collectively represents a fifth of Georgian sovereign territory. [Pro-West] Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko confirmed his support to Georgia, much to Russia’s dissatisfaction.
The major significance of the 2008 Russo-Georgian War is that it served as a rehearsal for the Russian Armed Forces for what they had planned for Ukraine at a much larger scale. The problem the Russians had until its forces entered Georgia, was that public trust in the capabilities of its military was at an all time low, especially after the defeats Russian forces suffered during the 1st Chechen War, followed by the 'Aleppo style' destruction Russia sustained during the 2nd Chechen War in a conflict fighting its own citizens within its own territory. To regain public trust in Russia's self-perceived 'military might', Georgia offered two pro-Russian populations within the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Prior to the Russian invasion of Georgia, the Russian intelligence services and political corps started their plans of initiating public discontent for the Georgia government within the break-away regions, further fueled by instigating the Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili (also to become the Governor of Odessa, Ukraine, on May 30, 2015), to publicly voice his dissatisfaction towards Russian interference in Georgian internal affairs, which in turn spurned growing anti-Russian public responses amongst the Georgians not belonging to the break-away regions, also blaming the populations of the break-away regions for helping Russia. For the Russian Armed Forces, its military intervention in Georgia was a major success, and Moscow achieved its objectives of gaining additional 'near foreign' territories of influence, along with heightened public trust in the Russian Armed Forces. However, Russian military planners did learn the following lessons from its military intervention (the first foreign intervention post-USSR):
1. Pre-conflict mobilization is more effective using regular forces instead of calling up reserve forces. The reason for this is that a reserve forces mobilization causes unnecessary alarm, which would give forewarning to an opponent that a foreign military intervention was imminent. No reserves were mobilized by the Russian Armed Forces during the intervention in Georgia, why the Georgian Armed Forces were unprepared for the Russian invasion. The same procedures were followed prior to the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, and invasion of Ukraine in 2022;
2. Over the period 8-9 August 2008, Russia sustained the following combat aircraft losses:
August 08, 2008:
1x Sukhoi Su-25 shot down by a Russian SAM.
August 09, 2008:
1x Tupolev Tu-23M3 shot down by Georgian GBADS,
1x Sukhoi Su-24 shot down by Georgian SAM,
1x Sukhoi Su-25 shot down by Russian supplied South Ossetian SAMs,
1x Sukhoi Su-25 shot down by Russian GBADS (ZSU-23),
1x Sukhoi Su-24 shot down by Russian SAM.
Of the six Russian combat losses, four losses were caused by Russian ground based air defenses. This highlighted Russia's need to improve its IFF procedures, and to improve training of ground forces. During the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Russian ground forces proved much better at IFF procedures compared to the Georgian intervention.
3. Following the French-brokered peace negotiations between Russia and Georgia, Russia announced its new 'template' for future foreign interventions, stating that it would not hesitate to conduct any military intervention against any nation threatening native Russian speakers in the world. Basically, Putin weaponized the Russian language, and the West accepted it. At this point in time, Russia was already emboldened to continue with the advancement of its next phase of expansion into Ukraine.
4. In terms of combat effectiveness and mission readiness of the total Russian forces deployed, 60% of all equipment failed in the field of operations due to low serviceability caused by poor maintenance. Additional problems were experienced with counter-battery radars, as well as limited access to satellite imagery, insufficient electronic warfare capability, and limited access to UAV's.
5. The Russian Air Force performed poorly and exposed significant weaknesses in capabilities including reconnaissance, targeting, and strategic attack. The Russian aircraft were also incapable of operating at night, and it made limited use of precision guided munitions.
When Russia entered Georgia, it was Moscow's objective to occupy the whole of Georgia, and to remove Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili from power. Russia was however stopped from occupying the whole of Georgia due to resistance from NATO under the leadership of the United States, which was further reinforced when the leaders of the baltic states, along with the Presidents of Poland and Ukraine, gathered in Tbilisi to support the Georgian President against the Russia aggression. However, we still need to understand WHY Russia was determined to control Georgia and its government. One of President Saakashvili's objectives during his presidential term was to enable Georgia joining NATO, which was of great concern to Russia. However, the Georgian desire to join NATO was to safeguard its share of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline which supplied oil from Azerbaijan to Turkey via Georgia. Georgia has no significant oil and gas value, but its share of the pipeline would enable a steady stream of revenue to the government gained from the transportation of oil through its territory. This was of major strategic importance to the United States who wished to decrease Western dependence on Middle East oil from Middle East OPEC members who were gradually weaponizing oil trade against the West, along with reducing the impact on the Western economic system in the event of the (not so unlikely) scenario where either or both the Strait of Hormuz and the Suez Canal were blocked off. Russia considered the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline as a major threat to future oil sales potential, why Russia has its military deployed in Armenia (neighboring Azerbaijan), and why current relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan are tense.
2008, August 12: French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev meet to agree on a 6 point peace plan in Georgia. The plan embodied the following statutes:
1. No recourse to the use of force
2. Definitive cessation of hostilities
3. Free access to humanitarian aid (and to allow the return of refugees)
4. Georgian military forces must withdraw to their normal bases of encampment
5. Russian military forces must withdraw to the lines prior to the start of hostilities. While awaiting an
international mechanism, Russian peacekeeping forces will implement additional security measures (six months)
6. Opening of international discussions on the modalities of lasting security in Abkhazia and South Ossetia
(based on the decisions of the UN and the OSCE)
After the ceasefire was signed, hostilities did not immediately end due to advancing Russian armor, troops and mercenaries. The Georgian government officially proclaims its withdrawal from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
One of the effects of the Russo-Georgian War was the development of a political rift between the ex-Soviet Eastern European EU member states, and the traditional Western European nations. This was caused by NATO Europe's refusal to resist a growingly hostile Russia, with the Eastern European nations still remembering the Russian dominated Soviet era while noticing and voicing their growing dissatisfaction with Russia's increasing influence within the political systems of the most dominant Western European nations (especially Germany, Austria and France). For this reason, much to the dislike of especially France and Germany, the Eastern European nations within the EU preferred developing military alliances with the United States. As Eastern European EU member states aligned themselves more with the United States via the NATO alliance system, both Germany and France felt they were losing both economic- and political control over European states to which they believe they are more entitled to as senior EU members (which became the basis for the growing anti-US sentiment in Europe, not Donald Trump's hard stance towards especially France and Germany during his administration, which proved to be necessary). However, based on the rate of Western European support to Ukraine since the Russian invasion of Ukraine starting 2014 to present, the expanding Eastern European alliance with the United States is rightly justified, and proves all that is wrong within traditional European society. Russia does not fear the EU and its NATO member states, it fears the United States and its growing influence over the Eastern European states caused by the failures of the traditional Western European leadership (which was partially enabled by Russian targeted interference). That is the source of Russia's self-perceived insecurities.
2008, September 09: Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko attends the EU-Ukraine Summit in Paris to discuss Ukraine’s future membership to the EU. There was however a lack of unity amongst the EU member states regarding Ukraine’s future.
2008, November 20: Viktor Yanukovych attends the United Russia congress in Russia.
2009, January 01: Gazprom, the Russian state-owned gas company, stops pumping gas to Ukraine after months-long failure to confirm prices. This causes a gas crisis in eastern- and central Europe (mostly Germany). After intense pressure from the EU, Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko compromises and gives in to Russian demands to enable commencement of gas supplies on January 20, 2009.
Yulia Tymoshenko served as Prime Minister at the time, and on October 11, 2011, she would be sentenced to 7 years imprisonment for her involvement in the countering of the Russian proposals during the failed negotiations for ‘abusing her office’, although it was mainly considered a form of punishment for resisting Russian demands exercised via then President Viktor Yanukovych.
2009, January 12: Russian nuclear-powered battle cruiser, Pyotr Velikiy (Peter the Great), the flagship of the Russian Northern Fleet, arrives in Cape Town, South Africa, on a friendly visit on route to India from Venezuela. The Kirov-class cruiser was accompanied by the Udaloy-Class anti-submarine destroyer, Admiral Chabanenko, and the supply vessel, Ivan Bolnov. The vessels were deployed to the Caribbean Sea to conduct joint naval exercises with the Venezuelan Navy, commemorating the first Russian naval exercise in the Caribbean since the end of the Cold War.
2009, February 16: The Mayor of Sevastopol confirmed in a press conference that the residents of Crimea opposed any attempts to become part of Russia based on a poll.
2009, February 19: On the 55th year celebrations since the transfer of Crimea from the Russian SFSR to the Ukrainian SSR, around 400 people protested against the historical transfer of Crimea to the Ukraine.
2009, March 31: Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko addresses the Parliament to call on reforms to address structural problems that exist within the Ukrainian political system.
The reforms, which Yushchenko called a 'next big step forward for fairness and prosperity in Ukraine' included the following proposals:
1. Restore financial stability in the country by implementing the International Monetary Fund reforms and a balanced budget
2. Abolish parliamentary immunity
3. Fair pension system based on the number of years of work and salary received
4. Pass a realistic state budget for 2009 that reduces inflation and stabilizes the hryvnia
5. Have the state assume responsibility for struggling banks
6. Rejuvenate rural areas by eliminating state interference in agriculture production
7. Promote Ukrainian products abroad to increase sales for Ukraine's producers
8. EU membership and increased trade while simultaneously improving relations and trade with Russia
9. Allow voters to elect members of parliament from the areas where they live
10. Open party lists for both parliamentary and local elections
11. Create bicameral parliament to bring stability to the legislative branch
12. Reduce the number of members of parliament
Yushchenko also advocated NATO membership for Ukraine, and stated that he was against promoting Russian as the second state language in Ukraine. According to Yushchenko, a good future for the country is impossible without national unity. Yushchenko also advocates the formation of a single Orthodox Church of Ukraine, thus unifying the current three branches of the Orthodox church in Ukraine (the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate, the only one recognized by the world orthodox community, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate, and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church). He also said that the difficulties of relations between Ukraine and Russia are because the countries follow different directions and have different system of values. Yushchenko thinks that "the Russia-Georgia war of August 2008 poses a threat that European leaders still haven’t addressed". He has also called for a demarcation of borders between Russia and Ukraine, which has been delayed by Russia since Ukraine won independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 (delayed by Russia since they deemed it unnecessary in the event of Russia occupying Ukraine).
2009, June 02: Viktor Yanukovych announces his intention to run for election as President of Ukraine. He is endorsed by the Party of Regions and the Youth Party of Ukraine (another political party influenced by Viktor Yanukovych since its establishment during 1999).
2009, August 24: Ethnic Russians demonstrate against Ukraine under the leadership of Sergei Tsekov representing the banned political group Russian Bloc, demanding that Russia treats Crimea the same as they did in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
2009, August 31: General Nikolai Makarov, Chief of the Russian General Staff, confirms that Russia has started negotiations with France to purchase four (4) Mistral-Class Amphibious Assault Ships (aka Helicopter Carriers, and Projection and Command Ships).
French Navy Mistral (L9013) - front - leading Egyptian Navy ENS Gamal Abdel Nasser (L1010), ex-Vladivostok originally ordered by the Russian Navy - rear - during combined naval exercises in the Mediterranean Sea. the Russian order was cancelled just prior to delivery to the Russian Navy in response to NATO pressure on France not to deliver the ships as a result of Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Egypt consequently purchased both the Russian vessels from France, including the original Russian helicopters order.
So, what is the relevance of this event to Ukraine? To explain that, we first need to know the timeline of events relating to this transaction, and how it [positively] impacted Russian-French relations:
2009, August 31: Russia confirms intention to procure Mistral-Class ships from France.
2010, February 02: Six Republican senators in the United States, including John McCain, submit a complaint to the French Ambassador to the US regarding Russia's request to purchase French warships. Republicans introduce a resolution to the US House Committee on Foreign Relations to commit France and other NATO members not to sell NATO defense technology to Russia.
2010, February 08: US Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, now serving in the Obama Administration (D), told France that the US was "concerned", and that there was nothing the US could do to block the deal. On the same day, France's DGA approves Russia's request to purchase the Mistral-Class amphibious landing ships/helicopter carriers, marking the first Russian procurement of NATO hardware since 1947.
2010, December 24: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev approves purchase of two Mistral-Class ships from France (with option to purchase two more), for EUR 1,37 Billion. The Russian ships will differ slightly from French designs to include unique Russian requirements. First ship to be built in France, and the second ship to be partially built in Russia via a skills
2010, December 27: NATO and EU members Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia (all three countries subjected to Russian dominated rule until 1991), confronts France about its decision as a NATO and EU member to sell advanced offensive weapons to Russia, a nation that has failed to implement and respect democratic principles.
2011, January 25: Final purchase agreement signed between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and Russia makes advance payment to commence construction.
2011, March 31: The purchase agreement between France and Russia is put on hold due to Russia's demand for the inclusion of sensitive NATO technologies on the ships.
2011, April 17: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev relieves the Russian senior official overseeing negotiations with Frances from his duties.
2011, June 17: Russia and France signs a new agreement for EUR 1,7 Billion for two Mistral-Class ships.
2011, November 17: Chief of Russian General Staff, General Nikolai Makarov, justifies the Russian purchase of the French designed warships as a result of lack of technological means to design and produce ships of equivalent design, and that Russian industrial capabilities would require at least 10 years to achieve that capability. The intention with the Mistral-Class purchase was to enable technology transfer from France to Russia through participation in construction of the second vessel, and ultimately have full production licenses for the 3rd and 4th ships to be built in Russian shipyards.
2012, February 01: Mistral-Class ship, Vladivostok (now ENS Gamal Abdel Nasser), is laid down in France for the Russian Navy. In accordance with the agreement between France and Russia, 60% of the ship will be manufactured in France, and 40% in Russia. Final assembly will remain in France.
2012, May 15: Francois Hollande assumes office of President of France from former President Nicolas Sarkozy.
2012, October 01: Production of Vladivostok (current ENS Gamal Abdel Nasser) components start at Baltiysky Zapod shipyard in St Petersburg, Russia.
2013, June 18: Mistral-Class ship, Sevastopol (now ENS Anwar El Sadat), is laid down in France for the Russian Navy. In accordance with the agreement between France and Russia, 60% of the ship will be manufactured in France, and 40% in Russia. Final assembly will remain in France.
2013, July 04: Production of Sevastopol (current ENS Anwar El Sadat) components start at Baltiysky Zapod shipyard in St Petersburg, Russia.
2013, October 15: Vladivostok (current ENS Gamal Abdel Nasser) is launched in France. Delivery to the Russian Navy was expected during 2015.
2014, February 27: Russia annexes Crimea from Ukraine.
2014, March 05: Vladivostok (current ENS Gamal Abdel Nasser), starts its sea trials in France. French Defence Ministry officials state that planned delivery to Russia is planned for mid-November 2014.
2014, May 09: France provides guarantees to Russia that it would deliver two French built Mistral-Class ships to Russia.
2014, September 03: French President Francois Hollande puts a temporary hold on the sale of the two Mistral-Class ships to Russia in response to Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea, and Russia's involvement in the War in Donbas.
2014, September 13: Russia implements a partial-cease fire in the War in Donbas, Ukraine. This is considered sufficient for French authorities to allow Vladivostok (ENS Gamal Abdel Nasser) to go to sea for her acceptance trials.
2014, November 20: Sevastopol (current ENS Anwar El Sadat), starts its sea trials in France.
2014, November 25: French President Francois Hollande suspends the French sale of two Mistral-Class ships to Russia pending Russian compliance to the following conditions: (1) A ceasefire in Ukraine; and (2) A political agreement between Kyiv and Moscow.
2014, December 20: Russia issues France an ultimatum to either deliver the two Mistral ships to Russia, or refund the full contract value.
2015, May 26: Oleg Bochkaryov, head of the Russian Military Industrial Commission, confirms that Russia will not take delivery of the two Mistral ships from France, and that all that was remaining regarding the agreement was France's full refund of money already paid.
2015, August 05: France announces that it would refund Russia's partial payments in full, and keep the two vessels.
2015, August 07: French President Francois Hollande and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi conclude an agreement for the Egyptian Navy to purchase both ex-Russian Mistral-Class ships from France in a deal worth EUR 950 million.
2016, June 02: France's DCNS delivers ex-Vladivostok to the Egyptian Navy, now renamed ENS Gamal Abdel Nasser, with hull number L1010.
2016, September 16: France's DCNS delivers ex-Sevastopol to the Egyptian Navy, now renamed ENS Anwar El Sadat, with hull number L1020.
The Russian approach to diverting the French government's attention away from its 2008 invasion of Georgia and its escalated interference in domestic Ukrainian affairs was through the acquisition of the two Mistral-Class amphibious assault ships, with an option for two more. From a French perspective, this purchase would inject around EUR 3 Billion into the French economy which was desperately needed following the 2008 global financial crisis. As a result of Russia's planned military spending, the French acted favorable towards the Russians, conveniently ignoring escalating Russian hostilities in both Georgia and Ukraine to follow. The reality is that the revenue derived from the sale of the Mistral-Class amphibious landing ships was of greater value to France than Russia's expansionism activities within its immediate region of influence, ignorantly [but passively] allowing Russia to exercise first rights of control over old Soviet States not part of NATO. However, with much pressure from the United States and its eastern European NATO allies (ex Soviet States), France had no other choice but to suspend the delivery of the two Mistral ships to Russia. The major [overlooked] effect of this transaction is the biased [favoring Russia] manner in which the French acted during peace negotiations, especially during Sarkozy's Presidential term, on behalf of both Georgia and Ukraine as victims of illegal Russian aggression during the period of both Vladivostok and Sevastopol's construction. This is also one of the primary reasons why France objected against Ukraine becoming a member of the EU and NATO (simply because France did not want to lose out on gains earned from Russian military spending at the time). Also, what the French were willing to do against NATO will, was to transfer advanced NATO military technology to Russia to enable it to design and produce its own advanced amphibious/carrier vessels. Russia never possessed that technological capability, for only Ukraine had the industrial capacity to design and produce carrier aircraft in the Soviet Union (such as the Admiral Kuznetsov which the Russian Navy stole from the Ukraine Navy on December 01, 1991) as Sevastopol, Crimea, with the support from Azov Steel in Mariupol (why Russia was so focussed on gaining control over these strategic assets). For the Russians the added capabilities offered by the French Mistral-Class ships were not as important as the industrialization package through technology transfer included in the original agreement (hence the inflated sales price compared to what Egypt eventually paid for the same two vessels without industrialization). Fortunately this agreement was blocked before Russia acquired the full industrial capability to develop these ships without French assistance in Russia. However, taking into account the whole timeline involving the French-Russian cooperation, we can now conclude that Russia's annexation of Crimea on February 27, 2014, was in fact executed in haste and not as a result of thorough planning and a calculated timescale, rather being motivated to take impulsive immediate military action following the overthrow of the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych administration in Kyiv following the Euromaidan protests.
Now, to answer the question relating to the significance of this single [minor perceived] event on the current situation in Ukraine, we now understand the cause for France's 'clouded judgement' which caused its government not to act within the best interests of either the EU or NATO. France, who is also a permanent member of the UN Security Council, is one of the top 5 dominating global powers, and if it acted within the best interests of both the EU and NATO as was expected from its primary NATO allies, then Russia could have been deterred much earlier to avoid the current catastrophe being Ukraine. The primary enabler of escalating Russian aggression following the 2008 Russo-Georgian War was NATO Europe's [collective] failure to take effective action against Russia to avoid any such incident being repeated again in future. Disclaimer: The purpose of this comment is not 'anti-French', but rather a constructive reminder that nobody is immune from cunning Russian manipulation. Basically, to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, we first need to identify past mistakes.
2009, September 03: Viktor Yanukovych states during an election rally that he intends to recognize the Russian language as the second official language of Ukraine when he becomes President. Since Ukrainian independence from the Soviet Union, Ukrainian was the sole state language at all levels.
2009, September 28: Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko expresses his concerns about Russian interference in the 2010 Presidential elections, especially Moscow’s distribution of Russian passports to residents of Crimea.
2009, October 07: Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko nominates Petro Poroshenko for the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ukraine.
2009, October 09: Petro Poroshenko is appointed as the Minister of Foreign Affairs by the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine Parliament).
2009, October 12: Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko reappoints Petro Poroshenko to the National Security and Defence Council.
2009, November 21: Viktor Yanukovych addresses the Yedinaya Rossiya (United Russia) party in St Petersburg, Russia, calling for a new format regarding the Ukraine-EU dialogue.
2009, November 28: Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko confirms that he was leaving politics at the end of his term. He continued by describing the two presidential candidates Yanukovych and Tymoshenko as not being ideologists who care about the fate of Ukraine and its interests. He also said they were two political “adventurers”, and that Ukraine’s sovereignty was at the time more jeopardized than it was 5 - 10 years earlier.
2009, December 08: Viktor Yanukovych is accused of financial fraud by Yuriy Lutshenko, the Minister of Internal Affairs, after Yanukovych’s election campaign was reported to have cost between US$ 100 - 150 million.
2010, January 07: Viktor Yanukovych commits to support then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s proposal to create a new European collective security system based on an initiative developed jointly by Russia and France. Some Western politicians consider this initiative as a prospective challenge to the US dominated NATO alliance.
2010, January 16: Viktor Yanukovych explains to his audience during a public speech that Ukraine must not blame Russia for the ‘Holodomor’ (Soviet famine of 1932 – 1933), when Stalin forcefully removed all food held by peasants leading to the death of around 10 million Ukrainians. He further states that it was the actions of Stalin, not Russia, that caused the famine, and the event should not be labelled as a genocide of Ukrainian people.
2010, February 07: Viktor Yanukovych wins the majority election results during the second run-off against Yulia Tymoshenko, with the assistance of Americans Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and Tad Devine.
2010, February 25: Viktor Yanukovych is inaugurated as the President of Ukraine, taking over from Viktor Yushchenko. In attendance of the inauguration ceremony was Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and Al Rus who conducted the public prayer service. Special guests in attendance also included the EU High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, the US National Security Advisor, James Jones, and Speaker of the Russian Parliament, Boris Gryzlov. Yanukovych’s predecessor, President Viktor Yushchenko, and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, choose not to attend the inauguration ceremony for undeclared reasons.
2010, March 03: President Viktor Yanukovych hands over control of the Partiia Rehioniv (Party of Regions) and its arliamentary faction to Mykola Azarov, a close associate of Yanukovych, also a pro-Russia supporter.
2010, March 11: Ukrainian lawmakers form a new coalition which includes Bloc Lytvyn, Communist Party of Ukraine (a pro-Russia remnant from the Soviet Union who was instrumental in the creation of independence factions within Donetsk Oblast, Luhansk, and Kherson), and the Party of Regions. This coalition established the Mykola Azarov led administration in Parliament, controlling 235 of the 450 seats which enabled President Viktor Yanukovych to implement pro-Russia policies without major opposition resistance. Mykola Azarov, representing the Party of Regions, is elected as Prime Minister resuming duty from Yulia Tymoshenko, winning 242 of 450 votes in Parliament. He serves for 33 months, and becomes the last member of the Party of Regions to ever serve as Prime Minister of Ukraine.
Azarov is a loyal Yanukovych supporter, and also a pro-Russian politician. In 2015, he set up the Ukraine ‘Government in Exile’ in Russia. He is currently sanctioned for his actions during the Euromaidan protests (2013-2014). Petro Poroshenko is dismissed as Minister of Foreign Affairs. During the Cassette Scandal event under the leadership of President Leonid Kuchma, Azarov (the Head of the State Tax Administration at the time), was heard discussing various illicit activities with Kuchma. The most prominent activities discussed was him abusing his position as the Head of the Tax Administration to pressure officials to support Kuchma’s re-election as President in 1999, the covering up of graft at the state natural gas company Naftogaz, aiding the demise of Slaviansk Bank (which was linked to political opposition figure Yulia Tymoshenko’s natural gas company United Energy Systems of Ukraine), and the illegal funding of Kuchma’s 1999 election campaign. Mykola Azarov resigned on January 28, 2014, amidst the Euromaidan protests. He relocated to Russia on February 23, 2014, fearing his safety in Ukraine.
2010, April 19: Ukrainian MP and future Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, remarks that it would be impossible for Ukraine to effectively fight corruption without changing the country’s system of government.
2010, April 27: Chaos erupts in the Ukrainian Parliament when a treaty to extend the Russian lease agreement at Sevastopol is ratified until 2042. The extension of the treaty was influenced by President Viktor Yanukovych through his supporters in Parliament to extend Russian strategic objectives. This act was considered by many as reward to Russia for its support in assisting Yanukovych’s Presidential election win over Tymoshenko.
2010, May 27: President Viktor Yanukovych releases a statement that he considers Ukraine’s relationship with NATO as a partnership, but NATO membership to Ukraine would not be acquired for he considered it against the will of the people.
2010, May 31: Former Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko states that Yulia Tymoshenko was his “worst mistake. The most serious mistake was to give power to her twice”.
2010, June 04: President Viktor Yanukovych states that the recognition of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Kosovo violates international law. His comments infuriate Moscow.
2010, June 25: President Viktor Yanukovych criticizes amendments to the Ukrainian Constitution made during 2004 which restricts Presidential powers in terms of appointing of government ministers, which consequently passed that responsibility over to Parliament.
2010, October 31: Ukrainian local elections are held with an average of around 50% voter turnout. Viktor Yanukovych’s pro-Russian Party of Regions wins the majority elections, except for in western Ukraine. The Council of Europe expressed its concerns about the legitimacy of the election results relating to new electorate law approved just before the election date.
2010, November 07: President Viktor Yanukovych sets the stage that ‘foreign forces were bringing weapons into Ukraine’ as an attempt to disrupt the current government administration. The allegations are met with disbelief and written off as paranoia in the absence of any substantial evidence supporting the claims. Although he was a pro-Russian politician, his comment was considered strange under the circumstances since it was a veiled reference to Russia.
2010, December 17: Anti-government protests start in Tunisia, and turns into a 28 days revolution referred to as the ‘Sidi Bouzid Revolt. This is the starting point for what later becomes known as the ‘Arab Spring’ protests that rapidly erupt throughout the Middle East. It is also significant for the fact that social media was used as the tool for mass-organization.
Anti-government protests in Tunisia. This is considered the starting point of what became known as the Arab Spring.
Understanding the evolution of the Arab Spring is important because it was initially blamed on the United States. The question though, is: Who initially directed blame towards the US using mass media as the tool for spreading the anti-US narrative in the events to follow? Who would benefit the most from predominantly Arab nations engaged in anti-government protests being told that the United States was the main instigator in these activities. However, to understand this better, we need to know how disinformation operations work at the strategic level. Also, with specific reference to the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ timeline, we need to look at the parallel evolution of Daesh (the so-called ‘Islamic State’) and the forces behind its creation, and how it rapidly filled the vacuums of collapsed governance in the wake of the ‘Arab Spring’ violence. Based on in-depth first-hand knowledge derived from operational experience in most of these territories during this period, the one fact we know is that it was not within either US or NATO interests to initiate the ‘Arab Spring’. However, looking at the grand scale of communications, planning, financing, and logistics required to fund such a large international campaign following a similar doctrine of civil unrest, we need to look at the current main ‘winners’ from these events, namely, Russia and Iran. Both these nations had ambitions which conflicted with the US and its supportive allies (who at the time still considered itself the responsible global power to enforce stability. Why? Because global stability is good for business, especially where the US dominated international trade within the affected economies). The tell-tale similarities that exist in the enablement of the Arab Spring protests are seen comparing the events that led to the Russo-Georgian War of 2008, and the events leading to the annexation of Crimea in 2014, and the establishment of the break-away republics of Donetsk- and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine. These events, although not directly linked to Ukraine, are relevant due to the same doctrines having been applied, all delivering different results. It was Russia’s way of experimenting with new methods of warfare based on lessons learnt in the Russo-Georgian War, and its operations to follow. However, Russia also came to learn many lessons from the Arab Spring which it would filter back into its planned expansionism agenda in Ukraine.
2010, December 29: Anti-government protests start in Algeria.
2011, January 14: The government of Tunisia is overthrown during civil unrest referred to as the ‘Arab Spring’. The pro-US/France government is dissolved, and President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali flees to Saudi Arabia. The RCD government is dissolved, and the new transitional government is formed which includes pro-Russian political figures. 338 People died during protest actions.
The RCD government in Tunisia had many failures, which was the ‘entry point’ exploited to establish an anti-government narrative. What both Russia and Daesh (Islamic State) has taught us during the past decade is that where poor governance already exists within a society, or in other words, where the center of gravity of a target society is compromised, opportunity presents itself to belligerent groups with the resources to influence mass public perception and mobilization. A good consequence that the Arab Spring uprisings taught the affected governments was the importance of avoiding government abuse. In Tunisia, during the period to follow the revolution, pro-radical Islamic figures who are listed in various international terror lists also entered government for short periods of time until public discontent forced them out. It would take 8 years of government instability before the political environment settles to the point where the US returned to support the reestablishment of democratic political systems in 2019 to improve the economic environment with US financial support. Both Russia and radical Islamic groups failed to establish sustainable government relations in Tunisia, with most Tunisians having preferred rehabilitation of economic relations with the West.
Civil unrest erupts in the Kingdom of Jordan, a close US ally. King Abdullah takes personal control of the situation and implements immediate reforms within the government to meet the demands of protesters, and to maintain the peace. By October 04, 2012, the situation is back to normal after various government reforms. Jordan remains a close ally to the United States. Only 3 people died during protest action.
2011, January 25: Thousands of protesters in Egypt gather in Tahrir Square, Cairo, to demand the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.
Mubarak was considered a major US ally, and Russia considered a predominantly US armed military aid beneficiary Egypt as a major obstacle to its future expansionism in the Middle East. If Egypt was kept occupied with resolving internal issues, it would limit the likelihood of Egypt resisting Russian deployment of forces within neighboring territories.
Egyptian protesters gather in Tahrir Square, Cairo.
2011, January 27: Civil unrest break out in Yemen. The deteriorating situation leads to the Yemeni Crisis, which escalates into civil war. The country remains in a condition of war at the time of this article being published, with one side of the war being supported by the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and the opposing forces supported by Iran. Iran uses its presence in Yemen to target Saudi-Arabian critical infrastructure under the cover of its Yemeni beneficiaries. Yemen is of strategic importance to both Iran and Russia to have a base from which both countries can influence the Gulf of Aden if required. More than 2,000 civilians have died in the Yemeni unrest, and the German government has been a major critic of Saudi Arabia's military military involvement in the war.
2011, February 11: The Egyptian government under leadership of President Hosni Mubarak is overthrown. Mubarak is arrested and charged with corruption and killing of civilian protesters. 846 People died during protests. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces resumes control of the government until June 30, 2012.
2011, February 14: Civil unrest erupts in Bahrain. Various government reforms are implemented to meet protester demands, political prisoners are released, and economic concessions are made with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. All protest actions cease by March 18, 2011. 120 People died during protest actions.
The strategic significance of Bahrain is the fact that it accommodates the US Navy 5th Fleet. This is of major concern to Iran, as well as to Russia who knows that it will have difficulty regaining support in the Arabian Gulf nations with such a large US Navy presence. The main reason why the US Navy maintains such a large naval presence in the Arabian Gulf is to ensure that Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE cannot be blocked by Iran to disrupt global oil supplies. This was one of the major challenges experienced with Saddam Hussein which contributed to the US-led invasion of Iraq. Saddam Hussein was becoming more belligerent, and he had the means of disrupting stability in global oil supplies, to include disrupting the supply capacity of his neighbors. If the Arabian Gulf oil supplies were ever to be cut off from the global supply network, it would have devastating effects on the global economy, and the US wants to avoid that situation. Global oil supply disruptions from the Arabian Gulf states would play to the benefit of Russia, which would then be positioned to manipulate oil prices, and exercise greater political control over oil consumers.
2011, February 17: Nationwide protests erupt in Libya against the government of Muammar Gaddafi. Demonstrators occupy Benghazi, and the Libyan military responds using deadly force, with elements of the Libyan Air Force loyal to Gaddafi conducting bombing runs against protesters. The protesters raid military installations and arm themselves against government forces, and civil unrest rapidly develops into the Libyan Civil War, also known as the 17 February Revolution. Various Libyan Embassies abroad raise the pre-Gaddafi flag in support of the revolt. The Libyan Armed Forces split into factions, some supporting the protesters against the government of Gaddafi, some remaining loyal to Gaddafi, and the remainder forming their own armed factions.
The Libyan government under leadership of Muammar Gaddafi was an ally to Russia, but Russia at times also considered him to be difficult to control, especially in terms of Russian interests in Africa. Russia provides support to the Gaddafi loyalist Libyan Arab Jamahiriya via its proxies Belarus, Algeria, and North Korea as a means of maintaining plausible deniability for its involvement in the conflict.
2011, March 11: Minor protests start in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The situation is rapidly brought under control with the implementation of government reforms, to include economic concessions with King Abdullah, and the improvement of women’s rights. The protests officially end on December 24, 2012. The KSA remains a close ally to the US, with the recent improvement of relations with Israel. Whatever the objective was with the KSA, it failed to materialize. 24 People lost their lives during the period of protest action.
Effective from September 2022, with MBS assuming the role as Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, diplomatic relations between the US and KSA deteriorated as MBS engaged with Vladimir Putin to expand cooperation with Russia, especially with regards to the expansion of KSA's domestic arms development capabilities. Under the rulership of Prince MBS, the KSA is gradually moving towards a more authoritarian government system, drawing much criticism from the United States, especially in terms of its restrictive women's rights policies. Upon MBS' meeting with Putin, the KSA has again threatened to drastically cut oil production which would negatively affect global supply stability. However, KSA's 'weaponization' of oil supply has been in the making for years, why the US has drastically cut its oil imports from Saudi Arabia in favor of greater domestic energy self-sufficiency.
2011, March 15: Civil unrest erupts in Damascus, Syria, protesting the government of Bashar al-Assad, a long ally of Russia, and vocal critic of the West (especially after the US-led invasion of Iraq, and the US removal of the Ba’ath Party in Iraq). The Syrian government immediately responds in force, which erupts into a civil war throughout Syria. Russia and Iran commit military support to the Syrian Government to help Assad fight anti-government forces. Syria remains at a state of civil war, and it will remain in that state for as long as it allows Russia and Iran to occupy its territory for both nations benefit from Syria’s current poor state of security.
The important factor to take into consideration here is that neither Russia nor Iran offered any of the other Arab countries targeted in the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ any military assistance as it did with Syria. The main deciding factors were the benefits gained by Russia and Iran because of Syria allowing both countries to station its forces within Syrian territory on a permanent basis.
2011, March 17: Resolution 1973 is adopted in the UN Security Council, forming the legal basis for military intervention in the Libyan Civil War that erupted because of the Arab Spring civil unrest. Germany, Brazil, India, China and Russia abstain from voting.
2011, October 11: Leader of the Ukraine political opposition and former Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, is sentenced to 7 years imprisonment for ‘abusing her office’ relating to a 2009 Russian gas deal, in what was described later as Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych’s attempts to remove his political opponents and critics. During the trial, Russian President Vladimir Putin commented that the charges against Tymoshenko was unreasonable for the reason that she was only executing instructions already agreed upon between the Presidents of Ukraine and Russia at the time. Tymoshenko was released from prison after Yanukovych fled to Russia following the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution. She was exonerated of all criminal charges.
2011, October 20: Muammar Gaddafi, former President of Libya in hiding, is captured by rebel forces while fleeing Libya, and immediately executed.
Muammar Gaddafi is a former ally of Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin who considered Gaddafi an asset in expanding the idea of a ‘United States of Africa’ within the UN dominated African Union with Russian economic, political, and military support. Upon Gaddafi's death, a disinformation campaign was launched with the assistance of Russia claiming the West was responsible for the Libyan government overthrow and years of civil war to follow. This narrative still exists within the minds of the majority Africans who considers Russia as their 'savior' against the West. In reality, Muammar Gaddafi died by the hands of his own people for the simple reason that the Libyan populace reached a tipping point in tolerance for the decades of abuses it suffered under the Gaddafi family controlled government.
2012, January 10: The State of Emergency established in Algeria to counter the Arab Spring protests comes to a peaceful end after successful suppression of the civil unrest by the government. 8 People died during the whole period of protests. The government remained unchanged. At the time of the Arab Spring uprising, the Algerian government was a close ally of Russia, and it remained a close ally of Russia after the protest period ended.
2012, March 14: The British documentary film ‘Four Horsemen’, directed by Ross Ashcroft, is released globally. The film illustrates a narrative which “criticizes fractional reserve banking, debt-based economy and political lobbying by banks, which it regards as a serious threat to Western civilization. It criticizes the War on Terror, which it maintains is not fought to eliminate al-Qaeda and other militant organizations, but to create larger debt to the banks. As an alternative, the film promotes a return to classical economics and the gold standard”.
The documentary film was written by Ross Ashcroft (also the director) and Dominic Frisby, and includes a book under the same title. According to the film’s online description by its creators, the documentary is divided into five sections, namely: Empires, Banking, Terrorism, Resources and Progress. Furthermore, the film ‘describes’ the four horsemen as “a rapacious financial system, escalating organised violence, abject poverty for billions and the exhaustion of Earth’s resources”. This, however, is where we find this narrative documentary problematic. Firstly, it resembles the makings of a well composed disinformation operation. We say that because from an intelligence doctrine perspective an effective disinformation operation should always be developed around a core of partial truths to be perceived as relevant and acceptable by a target audience, and fitting to the current mainstream information narrative. Secondly, the contents of the subjects being discussed within this documentary film which in simple terms targets the US system of government and its financial system, and basically blames the US for everything that is wrong in this world (including the current state of decline within ex-Soviet aligned and European colonial nations in predominantly Africa and Asia that are still impoverished and at war with itself since independence around six decades ago), resembles a consistent message being communicated in Russian disinformation campaigns targeting the West, and more specifically the US. However, to insinuate that this documentary is Russian influenced, there needs to be a link to its Russian benefactors. The Russian link to this documentary exists through its creators and their political ideologies, the most prominent of them being Ross Ashcroft as the host of Renegade Inc, a weekly television program on Russia Today (RT), a Russian state media outlet. According to Renegade Inc’s online description, it covers “current affairs, economics, innovation, creative leadership, entrepreneurship, banking scandals, terrorism, and geopolitical events. What it fails to cover is Russian foreign interferences, and how the Russian government is the cause for much of the problems that exist within the West. How is this relevant to Ukraine’s current situation? We included this minor event to illustrate the depth of Russian disinformation operations spanning a decade back targeting predominantly the US and Europe which has a great impact on the current urgency and volume of support the US and its European allies are providing to Ukraine to resist Russian aggression, and why we still find much of the Western world incorrectly assuming that Russia is in the right, and that the US is the primary cause for the current Russian instigated hostilities in Ukraine.
2012, March 20: Russian Defence Minister, Anatoly Serdyukov, signs a decree setting out a system of payments to Russian military servicemen “for special achievements within the service”. The decree was published on the Ministry of Defence website.
At the time, little attention was given to the notice because it detailed payments to military servicemen for performing certain unspecified duties, which is common practice in militaries globally. However, what later drew the attention of information analysts was Section 4 of the order that stated, “servicemen of military units 99450, 74455, and the structural unit of the military unit 29155 are paid a monthly supplement”. At first, the relevance was ignored due to these units and their purposes being unknown. However, through deeper analysis, it was later discovered that military units 99450, 74455, and 29155 were specialized units belonging to the Russian Military Intelligence GRU. In the years to follow, these units were exposed more into the public space through mentions in documents promulgating sanctions against these units and its members, mostly by the United States, the European Union, and Ukraine. By 2018, Unit 29155 was connected to a failed coup plot in Montenegro, a near fatal poisoning of a former Russian military intelligence officer in the UK, and the near-fatal poisoning of an arms dealer in Bulgaria (Emilian Gebrev, April and May 2014). The Czech Republic also found evidence of Unit 29155 being involved with the 2014 bombing of an ammunition depot in the Czech Republic. Basically, based on the track record of specifically Russian GRU unit 29155, it was trained and employed for the purpose of sabotage, assassination, and internal destabilization in Europe. During the failed unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) in Catalonia from Spain on October 27, 2017, various sources indicated the involvement of the Russian GRU in the facilitation of the Catalonian Independence Movement, to include technical advice and funding, specifically involving members of GRU unit 29155. The unit belongs to Russian Special Operations Forces Command with its headquarters based in Senezh, north of Moscow. Until late 2019, the unit was commanded by Major General Andrei Averyanov who was exposed during the 2017 wedding of his daughter along with another senior member of Unit 29155, Anatoly Chepiga (aka Ruslan Boshirov). Anatoly Chepiga was exposed after the failed poisoning of former Russian military intelligence officer, Sergei Skripal, in England during 2018. He was identified then under his alias name, Ruslan Boshikov. Chepiga, along with Aleksandr Mishkin (real name), were identified by British intelligence as the GRU unit 29155 agents responsible for the near-fatal poisoning of Skripal. This incident prompted European intelligence agencies to re-open closed cases whereby Bulgaria then established that around the time of Skripal’s poisoning, around eight GRU Unit 29155 officers travelled through Bulgarian territory to various destinations in Europe. In terms of Russian cyber attack strategy, unit 29155 is not directly involved with cyber-attacks which are predominantly the missions of units 26165 and 74455, both indicted by the US on charges relating to past elections interference. Unit 29155 was however suspected of a hacking attempt on the network of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague, which was at the time investigating the substance used to target Skripal.
However, the most significant discovery found during the investigation of past closed cases were the drastic increase in hostile activities by specifically GRU unit 29155 throughout Europe during 2014 after the Euromaidan uprising in Ukraine. This event prompted Russia to annex Crimea immediately “for fear of losing it to the West”. Unit 29155 became instrumental in terminating perceived threats to Russia in Europe which affected its plans in Ukraine, which also became clear why Russia targeted an ammunition depot in the Czech Republic during the same period. On October 16, 2014, there was an explosion at an ammunition depot near the eastern Czech town of Vrbetice under mysterious circumstances. During a thorough investigation by Czech intelligence service, GRU Unit 29155 officer, Andrei Averyanov, was found to have been in the Czech Republic in October 2014, along with two other officers (the same two implicated in the 2018 near-fatal poisoning of Skripal in England). The ammunition depot, however, was determined to belong to Bulgarian arms dealer Emirian Gebrev, who unit 29155 tried to poison during April and May 2014. The ammunition stockpiled at the Czech ammunition dump was destined for Ukraine to counter the rising Russian-backed insurgency in eastern Ukraine. Since Unit 29155 failed to kill Gebrev during May 2014, the operation was changed to target the ammunition depot in October 2014. The important conclusion from 2014 events is that Russia declared a silent ‘political war’ against the West (confirmed through various intelligence sources), and then initiated its plan to infiltrate Western political structures by all means and cost, destabilize Western societies through their political instruments (by targeting vulnerabilities within societies), and manipulate the perceptions of foreign populations in favor of Russian strategic activities. The significance of tracing the activities of specifically Russian GRU unit 29155 allowed intelligence agencies in the West to pinpoint 2014 as the starting point of all political destabilization in the West (including countries of strategic importance to the West), to include the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Spain, South Africa. The latter (South Africa), has evolved into a major [ongoing] Russian operation due to its strategic location on the southern tip of Africa, and its inherent control over the Cape Sea Route and Southern Ocean (of significant strategic importance to enable Russian operations in the Southern Ocean which is partially controlled by France, hence the French political system interference by Russia, and due to the Cape Sea Route being the alternative sea route in the event of the Suez Canal being closed). Based on this extensive knowledge, we can now investigate how Daesh (the so-called ‘Islamic State’ in the West), suddenly came into existence in countries where Russia had major current- and future interests, and specifically the mechanisms of ‘expansion’ of the so-called Islamic State to Mozambique considering the current European gas crisis. Is this coincidence? Unfortunately, not
2012, March 23: Petro Poroshenko is appointed as Ukraine's Minister of Trade and Economic Development in the Azarov government by appointment of Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych. Poroshenko steps down as Chairman of the Board of Ukraine National Bank.
2012, May 07: Russian Prime Minister, and former President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, returns to office as the President of the Russian Federation. This time round Putin has no term limits, and effectively he can remain in position for life (for the duration of him maintaining control over the complex mechanisms of government). Former President of the Russian federation, Dmitry Medvedev, takes office as the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation.
2012, June 30: Mohamed Morsi is sworn in as the President of Egypt and reinstates civilian governance to take over from the Supreme Council of Armed Forces interim government. He becomes the first post-revolution President, an Islamist affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Russian objective with Egypt was to create domestic instability to keep the Supreme Council of Armed Forces occupied. Russia had little chance of influencing Egyptian politics due to its diversity, and since it also considered the Muslim Brotherhood an equal threat as it was observed by the West. The Muslim Brotherhood had a long heritage in all Muslim Arab countries, and around 2012 it received large sums of funding from Qatar (much to the dissatisfaction of its neighbors). In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood was banned in Russia and various other countries, including some Arab countries. However, the true challenge to Russia was the powerful and influential Supreme Council of Armed Forces who controlled Egypt’s powerful military and military industrial complex, with the power to overthrow the civilian government in the event of government abuse which would eventually happen under the short reign of Mohamed Morsi. Under Morsi’s government, Morsi also feared the power of influence of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), why the Muslim Brotherhood immediately tried to implement reforms to reduce the SCAF’s political powers, to include the establishment of an underground armed militia to combat the Egyptian military if needed. These activities would eventually lead to a military coup against the Morsi government 12 months later, with the leader of the Egyptian Armed Forces, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, becoming the first counter-revolutionary President of Egypt to return Egypt to economic- and political stability. By the time Abdel Fattah el-Sisi resumed his duties as President of Egypt, Russia had already established its military capabilities in Syria. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was also more supportive of Russia, who often down-played the United States against Russia in terms of arms procurement when the US failed to approve military aid the Egyptian Armed Forces desired. Syria was a major strategic objective achieved by Russia in terms of enabling its plans to occupy Ukraine, especially allowing it to diversify its strategic forces away from Russia with direct access to the Mediterranean Sea with a large naval facility at Tartus, Syria. Russia knew that when it was going to launch its occupation of Ukraine, that it would be facing strict international resistance in the form of sanctions and other movement restrictions.
2012, July 03: Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych’s political bloc in the Ukrainian Parliament pass a controversial law acknowledging Russian as a regional language within its jurisdictions where it is spoken by at least a 10% minority. The law was immediately implemented by pro-Russian regional governments in the east of the country, with many cities and regions declaring opposition to the law which failed to pass a two-thirds majority approval in Parliament as prescribed by the Constitution.
2012, August 21: A top-secret memo is leaked to open-source media confirming South African cooperation with Russia regarding the development of a military surveillance satellite to be operated by the South African Military Intelligence (MI). The program, named Project Condor, includes a single military surveillance satellite for the purpose of conducting satellite surveillance throughout Africa, but with integration with a larger network of Russian military surveillance satellites to follow in a separate Russian military space surveillance program. The program raised alarm with the civilian counterpart to Military Intelligence, the State Security Agency, who had no knowledge of the program. Russia initially allocated 30 engineers in South Africa to establish the infrastructure to establish the capability.
The significance of this program is that it enabled Russia to develop a foothold in Africa to expand its interests in Africa with the collaboration of the South African government via Russia’s direct relations with the President of South Africa (at the time), Jacob Zuma. This arrangement would eventually pave the way forward for greater covert collaboration between Russia and South Africa regarding future African ‘prospects’. These prospects, however, relate to Russian expansionism of military-, economic-, and industrial influence in Africa, especially enabling Russian influence over the political system of a country which basically controls the Cape Sea route along with France. In the decade to follow, Russia’s growing influence in the African conflicts environment would benefit much from its enhanced surveillance capabilities which enabled the expansion of the Russian pseudo-private military company (PMC), Wagner Group, to engage with the governments (or controlling factions) of Mali, Central African Republic, Libya, Sudan, Madagascar, and Mozambique. The expansion of Wagner in Africa was essential to Russia’s plans in Ukraine to developing an independent special operations capability from the Russian Armed Forces structures that follow orders directly from Putin (much like the role the Waffen SS had during WW2 as an independent specialized military system operated in parallel with the German Wehrmacht with sworn allegiance to Adolf Hitler instead of the German state). During this period, the South African government via predominantly its Military Intelligence instruments, would suppress the historical preferences by African states to contract predominantly ex-SADF operated South African PMC’s who had developed a professional reputation post-1994, to train and assist their armed forces in favor of enabling Wagner Group to be ‘contracted’ instead. Ironically, the South African PMC’s were of great irritation to the South African government from a political perspective because the South African PMC’s (who mainly opposed the political ideologies of the ruling party, but supported the South African government), would be successful at achieving military objectives to the benefit of the beneficiary state, but it would interfere with the economic interests of the ruling party’s revenue systems abroad (which preferred a state of instability, especially relating to illicit activities and the trading of high value natural resources with its Russian business partners). In other words, the South African government (via its ruling party’s political influences in the mechanisms of government), were more favorable to the Russian Wagner Group operating in Africa than it supported transparent and regulated South African tax paying PMC’s from doing business in Africa. To diminish the mere business threat the South African PMC’s posed to Wagner Group (and its stakeholders in Moscow), some of the tactics used against them include international media smear campaigns and factually unfounded investigations by foreign (Western) NGO’s specialized in the writing of ‘investigation reports’ for money predominantly funded through Russian controlled mechanisms. With the neutralization of South African PMC’s (who employed veterans from the South African war in Angola fighting against Soviet expansionism in southern Africa, who also served during the US Global War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan), Russia had no competition from pre-1994 South African veterans (which Vladimir Putin considered a threat to Russian expansionism in Africa), to establish its military assistance footholds in Africa. An interesting consequence of Russia’s neutralization of South African private military capabilities is that these groups collectively had access to around 12,500 military fit veterans of the South African armed forces who were pro-Western, who had also served with the US Armed Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The significance of this is that when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, these highly skilled and experienced veterans (who supports the Ukrainian resistance against Russia), were immediately barred from volunteering their services to the Ukraine Foreign Legion on the basis that the Ukraine government had determined that the South African government was an ally of Russia (which is correct). Where Ukraine failed in that assessment is that South Africa is also a politically divided nation, and the minority pro-Western population associated with the pre-1994 government were being labelled as supporters of a criminally captured pro-Russian government (much like the post-Soviet Ukraine government), which they do not support. This highlights the depth of Russian planning for consequential effect well into the future, and why the West needs to take Russia more seriously.
2012, December 04: Ukrainian MP and future Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, registered that he disfavored Ukraine joining the Eurasian Customs Union for the reason that he considered it a “restoration of the former Soviet Union in a slightly different form and with a different name”. He was concerned that by signing the agreement, Ukraine would become part of the Russian ‘empire’ again.
2013, May 09: President Viktor Yanukovych expresses his confidence during the Victory Day celebrations that Nazi and Soviet totalitarianism would never return to Ukraine.
2013, August 21: Ukrainian MP and future Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, states that “Russia has decided for some reason that it can be the architect of a new Berlin Wall. And, according to Russia’s design, this wall should appear at the border between Ukraine and the European Union. He further said: “The system of government in Ukraine has in fact remained the same as it was under the Soviet Union”.
2013, September 24: Viktor Medvedchuk, the Chairman of the Ukrainian pro-Russian political group Ukrainian Choice, publicly attacks the European Union, at one point comparing the EU to the Nazi Third Reich.
Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian oligarch who maintained direct relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, was a major enabler of Russian expansionism in Ukraine. He opposed the Euromaidan protests, having supported the Azarov government’s successful suspension of preparations for signing an Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the European Union. Unfortunately, because he was a Ukrainian politician, influential figures like him played well in favor of the greater Russian information strategy which aimed to discredit public opinion (especially within the EU and NATO), regarding Ukraine to further alienate Western sympathy towards declining Ukrainian economic and social conditions. The general Russian strategy until this point was that the more the West ‘despised’ Ukraine, the more likely Ukraine would favor an alliance with Russia, and remain in alliance with Russia resulting from growing Western criticism and consequent alienation. Medvedchuk was a key facilitator in ‘weaponizing’ government corruption in Ukraine to purposefully alienate Western interests in establishing any long-term economic relations with Ukraine. Medvedchuk entered Ukrainian politics as the head of the Presidential Administration during June 2002 to January 2005 under then Ukraine President Leonid Kuchma, while at the same time supporting Viktor Yanukovych in his campaign to take over the duties as President from Kuchma. Viktor Yushchenko was Medvedchuk’s biggest critic at the time.
2013, October 28: Two Russian Tupolev Tu-160 ‘Blackjack’ nuclear-capable bombers (XM-94115, XM-94104) arrive in Caracas, Venezuela. The aircraft departed Engels Air Base in the Volga region of Russia before diverting to Venezuela via the eastern Pacific to the south-western coast along the North American continent bordering Mexico, then overflying the neutral airspace of the Caribbean via Honduras and Nicaraguan airspace to Caracas, Venezuela.
This exercise tested Russian capabilities to support long-range operations in support of its interests in Central- and South America. These aircraft were intercepted by the Columbian Air Force for intruding into Columbian Air Space without the necessary diplomatic approval and escorted by Columbian Kfir fighters until the Russian aircraft entered Honduran airspace.
2013, November 21: The Euromaidan protests start on Independence Square in Kyiv. This event is considered the start of the end of President Viktor Yanukovych’s administration.
2013, December 25: Euromaidan activists protest at Viktor Medvedchek’s residence alleging his involvement with the attempted murder of Ukrainian journalist Tetiana Chornovol. He responds by stating that he is “ready for a war” with the opposition.
2013, December 28: Under leadership of President Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine suspends further talks with the EU to establish a trade pack upon insistence by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
2014, January 16: President Viktor Yanukovych signs into law the Bondarenko-Oliynyk laws (Anti-Protest laws), which escalates public outrage, leading to the occupation of government buildings in 10 regions. Public outrage related to the limitations on free speech that was proposed by the laws.
2014, January 28: Prime Minister Mykola Azarov resigns his position as a result of the civil unrests.
2014, February 18: 28 Protesters are killed, along with 7 policemen and 1 civilian bystander, with 335 people injured during clashes between security forces and protesters.
2014, February 20: Dozens of protesters are reported killed in violent clashes with security forces throughout Kyiv. President Viktor Yanukovych denies having given security forces instructions to shoot civilians. Russian President Vladimir Putin comments that Ukraine is on the brink of civil war.
During Viktor Yanukovych’s administration as President of Ukraine, he was implicated in the following illicit activities which fueled the growing divisions between ethnic Ukrainians and ethnic Russians:
1. By January 2013, more than half of the Ukrainian cabinet was occupied by people loyal to Yanukovych, who all originated from the Donbas region (predominantly ethnic Russian). This was further expanded into government leadership positions within the police, judiciary, and revenue services being managed by “Donbas people” throughout Ukraine, causing for much public dissatisfaction.
2. During his Presidential term, around 46% (US$ 76.2 million) of budget subventions for social and economic development were allocated to the ethnic minority Russian Donbas regions Donetsk Oblast and Luhansk Oblast (first two regions to break away from Ukraine after the Crimea annexation by Russia), versus US$ 87.5 million for the remaining (majority) of the country (ethnic Ukrainian).
3. Yanukovych consolidated Ukraine’s economic potential under the control of his son, Oleksandr Yanukovych, an arrangement which caused for the majority Ukrainian industrial tycoons to fear crossing the Yanukovych family, following typical organized crime syndicate tactics to exercise control over the relevant industries. The Yanukovych family also maintained ties with the Russian organized crime syndicates in Moscow. One of the common tactics followed by the Yanukovych family was to implement economic stagnation through its political control which would result in the depreciation of value of both public- and private companies with large asset portfolios, enabling them to purchase those assets at below market value. Only when they controlled a major industrial sector, then only would they implement economic reforms enabling the rapid appreciation of strategic assets to their personal benefit (This tactic is a common Russian ‘rapid economic transformation’ tactic also visible in South Africa via the current Russian sympathetic ruling party following the same economic [destruction] model applied by the Yanukovych family in Ukraine).
4. At the end of his term, Yanukovych had an estimated personal net worth of around US$ 12 Billion. He was also implicated in the misappropriation of around US$ 70 Billion from the Ukrainian treasury to foreign bank accounts held in Switzerland, Austria and Lichtenstein. For most of Yanukovych’s career he was a public servant, never earning more than US$ 2,000 per month prior to his appointment as President.
5. During Yanukovych’s presidential term, around 7,000 private companies were attacked by the Yanukovych family in what was called ‘raids’ whereby between 30 - 50% of company profits were demanded from the company shareholders, or alternatively handover of control, through often violent means to include assault and murder.
6. Yanukovych had the Berkut operate as his own police force under his direct command while serving as President of Ukraine. This police force, the Berkut, was often used to intimidate protesters and people opposing his political views. The Berkut was a Ukrainian system of special police within the Ukrainian Militsiya within the ministry of Internal Affairs with national jurisdiction manned by ethnic Russians, and were often accused of promoting Russian interests. They were also instrumental in enabling voter fraud and voter intimidation in favor of Yanukovych (mainly with Russian support). When Yanukovych became President, he immediately removed all oversight mechanism originally implemented to deter police brutality and abuse. The Berkut was disbanded on February 25, 2014.
Common Russian TTP's used against Ukraine leading up to the annexation of Crimea:
1. Develop and maintain control over the political system in Ukraine using Russian sympathizers, and specifically supporters of Russian expansionism, and use these assets to further expand the Russian support base.
2. Mobilize the Russian sympathetic population, which may include paying people to participate in such activities, to resist legitimate government policies not considered favorable to Russian goals.
3. Weaponize crime to target key opposition political figures considered an obstacle to the expansion of Russian interests.
4. Develop a division between the pro-Ukrainian nationalism government in Kyiv, and the respective ethnic Russian populations of the Crimea, Luhansk- and Donetsk Oblast by means of leveraging cultural and religious narratives favorable to promoting ‘Russian ethnicism’ within the territory. The [foreign] public perception objective developed by Moscow was that ethnic Russians should be under the impression that ethnic Ukrainians were oppressing ethnic Russians because they were Russian, which in turn caused ethnic Russian Ukrainians to act accordingly, creating the [targeted] media image that ethnic Ukrainians were in fact oppressing ethnic Russians as claimed by Russian [foreign directed] disinformation campaigns. This includes targeted instigation through controlled disinformation campaigns amongst non-cooperative communities.
5. Recruit, train, and arm anti-government assets to expand Russian strategic objectives by unrestricted means, to include the deployment of Russian technical advisors to enable anti-government operations.
6. The single biggest cause (and primer) for facilitating constant divisions amongst the Ukrainian people, especially the promotion of the so-called ‘anti-Russian’ agenda which was a product enabled by the Russian intelligence services, was Viktor Yanukovych and his Partiia Rehioniv (Party of Regions). No politician in the history of Ukraine had caused as much damage to Ukraine as Viktor Yanukovych, his family, and his extensive network of [Moscow enabled] 'associates', all acting in accordance with instructions received from Moscow with the collective intent of serving Russian (Yedinaya Rossiya) strategic interests.
7. Identify and deploy the services of strategic foreign influencers who are willing to promote the Russian narrative within their direct areas of influence. American lobbyist, Paul Manafort, was one of the primary facilitators for enabling Russian influence and sympathy within predominantly conservative political, business, and media structures in the West (NATO), and one of the single most damaging figures that contributed to the current political divide that exists within the United States of America. By disrupting the US political system, much attention would be diverted away from Russian strategic activities.
8. Capture the national legislature, judiciary, intelligence services and law enforcement institutions to mitigate any probability of criminal prosecution.
Understanding the Synergy between Russian Foreign Influence Mechanisms:
This abridged power matrix illustrates Vladimir Putin's flow of government power. This is only a simplified overview of Putin's mechanisms of maintaining power as at the time of this article being published, and it becomes more complex the deeper this subject is researched. The mistake most Western analysts make when assessing Putin's relationship with the Government of the Russian Federation is to separate him from the mechanisms of government. That assumption is wrong because Putin does not function as a President would function within a mature Western democracy, for the Russian Federation is in fact just a 'mafia state', and Vladimir Putin is its supreme authority similar to a dictator, although he is dependent on the performance of his subjects who were appointed based on loyalty, and not competence.. Vladimir Putin is the government, and everything in the current Russian Government is designed to support him in his position as head of state for as long as possible to the benefit of all his associates involved. The reality is that the Russian Government is so corrupted that if Putin falls, everyone and their elaborate international networks fall, and why it is within the best interests of all his close aides to keep him in power, and to continue with the Russian plan for global expansionism.
To understand how the Russian 'system' controls its foreign interests, we need to know how all its components relate to one another:
1. Yedinaya Rossiya (United Russia): Under the Putin leadership, nobody in Russia can become successful in either business or politics if they do not belong to the Yedinaya Rossiya (United Russia). The party basically functions as a talent management platform to support the various function of the Russian governance system which is designed to serve the interests of a selective few who conform to the current leadership (Vladimir Putin). This includes employment within the top levels of government where political affiliation and loyalty carries greater value than competence (why Russia has experienced so many setbacks caused by government failure since its invasion of Ukraine). At the strategic level, Yedinaya Rossiya also maintains (through political funding), association with multiple foreign political parties, many of them being either governing parties or main opposition parties, to expand Russian foreign interests, and to develop a positive Russian image abroad amongst the rising youth (why the majority of Africans misguidedly believe that Russia is the only country that can save Africa from themselves).
2. Business Oligarchs: The Russian oligarchy refers to the current Russian business elite who gained their wealth rapidly immediately after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, who then acquired failed state assets at minimal value. Most of the Russian elite originate from the Soviet era Communist Party, the KGB, and famous sport figures (such as Olympic medalists). The current purpose of the Russian oligarchs is to facilitate long-term business ventures between a target state and dominant Russian industries (which are affiliated to the Russian political elite). The most dominant of these corporations are Lukoil, Gazprom, Rosatom, and Rosneft. There are various others. The next step is to establish Russian government control over the host country’s mechanisms of government (legislature, judiciary, law enforcement, revenue services), by means of bribery, intimidation, or the facilitation of murder if necessary. Gain control by any means. The Russian oligarchs also maintain a close working relationship with the local Russian organized criminal groups for protection, who are also employed to perform the ‘dirty’ work (basically, weaponizing the concept of crime to eliminate any resistance). With the current expanding phenomenon of ‘state capture’, especially in Africa, the primary point of execution is always via the dominant Russian business figures (who controls the money to finance its domestic aides in government).
3. Intelligence Services: The most dominant Russian intelligence services are the FSB (the follow-up from the KGB), and the GRU (Russian Military Intelligence). The FSB is the dominant government-controlled intelligence services, whereas the GRU falls under the control of the Russian military (with various ‘Spetsnaz’ units in support, from where the majority GRU members are drawn from). When deployed on foreign operations, Russian intelligence operatives usually function between the diplomatic infrastructure, and the Russian organized criminal infrastructure, depending on the mission profile and desired objectives. Basically, where there are elements of Russian organized crime, there are also elements of Russian intelligence. This is one of the reasons why the majority Russian intelligence operatives join Russian organized crime syndicates when they leave the services of the Russian government or military.
4. Russian Organized Crime (OPG / Bratva): The international network of Russian organized criminal groups (OPG’s), also commonly referred to as the Russian Mafia, serve as the frontier soldiers of the Russian system. There are currently around 300,000 members within various independent crime syndicates operating in 50 countries, most dominantly in popular Western holiday destinations. The leadership structures are diverse and purposefully designed not to follow a pyramid structure as to avoid being dismantled through effective law enforcement activities. What this implies is that if the perceived figure head is removed from his position of power, the criminal syndicate will continue to operate unaffectedly. This is one of the reasons why legal prosecution is so difficult, simply because the people who are managing the syndicates all function representing the actual power base operating out of sight, the actual leaders never exposed to any direct links with any syndicate activities. However, although Russian organized crime is much diverse in its structures and organization, based on in-depth FBI investigations and surveillance, the majority of Russian organized crime syndicate leadership supports Vladimir Putin as Russian head of state via Semion Mogilevich, a Ukrainian born Russian oligarch who is considered one of the dominant “bosses of bosses”, with a direct link to Vladimir Putin. Mogilevich is an international wanted criminal and operates mainly in Russian controlled territories freely from his base in Moscow, managing his company RosUkrEnergo, a 50% Gazprom owned Swiss-registered venture company that transports gas from Turkmenistan to various eastern European countries. He is also a partner in Raiffeisen Bank, an Austrian group of cooperative banks, and a key figure in international money laundering on behalf of the Russian organized criminal groups who affiliates with him. Mogilevich also maintained close relations with Leonid Derkach, former head of the Security Services of Ukraine (SBU). From a Russian State perspective, a certain degree of concession exists between Vladimir Putin and the various criminal syndicates on the condition that they limit their activities within Russia (expect where their presence is required by influential political figures for protective measure), and rather focus on expanding their criminal reach within foreign territories in support of Russian nationalist interests. In return for their cooperation and support to government activities abroad, they shall also receive diplomatic support from the various Russian foreign missions (such as the issuance of fake travel documents, diplomatic immunity, etc), as well as sharing of information with the various Russian intelligence services (the reason why Russian intelligence operatives always attempt to intervene when Russian syndicate members are arrested by foreign law enforcement). Russian military intelligence GRU units make full use of the Russian Mafia infrastructure during their clandestine operations to include protection, provision of weapons and explosives, intelligence, safe houses, logistics, and general operational support. The working relationship between Russian intelligence services and the Russian Mafia are always good simply because the top structures of the existing Russian organized crime syndicates used to be members of the KGB and veterans of the Soviet Afghan War, why they gladly provide sympathetic operational support with great effectiveness. In summary, crime and Russian organized criminal groups are instruments of rule for the Russian political underworld to achieve strategic objectives via irregular means.
5. Russian Orthodox Church: The main purpose of the Russian Orthodox Church within the global Russian network is to facilitate the cross-border movement of money, and the laundering of money gained from or destined for illicit activities and undeclared purposes on behalf of the Intelligence Services, Business Oligarchy, and Russian Mafia. This is an exploit used by the Russian system to benefit from the church’s inherent cash-based revenue model which is usually beneficiary to host-nation tax exemptions, with consequently less scrutiny by law enforcement, banking regulatory oversight, and internal revenue services, especially when those institutions are managed by compromised assets of the Russian system. However, what we can derive from the presence of a Russian Orthodox Church within foreign territories is the presence of a large concentration of Russian organized criminal group members. The most recent Russian Orthodox Church expansions were in South Africa, with a Russian Orthodox Church being opened in March 2022 in the central business district of Cape Town as an extension of the main Russian Orthodox Church located in Midrand, Johannesburg, a dominant area for night life, strip clubs, and other illicit activities. Cape Town also hosts the South African Parliament, whereas the main seat of Government is located at the Union Building in Pretoria. Cape Town has become a favored base for Russian oligarchs to establish themselves after the February 22, 2022, Russian invasion of Ukraine for the reason that the South African government chose not to enforce Western imposed travel restrictions currently enforced against the majority Russian oligarchs.
How money is laundered through religious institutions: ‘Money laundering’ is the term used to describe the process of taking money gained through criminal activities, and then disguising its illegal source in anticipation of ultimately using the criminal proceeds to perform legal and/or other illegal activities. It is a process commonly used to deposit ‘black money’ into the banking system while avoiding regulatory scrutiny through the exploitation of financial grey areas, as to obtain ‘white money’ at the end of the cycle. The United Nations 2000 Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, also known as the “Palermo Convention”, defines money laundering as:
The conversion or transfer of property, knowing it is derived from a criminal offense, for the purpose of concealing or disguising its illicit origin or of assisting any person who is involved in the commission of the crime to evade the legal consequences of his actions.
The concealment or disguising of the true nature, source, location, disposition, movement, rights with respect to, or ownership of property knowing that it is derived from a criminal offense.
The acquisition, possession, or use of property, knowing at the time of its receipt that it was derived from a criminal offense or from participation in a crime.
From a prosecution perspective, an important concept in the definition of money laundering is ‘knowledge’ that gains were derived from activities defined as criminal offences. In all three aforementioned definitions we observe the phrase “knowing” in relation to an implicated party, why a broad explanation of ‘knowledge’ is used for the definition of money laundering. For this reason, money laundering schemes are always layered into stages with various intermediaries to enable plausible deniability when exposed. Therefore, from a legal perspective, for the act of ‘money laundering’ to exist, it should following the commission of a criminal offence. It is this requirement which complicates law enforcement requirements, and which burdens limited law enforcement resources, especially where law enforcement capabilities have been degraded by either mismanagement, poor leadership and training, political interference, or budget restrictions. However, money laundering usually follows three stages, namely:
To understand how religious organizations are used to launder money, we will discuss each stage as follows:
Stage 1: Placement.
From an earnings perspective, religious institutions (churches, mosques, cathedrals, synagogues, temples, religious places of gathering) derive their earnings from cash donations primarily contributed by its members. Membership to religious organizations is mostly informal with little control measures and oversight enforced by government regulatory bodies or the revenue services relating to either the religious institutions or its membership. Member contributions also lack appropriate record to establish a clear audit trail as applicable to regular business activities. This lack of oversight mechanisms, along with favorable tax exemptions and reduced oversight from appropriate control mechanisms, has allowed organized criminal groups to favor partnering with religious organizations to help launder their funds gained from criminal activities (unregulated arms trafficking, human trafficking, narcotics trade, extortion and ransom, robbery, and any other criminal activities leading to illicit financial gains). The Russian Orthodox Church has been a long partner of the Russian organized criminal groups since the globalization of Russian organized crime during the late 1990’s, gladly accepting large sums of cash from criminal groups in exchange for a percentage commission to the benefit of the religious leader. This first step is referred to as the ‘placement’ stage where money sourced from illegal activities is first ‘placed’ into the financial system to eventually be used as ‘clean’ money. During this stage religious institutions are ideal to advance the course of money laundering as religious ‘members’ who have engaged in criminal activities can give offerings, pledges, tithes, building project contributions, seed sowing and special offerings with the illegally acquired funds. These illegal funds received by the religious institutions are consolidated with genuine (clean) financial contributions by the non-criminal membership, and deposited into the bank accounts (emphasis on the plural) of the church as normal church activity money. Corrupted religious leaders also add their own illegally acquired earnings to the donations and other offerings from regular religious members, and then deposit the cash into their bank accounts. What complicates financial oversight over religious institutions is the lack of fixed earnings, and the list of possible financial contribution scenarios are endless. When cautious financial institutions do enquire about exceptionally large financial deposits, little can be done when the response from the religious leaders imply ‘special fund raising’ causes. With reference to the Russian Orthodox Church as an internationally recognized globalized religious institution with links to the Vatican, and a member of the World Council of Churches, it is also not uncommon for individual church branches to have international banking facilities to enable international money transfer facilities in multiple foreign currencies (such as USD, EUR, GBP). Russian Orthodox Church leaders earn commissions on all monies laundered to designated foreign beneficiary accounts, and basically with the support from the influential Russian diplomatic cadre, the Russian Orthodox Church basically enjoys total international banking freedom gained from its exploitation of organized religion and its associated ‘freedom of religion’ benefits in Western society (the target market for the majority Russian organized criminal activities).
Stage 2: Layering.
During the layering stage, illegally acquired money is separated from their source by layers of financial transactions intended to conceal the origin of the proceeds. This second stage involves converting the proceeds of the crime into another form and creating complex layers of financial transactions to disguise the audit trail, source and ownership of funds (when or when audited). A common means for Russian organized criminal groups in cooperation with the Russian Orthodox Church is to have funds transferred from the church bank accounts to registered juristic entities such as blind trusts, non-profit organizations, foundations, pseudo-public benefit organizations, front organizations, and legal businesses for ‘services delivered’. Construction, maintenance and building upgrade projects are always a common means of clearing large sums of money by over-inflating service fees, and then only providing a minor product to the value of a small percentage of the total cost of goods and services sold. In some cases, the building in which the religious institutions are accommodated are owned by a beneficiary to its illicit financial activities as a means of extracting ‘clean’ money derived from ‘rent’ payments and other ‘ancillary’ services. Basically, religious institutions engaged in money laundering usually has excessively high [inflated] expenses and overhead costs to operate. Another method used by religious organizations to enable money laundering activities is when the criminal who is a church member gives a ‘loan’ to the church for the construction of a church building. The church then pays off the loan by issuing a cheque to the church member. The cheque will then find itself in the financial system as clean money.
Stage 3: Integration.
In the final stage, legitimacy is given to illicit wealth through the reintroduction of funds into the regular economy in what appears to be normal business or personal transactions. This stage entails using laundered proceeds in seemingly normal transactions to create the perception of legitimacy. Usually (as commonly applicable to Russian organized criminal groups), funds are invested into real estate, construction projects, luxury assets with favorable tax benefits, and business with high cash earnings (such as bars, movie theaters, restaurants, strip clubs, hotels in predominantly high-volume tourist areas to further diversify money laundering channels).
So, why is money laundering such a bad thing since the funds derived from the irregular economy eventually ends up being spent in the regular economy? (To answer a common misconception amongst many people who do not understand the complexities and sensitivity of domestic economic factors when exploited). The thing is, money laundering has serious negative effects on the domestic economy of a country, local businesses (including legitimate religious organizations), and individuals alike. Over the long term it has potentially devastating economic, security and social consequences such as:
1. High rate of crime and corruption: The moment a country is labelled as a haven for money laundering it attracts criminals and terrorist financiers into the country. It also breeds bribery and corruption to enable the criminals to carry on (and promote) further criminal activities.South Africa and its current Russian influenced political dispensation is an example of this phenomenon.
2. High reputation risk: A country perceived as a money laundering haven could cause negative effects for development and economic growth in that country which could block foreign direct investment. South Africa again serves as an example (for the wrong reasons), how a report published by the US Government Financial Action Task Force (FATC) in October 2021 implicated South Africa’s weak financial oversight policies, corruption, and inabilities in the criminal justice system to effectively counter money laundering and the financing of international terror organizations though the country’s financial institutions. Initially the South African government dragged its feet in implementing the necessary reforms (which it still has not done effectively), which could result in South Africa being grey listed by the FATC with increased (enforced) oversight mechanisms when using the SWIFT system for international USD transfers. Historically, South Africa used to have specialized law enforcement capabilities with the mandate and expertise to prosecute organized crime in the form of the Directorate of Special Operations (DSO), more commonly known as the Scorpions, during the period 2001 to 2009. The unit was controlled by the National Prosecuting Authority and functioned in a similar manner to the FBI in the US, and its members were also beneficiaries of FBI training and technical advice. The problem, however, was that the unit was effective and successful at deterring and prosecuting criminals engaged in organized crime (including politicians), which became a problem for the growing involvement of political figures from the ruling ANC in organized criminal activities. During 2007, former Vice-President Jacob Zuma started his campaign to be elected as the President of the ruling party African National Congress (ANC), and one of his campaign promises were to disband the Directorate of Special Operations when he became President of the Republic of South Africa (Yes, a political campaign promise to effectively degrade the criminal justice system). Jacob Zuma eventually won the election as President of the ANC and thus became the President of the Republic of South Africa. In January 2009, the Directorate of Special Operations was disbanded with much public outcry and various legal challenges by civil society. Unfortunately, all challenges against the Presidency were unsuccessful, and the South African government lost its ability to investigate and prosecute organized crime without political interference. Now, to put this into context of current global events, Jacob Zuma was Soviet KGB trained during the Cold War era, and he maintained a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia gained access to the South African political system the moment Jacob Zuma became President, with Russia applying the same doctrine in South African politics as it did in Ukraine. Even now, Jacob Zuma is not being prosecuted for crimes relating to corruption because of the influence exercised by his Russian support on the current ruling party leadership. During 2021, when the pro-West faction within the ruling ANC tried to push for the continuation of prosecution against former President Jacob Zuma, mass civil disobedience was mobilized with the assistance of Russian GRU social media campaigns in the Zulu stronghold KwaZulu Natal where Zuma resides. During this event, specific Western brand commercial targets were destroyed, to include theft of a shipping container containing small arms ammunition from Durban port, followed by the hacking of the Durban Ports Authority computer network (which resembled the work of the Russian GRU). Bottomline is that South Africa now serves as an example of what happens when money laundering becomes part of daily society, especially when the politicians controlling the government become beneficiaries to the proceeds from illicit activities. The list of illicit activities implicating current South African political corruption is extensive (which is available on record), but what is most concerning is that it spiraled out of control the moment Jacob Zuma became President of the African National Congress, along with the enablement of Russian influence over the current ruling political class. By 2022, South Africa has gained a severely compromised reputation globally for all the wrong reasons mainly due to its continued association with Russia and its continuance of involvement in illicit activities at the political level.
3. Decline in Organized Religion: When religious institutions become involved in money laundering activities, it degrades the reputation of all religious organizations irrespective of whether a religious institution is engaged in the business of legitimate organized religious activities only. At present, religious institutions that exist for the purpose of supporting money laundering activities to derive gains from commissions earned are so common in Western society that it has become an indicator of organized criminal presence within their respective areas of operation. This is one of the major contributing factors to why organized religion has a rapidly declining membership base, especially amongst the youth.
4. Loss of tax revenue: Tax evasion is a criminal activity which contributes to losses in revenue required to provide effective government services. As government revenue declines, government operating budgets decline which erodes the standard of government services. As revenues decline, governments are forced to increase its revenue collection requirements from the legitimate tax paying community which increases consumer inflation and erodes economic conditions. As economic conditions deteriorate, more businesses are forced to close their doors due to low profitability which leads to increased unemployment. As the tax base decreases, increased unemployment demands increase government social spending which further deprives funding from other essential government services required to support the expansion of the economy and maintaining of public infrastructure. As social spending increases, spending on public infrastructure development declines, as well as defense- and police budgets are cut to make up for spending deficits in social spending to the point where daily society falls into a condition of instability and higher crime caused by a growing imbalance in the centre of gravity that upholds society. Again, South Africa serves as the perfect example of a country with a rapidly growing imbalance in its centre of gravity.
5. Privatization of State Assets: High occurrence of government corruption commonly leads to political instability which erodes state power. When state power is reduced, a country is more vulnerable to illicit activities which in effect depreciates value within targeted economic sectors. State owned enterprises are usually sought after by organized criminal groups, especially when their influence over the political system is sufficient to enable procurement of a state asset at below market value (basic doctrine applied by various senior KGB members during the disbandment of the USSR, and how the first-generation oligarchs were established in Russia. The same doctrine also applied in Ukraine post-Soviet independence). This concept is usually followed by high earning organized criminal groups requiring facilities to launder large sums of cash, and private acquisition of state assets is a simple means of laundering large amounts of cash with the assistance of government institutions. The other problem caused by organized criminal groups is that they usually have access to the necessary financing required to purchase state assets which legitimate businesses do not necessarily have without engaging into partnerships with outside investors. The consequence of organized criminal groups investing in state owned enterprises through privatization is that the essential services component of such enterprises become lost to the public which originally financed the establishment of such services, and the now privatized entity becomes another system to support the laundering of money gained from illicit activities.
Money laundering and terrorist financing is presently a major problem for the international banking system, especially in Africa, and the Caribbean (Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba). Looking at these specific locations, it is not a coincidence that where high occurrence of money laundering is present, that a church belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church is also found. In Africa alone, Russia has successfully established the Russian Orthodox Church in Angola, South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria, Libya, CAR, Seychelles, and Zimbabwe, with plans to expand its ‘religion’ to every African country as soon as possible. Basically, Russia has weaponized the church as a tool for expanding and enabling its foreign influence strategy, and the Russian Orthodox Church has become a convenient mechanism for Russia to distribute its funding requirements to sustain its international operations.
However, an important take-away from this abuse of religious organization infrastructure and benefits is that this concept is not only applied within the Russian Orthodox Church, but also applied following the same methods in all the different religions globally. No organized religion is immune from abuse, and all religious institutions are dependent on access to member contributed funding to survive.
At the beginning of Part 1 we stated that readers need to have an open mind when studying this subject for the simple reason that it is complex. It is complex because it was designed to be complex. Although this article relates to the timeline of Russian interference in Ukraine leading up to the February 24, 2022, invasion, we have included a brief reference to global events relating to Russia’s extensive network of interference far wider than just the territories of Ukraine. The reason we did that is to illustrate that the current Russian aggression in Ukraine is but only a component of Russia’s strategic competition where everything is in fact linked, why it is so important that the West should not underestimate what Russia (and its enablers) has achieved since the dissolution of the USSR. The West has been blind to Russia’s unwillingness to cease its global power expansionism, and it is now essential that Ukraine receives the support it requires to resist Russia’s strategic expansionism goals, not only for Ukraine, but for everyone living in the perceived ‘free world’. At the time of publishing this article, the United States has been the largest military- and humanitarian aid donor to Ukraine, having supplied to Ukraine more than double of what the rest of the world combined has provided. The fact that the US is still being blamed for the current Russo-Ukraine War is only an extension of Russian disinformation, and it’s time that the West opens its eyes and sees Russia and its few allies for the true belligerents they are, and to acknowledge the damage they have done since Russia declared its silent war against the West in 2014. The Russo-Ukraine War is not only Ukraine’s war, its everyone’s war.
The most critical reality about the Russo-Ukraine War which few wishes to accept is that even though the war is being fought within the territories of Ukraine, it is in fact not about Ukraine. The real target in this war is the United States of America, and until the day the Western leadership comes to realize that, and how a world order under the leadership of a belligerent Russian kleptocracy would affect them, Ukraine will fail, which would result in the failure of Western society.
To be continued / ...
Last Updated: 03 1200Z April 2023
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