December 28, 2022

The Threat from Abroad


The Threat from Abroad
The Lubyanka building, Moscow. Alexander Savin, Wikimedia Commons.

In Russia there is growing concern about the threat from spies and saboteurs.

On December 20, in a congratulatory speech to celebrate Security Agency Workers Day, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the security services should intensify their work against new risks and threats. In particular, he called on counterintelligence services to hunt for spies and saboteurs, and constantly control places for mass gatherings of citizens, strategic facilities, transport, and energy infrastructure. 

“Maximum concentration of forces is required now from counterintelligence services. It is necessary to suppress the actions of foreign special services, and to promptly identify traitors, spies, and saboteurs,” Putin said.

The notion of catching spies and saboteurs is becoming more acute. A few days ago in Irkutsk, billboards appeared with a unique method for uncovering Ukrainian “spies” among one's friends

The billboards propose using the words “Syktyvkar" (the capital of Komi Republic) and "Bashkortostan" (the republic located between Volga and the Ural mountains) to ferret out spies. Allegedly, the words are shibboleths: so difficult to say that only a true Russian could pronounce them correctly.

Sabotage is also being actively discussed in the Duma, where, on December 21, a package of “anti-sabotage” amendments were made to the Criminal Code. Three new articles will appear: 281.1 (“Aiding sabotage”), 281.2 (“Training for the purposes of sabotage”), and 281.3 (“Organizing or taking part in a sabotage organization”).

Recruiting and persuading a person to take part in sabotage will be punishable by eight to 15 years in prison. Aiding sabotage will lead to ten to 20 years. And organizing or sponsoring it will have a sentence of 15–20 years. In all cases, a sentence can be increased to life in prison.

These developments demonstrate a ratcheting up of the already extensive paranoia common since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

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