Was Iran really the target of the planned missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic? Or was it Russia?
President Obama announced today that he was scrapping Bush administration plans to locate a radar system and 10 ground-based interceptors in Eastern Europe that were aimed, he insisted, at Iran — not Russia.
But a better question might be: Does it really matter?
Plans to build a midcourse radar in the Czech Republic (with Raytheon serving as prime contractor) stirred up massive opposition. A fascinating view on this comes from the Czech intelligence service, the BIS, which has been publicly reporting for several years about the anti-radar campaign.
In its 2007 annual report, the BIS reported that Russia’s foreign intelligence services were active in the Czech Republic:
Last year’s operations of the Russian services in the Czech Republic were mainly related to the plan of building components of the US anti-missile defence system in our country, and to Russian disputes with Baltic states. Efforts to set up concealed channels of influence in the frame of Czech government and political structures continue unabated.
In the first place, the Russian services attempted to establish contacts with public opinion-makers, political circles and the media and infiltrate organizations influencing public opinion to win them over for supporting Russian interests in debates on the issue of locating an American radar in the Czech Republic.
One of these concealed channels may have been the No to the Bases movement, which includes MIT professor Noam Chomsky on its list of supporters. No to the Bases has denied any involvement from Russia, but Czech intelligence believes the group’s well-intentioned supporters are actually unwitting pawns of Russia. The BIS reportedly was highly suspicious of free billboards given to the campaign.
The BIS reported in 2008 that Russian intelligence activity had reached a high level of intensity, and had returned to the “Soviet practice of active measures” — propaganda and disinformation — “as an important instrument for promoting foreign-policy interests of Russia in the world.” The BIS compared the efforts to 20th century Soviet espionage practices successfully applied to influence the peace movement in Western Europe.
In this CNN interview, retired Maj. Gen. Oleg Kalugin, former head of KGB operations in the US, described these “active measures” as “the heart and soul of the Soviet intelligence. The goal, he said, was to “weaken” the military, economic and psychological climate in the West.
In this sense, whether or not the missiles were aimed at Russia was almost irrelevant. The Czech radar had become part of Russia’s broader geo-strategic campaign of gaining influence in the region, according to the BIS:
Seen in a wider context, their aim is not only to feed opposition against the radar, but also to create an impression that under the patronage of the EU and NATO the Nazi ideology is being rehabilitated in Europe and the decisive contribution of the Soviet Union to the defeat of Nazism in the World War II is being denied.
One example of this could be the recent release of what Russia’s intelligence service, the SVR, said were documents showing Poland’s collaboration with Nazi Germany during World War II.
According to BIS, the operations of the Russian services targeted at the Czech Republic and its allies may be a part of a broader and prolonged campaign designed to undermine the EU and NATO integrity, isolate the United States (or encourage isolationist moods in the USA) and regain control over the security of the once Soviet-ruled territories in Europe, irrespective of the results of the anti-missile radar negotiations.
With today’s move, the Obama administration certainly didn’t give Russia any reason to think its campaign wasn’t working.