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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2211

The Russian threat to undersea cables;
Revealed: Russia's strategy to destabilize Ukraine

Edited by Ilan Berman and Margot Van Loon
May 4, 2018


March 30:

Ukraine is poised to displace Russia as India's partner in managing and maintaining New Delhi's arsenal of Soviet-era weaponry. Russia has long had a monopoly on this role, and Ukrainian defense officials have accused Moscow of "forcibly blocking" Kyiv's entry into the Indian market. Now, however, years of concerted Ukrainian effort are paying off:
Defense News reports that increasing Ukrainian-Indian military collaboration spans the overhaul of old aircraft carriers and air defense systems, spare part manufacturing for Soviet-era tanks and aircraft, and the joint development of new rocket launchers and electronic warfare platforms. In all, Kyiv believes these deals will increase its annual defense business with India from $100 million to $500 million by 2021. Perto Fedoruk, the chief advisor to the Ukrainian defense industry consortium, asserts that this is a "long-term" effort to "manage Soviet-era headaches, which India cannot manage alone."

Mysterious Russian submarine activity along the world's seafloor cables is rousing suspicion among Russia watchers and U.S. lawmakers.
According to a news report by the Associated Press, some 620,000 miles of unprotected undersea fiber-optic cables now transmit the majority of global communications and financial transactions, presenting a tempting target for malicious actors. The report also spotlights one of those potential threats: the Russian Main Directorate of Deep Sea Research, the official purpose of which is underwater reconnaissance and salvage. That, however, is likely just the tip of the iceberg; Russian media has frequently reported on the Directorate's broader role in collecting information on the underwater U.S. data network.

Russia is now believed to be mapping these links - and may even be quietly sabotaging them. Independent observers, the AP notes, have linked the movements of Directorate vessels to mysterious cable outages in the Persian Gulf. Experts predict that the Russians are likely "doing their homework" or "laying the groundwork" for future sabotage in the event of a conflict, where a cable outage would severely impact U.S. military intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations.

April 2:

The fallout from the recent poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the UK continues. Three days after the Trump administration declared 60 Russians personae non gratae and shuttered the country's Seattle consulate, the Kremlin has retaliated by announcing the immediate closure of the American consulate in St. Petersburg and the expulsion of 60 U.S. diplomats from Moscow and Yekaterinburg.
According to the Washington Post, U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman was informed of the move after receiving a formal summons to the Foreign Ministry in Moscow. The Post reports that St. Petersburg was selected for closure via an online poll by the Foreign Ministry's Twitter followers.

Russia's 2014 invasion and destabilization of neighboring Ukraine was proposed by sympathetic politicians as part of an elaborate informational strategy code-named "Troy,"
reports the Times of London. According to the British paper, the plan - which was sent to Kremlin strategist and Putin confidante Vyacheslav Surkov - entailed "a strategy to prepare the people of Zaporizhzhia region in eastern Ukraine for a pro-Russian takeover" - something which the proposal's author, former "United Russia" parliamentarian Alexei Muratov, termed a "'liberation from Nazi-fascist occupiers.'" The strategy has come to light as part of a recent hack of Surkov's emails, and the revelations contained therein were detailed in a new report just issued by British lawmakers. The documentation is damning; according to British parliamentarian Bob Seely, Surkov's emails "provide a snapshot of covert campaigns and hybrid war, and the price of everything from cyberattacks to fake news, bribes and demos all the way through to overthrowing regional governments."

April 3:

President Trump's plan to pull American troops out of Syria has met with the Kremlin's approval.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that Russian officials have applauded Trump's inclination, communicated publicly in recent days, to withdraw U.S. servicemen from Syria "very soon" now that the Islamic State terrorist group has been militarily defeated, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying that Trump's comments demonstrate that the U.S. president "is committed at least to the previous promises the United States will leave Syria after victory over the Islamic State."