Despite the recent act of solidarity with the United Kingdom over the poisoning of a former Russian spy, Europe is still doing little to blunt Kremlin’s espionage weapons used for political interference and other preventive and preemptive actions remain modest.
Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has toughened its military readiness but the non-military response has been weak as European governments disagree over where the biggest threats lie and when the provocations are big enough to trigger a response. At an EU summit last week, leaders urged to look for new measures by the beginning of summer to increase the bloc’s resilience to Russian-based threats.
Earlier this week, NATO said that it was revoking accreditation of seven diplomats and rejecting the application of three new ones, all parts of a policy that will now cap the headcount of the Russian mission to a maximum of 20. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg described the retaliation as going beyond a reaction to the poisoning, saying these measures were part of “a broader response” of allies to “reckless behavior by Russia.” “Russia has underestimated the unity of NATO allies,” Mr. Stoltenberg added.
Moscow-backed interventions include cyberattacks, espionage and election meddling in the US, Europe and elsewhere. But all are meant to question the origin or responsibility in order to minimize a Western response. The latest attacks included the interfering in France’s domestic elections, the jailing of an Estonian intelligence officer who Tallinn says had been kidnapped from its side of the border as well as a hacker attack involving a false story about Lithuanian Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis. “It started as fake news, but in fact it was a cyberattack, an attempt to spread a virus meant to take over key systems,” Mr. Karoblis said.
As part of the new EU emphasis on the prevention against Russian activities, European leaders have vowed to increase their efforts, acknowledging that much work needs to be done to blunt cyberattacks and propaganda. “It is clear that we should reinforce our preparedness for future attacks,” said European Council President Donald Tusk last week. “And we need to increase our resilience to hybrid threats, such as undermining trust in our democracies through fake news or election-meddling.”