Germany sends two diplomats after the murder of a Chechen in Berlin. Can this step to deter Moscow from assassinations abroad, asks British intelligence expert mark Galeotti.
Germany reacted to the murder in Berlin August 23, the former Chechen field commander. Three months after the execution of Zelimkhan khangoshvili (Tornike Kavtarashvili) the German government announced the expulsion of two Russian diplomats. Officially – because of the refusal to assist in the investigation. On suspicion in Commission of crime in hot pursuit was arrested by the Russian with a fake passport. The case is officially transferred to the Federal Prosecutor’s office of Germany due to the presence of evidence that the crime involved the secret services of foreign States.
Murder khangoshvili in the centre of the German capital – is the German “Salisbury”, although there are differences, says mark Galeotti, Professor Emeritus at University College London (UCL), a specialist in Russian security services. He is referring to the attack on the double agent of Russian and British secret service, Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Julia, committed in March 2018 in the British Salisbury. If the response of Berlin to the massacre of Chechen is not strong enough to convince Moscow to stop such an operation does not succeed, the expert said in an interview with DW.
DW: After Germany announced the expulsion of diplomats over Moscow’s refusal to help in the investigation, and the Federal Prosecutor’s office of Germany has assumed the investigation into the murder, it can be considered the second Salisbury. But not all repeated. What do you see as the differences between the two cases?
Mark Galeotti: There are two differences. The first significant second – no. Some indicate that in Salisbury in the course went the chemical weapons, not the good old gun. I differences do not see here.
The real difference is the policy response. After the attack in Salisbury, we observed a very fast, aggressive reaction of the British government, which turned into a wave of expulsions of Russian spies from many countries. And I must say, it was a shock for the Kremlin, which did not expect. While we never seen anything like it. Berlin is much more cautious. It will be interesting, will Germany call the international response.
– The German authorities did not do loud statements that announced the expulsion of diplomats, briefly stated about the cause – everything. How do you understand this: does Berlin to the escalation of the conflict with Moscow or try to press on the brake and avoid an escalation?
It’s hard to say at the moment. While easier said Moscow’s reaction – most likely, in response, she copied from two Germans. Then it all depends on Berlin. Want there just to close this Chapter, especially in the context of the meeting in the “Normandy format” on settlement of the conflict in Ukraine or want to demonstrate that Germany cannot be regarded as easy of a target? Based on the present moment, I have a suspicion that in Berlin do not want an escalation. But the choice for them.
– First, the failure of the operation to Salisbury, when the attackers were identified as officers of the GRU, now Berlin, when the killer from Russia managed to catch: it’s a failure for the Russian special services or just a risk that Moscow is ready to go for their goals?
– I think we should remember that in some issues, Moscow is guided by the military mentality. Of course, not in the sense that there really are planning a war. But they are prepared to take casualties to achieve their goals. Here, for example, a single perpetrator involved in the murder. He is not an intelligence officer, so I guess his fate and they don’t.
Yes, for a while intelligence operations in Germany will be limited, as they lose two intelligence officers. But they still have other. They, probably, have estimated the potential costs and likely consider it an acceptable price for the particular Chechen, whom they had killed.
What else is needed to understand the calculation of the Kremlin: they want to show themselves so unpredictable and so dangerous to the West as if there was nothing how to negotiate with Moscow. To create a sense that Russia is essential to achieve understanding. If it helps to win concessions on the issue of Ukraine, recognition of the annexation of Crimea, and it is good. In a perverted sense, Russia is quite satisfied that it can be identified as the organizer of the attacks.
The real problem for them arises only when they can’t predict the consequences of their actions that we kind of saw after the attack on Skripal or after a burglary attempt OPCW when a group of Russian GRU officers caught in the Netherlands and, frankly, exposed them to ridicule. So the question is, predictable if waiting for the Kremlin losses. Yet nothing suggests that the reaction of Berlin forced Moscow to worry.
– From the point of view of the West, should we not consider the revision of the strategy of relations with Russia and make the response less predictable and more hard on such killings?
– I would not want to use the word “hard”, but what I would add: we have NATO, a very powerful structure that demonstrates international solidarity against direct military threats. Attacking one of the member countries of the block, you enter into a confrontation with everyone. But what is not still, especially in the European Union: similar solidarity in matters of non-military threats. If there is a hacker attack against the voting system, murder on your territory or anything else, you actually remain with it alone. Reaction to the attack in Salisbury for the first time demonstrated something completely different.
In my conversations in Moscow with people associated with the world of foreign policy and intelligence, I felt insecurity on their part: this reaction is a one – time response or a new norm? After all, if Moscow will get a similar response from the international community every time they conducted such operations abroad, the price of these shares will become too high.
So in some ways, the operation in Berlin was a test. They wanted to see, was it the case with Salisbury just an exception. And frankly, if this step (the expulsion of two employees of the Russian Embassy in Germany. – Ed.) is the only answer, then they decide that this was the exception, and will return to the usual practice.