US intelligence report as possibly signaling new hard line

Text of report by the website of heavyweight liberal Russian newspaper Kommersant on 2 February

[Report by Kirill Belyaninov and Gennadiy Sysoyev: "America Has Explored Russia’s Future. Special Services Present A Report on ‘Global Threats’ to the Senate"]

The US special services have for the first time clearly expounded what they expect from Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and CIA head David Petraeus have presented a report to the Senate on threats to US security, a significant part of which is devoted to Russia. In the opinion of American intelligence, "reforms and liberalization" should not be expected from President Putin, and, although there will not be an "immediate rollback" in foreign policy, it "will be more difficult" to develop the United States’ relations with Moscow. Experts believe that the report could serve as "confirmation of the establishment of a tougher line towards Russia on the part of Congress."

The report "Assessing Global Threats" (which is at Kommersant’s disposal) is the result of many months of work by 16 special services belonging to the US intelligence community. Its main conclusion is that America is no longer threatened by a single adversary, as was the case during the Cold War. The United States is now encountering many threats, among which the head of the American intelligence community, General James Clapper, lists terrorism, the expansion of the Al Qa’idah network, the uncontrolled proliferation of nuclear technologies, the nuclear programmes of Iran and North Korea, and also the growing threat of war in cyberspace.

A significant part of the American intelligence services’ report is devoted to Russia. Gen. Clapper reminded senators that in October 2011 the US National Counterintelligence Service reached the conclusion that the trails of the overwhelming majority of cyber attacks on US computer networks lead to Russia, and also to China. Although many attacks are organized by "independent hackers," according to the information of US intelligence, the intelligence services and official structures of these countries are increasingly involving themselves in computer warfare. In addition, the American intelligence chief warned, "Russia and China are conducting aggressive and successful economic espionage against the United States – they have managed to inflict appreciable losses on American interests by stealing and illegally disclosing secret economic and industrial information."

However, the main focus of attention in the "Russian section" of the report is the United States’ expectations from the return of Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin after the 4 March elections. "On the internal front, it is highly likely that Putin will maintain the existing political and economic system, and will not be the initiator of reforms or liberalization, despite the growing problems that could become a serious test for the system of ‘controlled democracy’ and of a capitalism infected by chronic corruption," the US intelligence services report.

The intelligence services’ chief rendered its forecasts more specific. "Putin will most likely concentrate on restoring the unity of the elite, protecting accumulated riches, and offering new opportunities for the enrichment of the elite," Gen. Clapper told senators, stipulating that the Kremlin will also have to look after ordinary citizens. "He will attempt to ensure the kind of standard of living that will be able to pacify the masses," the head of US intelligence believes. "At the same time, it will be increasingly difficult to keep control of the growing demands for change, in view of Russia’s modest growth rates."

The US special services’ experts do not expect serious changes in Russia’s external policy. "The return of Putin is unlikely to lead to an immediate or conspicuous rollback in relations between Russia and the United States, but it will be increasingly difficult to develop bilateral relations," US intelligence believes, clarifying that "Putin’s instinctive distrust" of the United States could complicate the situation. The report reaches the conclusion that the development of genuine partnership relations between Moscow and Washington is impossible because "Russian continues to regard the reset policy as the United States’ personal initiative" and expects that Washington will now display "flexibility and readiness for compromises for the sake of continuing cooperation."

American intelligence regards missile defence as the main problem in bilateral relations with the Russian Federation. "Moscow’s concern over the United States’ plans to deploy missile defence could cause Russia to pull out of further talks on the reduction of nuclear weapons," Gen. Clapper warned senators. No real collaboration with Russia should be expected, in his opinion, in resolving the problems of Syria and Iran either, because the Kremlin fears that the West’s operations there "have regime change as their goal."

American intelligence also assesses Russia’s plans to modernize its Army sceptically. "The reform programmes will enable the Russian Army to conquer its smaller neighbours more quickly and to preserve dominant positions in the post-Soviet area," the head of US intelligence acknowledged. "But all the same, this will not be able to give the Russian Army the ability to conduct serious offensive operations against NATO."

In the opinion of experts, the report of the American special services cannot by itself serve as a clear sign of the United States’ disenchantment with the reset policy and the forthcoming change in the Kremlin. "In the United States, various views on Russia are expressed at the level of different subdepartments. What is said in the State Department may not coincide with the point of view of the special services, because there is a rivalry between them," Yuriy Rogulev, director of the Moscow State University Franklin D. Roosevelt Foundation for United States Studies, explained to Kommersant. In his opinion, the position of the US intelligence community with regard to Russia is, as a rule, the most critical, because the CIA traditionally regards Moscow as a potential threat to the United States, irrespective of the level of relations. However, the expert acknowledges that US intelligence "often makes public only what people want to hear from it, and the latest report could serve as a confirmation of the consolidation of a harder line towards Russia on the part of the US Congress."

Source: Kommersant website, Moscow, in Russian 2 Feb 12

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