Is Moscow hiring gangsters to sabotage Western factories supplying arms to Ukraine?

Published by The Mail on Sunday (12th May, 2024)

Intelligence chiefs have warned ministers they fear Britain and other key Ukrainian allies are being targeted by Russian saboteurs following a series of suspicious incidents in recent months.

These include a wave of fires at arms factories and military-related industrial sites in the West that are supplying Ukraine. There have also been attacks on computer systems, train derailments and even jamming of satellite signals for civil air flights.

Last night, a senior British security source said Western intelligence agencies feared a spate of industrial fires were connected to Moscow , saying ‘the bastards’ were trying to set Europe alight.

‘Lots of fires that we thought were accidents and unconnected have turned out to be connected,’ he said. 

This source added that intelligence chiefs had warned ministers that Moscow was increasingly hiring gangsters and far-Right extremists to carry out attacks on Western interests.

He said Russia was acting in a more cavalier manner than in the past, even targeting military uniform suppliers. ‘In terms of damage it’s been marginal so far – but in terms of tactics it is very serious because they’ve become far more reckless.’

One Cabinet Minister insisted he could not discuss the suspected sabotage and arson attacks, even on a background basis, ‘for national security reasons’.

But Tory MP Bob Seely, a Russian-speaking specialist on disinformation and member of the foreign affairs committee, said that Britain must wake up to the threat.

‘We need to understand that the Russian state believes it is in conflict with the UK and other leading Western nations,’ he added.

‘We have to defend ourselves. We don’t know the true scale of these operations. Some look amateurish – but they will get more sophisticated. They are in part for propaganda purposes to show that [Vladimir] Putin is hitting back at the West but also intended to stretch our security forces.’

Last week, Home Secretary James Cleverly expelled Moscow’s long-serving defence attache and removed diplomatic protection from several Russian-owned properties being used as spy bases.

Mr Cleverly told Parliament that ‘malign activities’ such as leaking state documents and cyber attacks on MPs, along with the planning of sabotage actions in Bulgaria, Germany, Italy and Poland, ‘bear all the hallmarks of a deliberate campaign by Russia designed to ‘bring the war home’ across Europe and to undermine our collective resolve to support Ukraine’.

Among recent incidents on British soil was an arson attack in March on an east London warehouse containing aid shipments for Ukraine. Two men charged with arson have been accused by prosecutors of working for the Russian government.

Last month, there was an explosion at a South Wales factory run by BAE Systems, Britain’s biggest defence firm, which manufactures arms sent to Ukraine. Yesterday, a BAE Systems spokesman said an investigation was being carried out but ‘there is no evidence of sabotage’. 

Another fire broke out two days earlier at a General Dynamics plant in Pennsylvania that makes 155mm-calibre artillery shells being sent to Ukraine. The cause had ‘nothing to do with outside influence’, insisted the firm’s spokesman.

Earlier this month, another fire broke out at a factory near Berlin run by a firm making air defence systems supplied to Ukraine.

It took 223 firefighters to tackle the inferno, with billowing clouds of black smoke and fears of toxic contamination. Police said they suspected ‘negligent arson’ since there were ‘no indications of sabotage or an attack’.

The wave of suspected Kremlin attacks go far wider than attacks on military supplies. Sweden, which joined Nato after the invasion of Ukraine, is investigating whether state-backed sabotage lies behind a series of train derailments.

Poland – a key supporter of Kyiv and arms supply route -– disrupted a network of saboteurs thought to be planning an attack on their rail system.

‘Russia has been at war with us for a long time but people are finally seeing the seriousness of the situation,’ said Keir Giles, of the Chatham House think-tank.

Russian jamming has impacted hundreds of civilian flights in Europe, especially over the Baltic States, Poland and Scandinavia. One Finnish airline suspended flights to an airport in Estonia due to consistent GPS interference.

Russia has also been accused of cyber attacks on Britain’s Electoral Commission and even crashing the Royal Family’s website.

One Baltic diplomatic source said: ‘Moscow cannot start a concerted war against Nato but it is trying every other possible measure to challenge the West and disrupt our lives.’

There can no longer be any doubt – Putin is waging war on us

The West has been pathetically complacent over the real nature of Putin’s regime since he took power at the start of this century.

Typical was Britain’s prime minister Tony Blair, who naively brushed aside warnings about Russian espionage to rapidly embrace Putin, even giving him a pair of silver Downing Street cufflinks as a birthday gift in 2001. 

Five years later Putin ordered the assassination in London of Alexander Litvinenko, a spy who had defected and detailed Kremlin killings.

Then came the 2008 invasion of Georgia, followed by his invasion of Ukraine in 2014 and illegal seizure of Crimea. 

I watched these events unfolding in Kyiv and Simferopol, then saw the corpses of innocent people and even pet dogs strewn around the fields of Donbas after his goons shot down a civilian aircraft flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

Yet still-drowsy leaders of democracies in Washington, London, Paris and Berlin pretended Putin was a respectable leader – while greedy banks, estate agents, football clubs and lawyers helped launder the billions stolen by his patsy oligarchs.

Never mind the murder of Putin’s rivals, the crushing of democracy and human rights in Russia, atrocities inflicted by his armed forces in Syria, even the sinister use of a deadly nerve agent in Salisbury that killed an innocent British citizen.

It took the full-scale attack on Kyiv in February 2022 to finally wake most Western nations from their slumber.

Even then, the response has been hesitant and the support insufficient for the Ukrainian people on the bloodstained frontline in a war that has spiralled into an epochal global struggle between autocracy and democracy.

Now there can be no doubt: whether we like it or not, Russia is waging war on the West on many fronts – and we need to respond far more forcefully and smartly in defence of freedom

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