April 28, 2021
Whenever Western governments confront Moscow’s aggression and state terrorism, they stand accused of “Russophobia.”
This misleading epithet is intended to rally ordinary Russians around the Kremlin as the purported victims of international conspiracies. In countering such disinformation, Western policymakers must expose Moscow’s international terrorism and make clear distinctions between Vladimir Putin‘s regime and the Russian people. The evidence for the Kremlin’s game is clear.
In a blatant attempt at deception to hide a deadly terrorist attack, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused the Czech government of “unbridled Russophobia” after it expelled 18 staff from the Russian Embassy in Prague. Following prolonged investigations, Russia’s military intelligence (GRU) operatives stand accused of blowing up munitions depots in the Czech Republic and killing two workers in an effort to stop arms exports to Ukraine. The same GRU unit was also involved in explosions in several arms depots in Bulgaria in 2014 that killed 16 people, the attempted coup in Montenegro in October 2016, and the 2018 poisoning of the former British intelligence agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England.
The Kremlin has now supplanted jihadist groups as the main perpetrator of terrorist strikes on NATO territory and uses Russian embassies throughout Europe as headquarters for its operations. Czech counterintelligence has repeatedly warned that the oversized Russian Embassy in Prague is a major base for spying, sabotage, and assassinations in the region. In addition to disinformation, cyberwar, political corruption, and energy dependence, these operations have become a major tool of Kremlin subversion.
To camouflage their destructive foreign operations, Kremlin officials condemn any disclosures as racist Russophobia, depicting Russians as an ostracized people despised by Western powers. For instance, Kremlin spokesmen portray the shooting down of a Malaysian passenger plane over Ukraine’s Donbas region in July 2014 by a missile fired from an area controlled by Moscow’s separatist proxies as a Western plot to discredit Russians. And similarly, with the campaign of bombings and assassinations, blame is deliberately deflected from Putin’s henchmen. The Russian people are presented as the victims of Western attacks.
Kremlin-directed terrorism, sabotage, and disinformation necessitate a much firmer response by NATO allies. Instead of simply stating that Putin is a “killer,” President Joe Biden should pinpoint him as an organizer of international terrorism and initiate a NATO task force at the June summit in Brussels to systematically investigate and combat
Kremlin terrorism. The deadly activities of the GRU and other intelligence agencies can also be curtailed by cutting back drastically on the staffing of Russian embassies. When the Czech government appealed to NATO allies to demonstrate their solidarity, Slovakia, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania announced they were expelling several Russian diplomats. Prague is also planning to eject dozens more embassy staff in the coming weeks.
Paradoxically, it is Putin and his inner circle who are the real Russophobes. By imposing an informational monopoly and persistently lying about the West, they demonstrate a profound fear of a backlash from Russian citizens for decades of state corruption, repression, economic misery, and international isolation. That backlash should be endorsed and encouraged by Western citizens, organizations, and governments because all nations in the Russian Federation are entitled to freedom and democracy.
Janusz Bugajski is a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation in Washington, D.C. His recent book, Eurasian Disunion: Russia’s Vulnerable Flanks, is co-authored with Margarita Assenova. His upcoming book is titled Failed State: Planning for Russia’s Rupture.