Putin Plotting 'Physical Attacks' On West, UK Intelligence Warns, Amid Spate Of Mystery Arsons

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by Tyler Durden
Tuesday, May 14, 2024 - 09:20 PM

A top British intelligence official has issued a new alarmist warning concerning the 'Russian threat' to the West. Anne Keast-Butler, who for the last year has headed up the UK's GCHQ, or signals intelligence operations (which is the equivalent of America's NSA), has warned in her first major speech that President Putin is plotting "physical attacks" against Western targets.

Addressing cyber security experts in Birmingham, the GCHQ director claimed that Moscow is busy "nurturing and inspiring" groups of cyber attackers, and is even "in some cases seemingly coordinating physical attacks against the West."

Diehl Metall steel plant in Berlin goes up in flames on May 3.

She said that alongside Russia, China poses an "epoch-defining" risk to long-term UK national security as well. She admitted that currently China is taking up "more resource… than any other single mission" at GCHQ.

But ultimately she focused the speech on British intelligence being "increasingly concerned about growing links between the Russian intelligence services and proxy groups to conduct cyber-attacks – as well as suspected physical surveillance and sabotage operations."

She also said at a moment the major new Kharkiv offensive is underway that "Putin has not given up on his maximalist goal of subjugating the population of Ukraine."

Her dire assessment comes as the British government is seeking to crack down on Russian diplomatic sites in the UK which are suspected of being dual Russian intelligence hubs.

There have also been recent new accusations of specific attacks on UK infrastructure being linked to Russia. For example The Telegraph writes that "Last week, a British man was charged with an arson attack in London and accused by prosecutors of working for Wagner Group, the Russian paramilitary organization."

The same report notes that "Russia has long been accused of protecting cyber gangs that target Western organizations, allowing them to operate with relative impunity as they carry out sophisticated hacks."

"Last week, the National Crime Agency named Dmitry Khoroshev, a Russian national, as the person behind LockBit – a ransomware group that had stolen hundreds of millions of pounds from businesses," The Telegraph continues.

There are other locations in Europe where recent 'mystery fires' or suspected sabotage attacks have occurred, raising the suspicions of NATO officials.

Days ago, The Daily Mail produced a highly speculative report which somewhat sensationally points the finger at "gangsters" hired by Moscow to "set Europe alight"

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 [or last Friday night], a senior British security source said Western intelligence agencies feared a spate of industrial fires were connected to Moscow, saying 'the b******s' 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.

The aforementioned words of GCHQ director Keast-Butler seem to provide new confirmation that this is the view of British intelligence - that at the very least some of these incidents are being seen as the result of Moscow-linked sabotage.

Likely many of these industrial incidents and fires (going back "months" we are told) could be accidents, and it's unclear the degree to which there's been any actual confirmed sabotage or arson. Still, it has set off some degree of panic in the top echelons of the UK government

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.'

Again, all of these accusations have little in the way of verifiable evidence (or at least it hasn't been made public). 

Social media image of the Berlin fire, said to have contained poisonous sulphuric acid and copper cyanide.

Below is a key incident in Berlin as reported by The Daily Mail:

Earlier this month, another fire broke out at a factory near Berlin run by a firm making air defense 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.

The Economist has made the same accusation in a headline this week that reads Russia is ramping up sabotage across Europe: The Kremlin believes it is in a shadow war with NATO. Here's how the magazine described the same Berlin fire:

The fire that broke out in the Diehl Metall factory in the Lichterfelde suburb of Berlin on May 3rd was not in itself suspicious. The facility, a metals plant, stored sulphuric acid and copper cyanide, two chemicals that can combine dangerously when ignited. Accidents happen. What raised eyebrows was the fact that Diehl’s parent company makes the IRIS-T air-defence system which Ukraine is using to parry Russian missiles. There is no evidence that this fire was an act of sabotage. If the idea is plausible it is because there is ample evidence that Russia’s covert war in Europe is intensifying.

Interestingly, police have cited "negligent arson" as the cause for the disaster, which at one point caused area evacuations on fears of poison gas clouds as a result of the large fire.

So apparently there are shadowy teams of Russian-backed saboteurs going around trying to derail trains and blow up manufacturing sites. While anything is possible - especially after over two years of horrific, grinding war in Ukraine - not one of these saboteurs has been caught in the act, other than the pair which allegedly surveilled an American military base.

There's as yet no 'smoking gun' - despite these loud warnings from NATO officials. However, some suspects have reportedly been rounded up:

In April alone a clutch of alleged pro-Russian saboteurs were detained across the continent. Germany arrested two German-Russian dual nationals on suspicion of plotting attacks on American military facilities and other targets on behalf of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency. Poland arrested a man who was preparing to pass the GRU information on Rzeszow airport, the most important hub for military aid to Ukraine. Britain charged several men over an earlier arson attack in March on a Ukrainian-owned logistics firm in London whose Spanish depot was also targeted. The men are accused of aiding the Wagner Group, a mercenary group that has been active in Ukraine and is now under the GRU's control.

Earlier this month Britain did expel a Russian defense attaché from the country, accusing the official of being an undeclared intelligence officer under diplomatic cover. In this case too, the government hasn't made the basis for its suspicions public.

The body of reporting which alleges Putin is ultimately behind these 'sabotage plots' has grown over the last several weeks:

Throughout the war in Ukraine, Russia has also seen dozens of mysterious fires break out at industrial and defense-related sites and factories. In some causes the Kremlin has blamed West-backed Ukrainian saboteurs. Is Putin now returning the favor against Europe?