National Security

Are Shadowy Intelligence Organizations Supporting Rosatom, the Russian Nuclear Energy Company?

Note from the author:  On 25 September 2018, a day after I published an article titled “Why Is A Shadowy Intelligence Organization Supporting Rosatom, the Russian Nuclear Energy Company?”, a London-based public relations firm representing Rosatom contacted OpsLens.  The firm complained that the article made unprovable allegations that Rosatom and a Russian intelligence agency coordinate activities, and threatened legal action.  I have revised the article to make it unmistakably clear that as an opinion and commentary writer, my articles are based on my opinions.  I also have added some source material to illustrate why I formed those opinions. Some of those sources are in Russian, but a fair translation can be obtained by pasting the text into Google Translate.  I have fact checked my understanding of the Russian material with multiple native speakers of Russian.

Rosatom is known as the Russian atomic energy company.  But it is also an integral part of the Russian defense industrial complex.  It plays a vital role in the production and development of Russian nuclear weapons, which are the only key to Russia’s remaining world influence.  Without nukes, Russia would be as significant as Argentina in geopolitics.

In a 2016 annual report to Congress, the Director of National Intelligence detailed Rosatom’s weapons-related activities. “The Russian State Corporation for Atomic Energy (Rosatom) operates the national nuclear weapons complex, conducts weapons-related tests at the MOD nuclear test site, and controls most nuclear-related institutes and industrial facilities.”

To the international energy industry, Rosatom is a recognized brand name, a successful Russian corporation that builds nuclear power plants.  But I believe Rosatom’s work with nuclear weapons is far more important to the Russian government than its construction work.  Vladimir Putin’s power and life depend on his nuclear arsenal.  In fact, within the Russian government Rosatom is treated more like a government ministry than a corporation.

Rosatom Partnership with Russian Intelligence Agencies

I believe that Rosatom has a partnership with Russian intelligence agencies, including the SVR and the GRU (now called officially the G.U., but still generally known as the GRU).  I am not alone in that belief.

Youri Babylov, member of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs and editor of the Journal of Management and Business Administration, wrote an article titled “About External Corporate Intelligence of Rosatom Corporation,” published on the Russian website “About Nuclear.”  According to my read of the article, Babylov lists “the state-owned entity Rosatom” specifically among the companies that host intelligence officers referred to in Article 17 of Russia’s Federal Law on Foreign Intelligence.  See Section 9, where the provisions of Article 17 are discussed.

The government of Russia seems to believe that Rosatom coordinates with Russian intelligence agencies, since the General Director of Rosatom is a member of Russia’s Military Industrial Commission.  According to Russian-language Wikipedia, “The Military Industrial Commission of the Russian Federation (MIC) is a permanent body formed for the purpose of organizing state policy in the sphere of the defense industrial complex, and military-technical support of the country’s defense, state security and law enforcement.”  Please note that the term “state security” in Russia means internal and external espionage, in all sectors including both civilian and military.

Other members of Russia’s MIC, which is chaired by President Putin, include the leadership of the FSB and SVR; the Ministries of Defense, Interior (the federal police power), Finance, Industry and Trade, and Economic Development; and the heads of various technical, scientific, aerospace, and military organizations.  The fact that President Putin chairs the MIC, and the composition of its members, suggests to me that there is high-level coordination of commercial, technical, military and intelligence activities, which includes Rosatom.

The second corporate officer listed in Rosatom’s governing board as of February 2018 was Ivan Kamenskikh, the First Deputy Director General for Nuclear Weapons.  I believe that he is listed before the other First Deputy Directors because he is first among equals. This strengthens my common-sense belief that nuclear weapons are a more important priority to a nuclear power than nuclear energy.

I believe that Russian intelligence agencies, including especially the SVR and the G.U., routinely conduct intelligence functions in support of the Russian atomic agency’s mission.  The top priority of Russian intelligence agencies is stealing Western technology to keep up in the arms race, a practice that has not abated since the days of Lavrentiy Beria, Klaus Fuchs and Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.  I believe these intelligence agencies also use Rosatom’s activities as a cover for their espionage.

The Russian Nuclear Threat

The Russian nuclear threat to the West is still very high, and must not be underestimated. In his recent testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Austin Long of the RAND Corporation stated:

“[A] combination of new and old fears about the United States, whether justified or not, has shaped Russian nuclear strategy and forces. Crucially, these fears also could help precipitate a nuclear crisis between the United States and Russia, even if neither side truly has aggressive intentions.

“Russian leaders could perceive unrest or revolution in one of its neighbors (e.g., Belarus) as engineered by the United States and take what it believes to be appropriate defensive measures. U.S. and NATO leaders could take what from their perspective are equally defensive measures, resulting in a crisis and possible conflict.
“Moreover, if conflict did happen, Russia might rapidly expend most of its non-nuclear military options. Its long-range precision strike arsenal, while capable, is not very large. Its offensive cyber and counter-space capabilities might likewise fail to terminate conflict and, as NATO mobilized, a conventional battle would inevitably begin to shift against Russia.

“Therefore, Russian military commanders might recommend limited nuclear use relatively quickly if non-nuclear capabilities failed to terminate the conflict promptly. Whether Russian political leaders would accept such a recommendation is unknowable, but this scenario underscores that, even if Russian intentions are largely defensive, nuclear crisis and even limited nuclear use is possible.”

Shut Down the SVR and G.U. Networks in Europe

Putin has recklessly escalated the conflict with the West by invading neighboring Ukraine and Georgia, and holding the Baltics at gunpoint.  His recklessness is supported by his nuclear capabilities.  The potential is high that intelligence agencies could use a nuclear-energy company to procure dual-use resources and technology (for nuclear weapons development).

While the U.S. and allies have only a commercial interest in Rosatom’s legitimate energy-related commercial activities, they should be concerned about the potential for intelligence cooperation, especially in the procurement of dual-use resources and technology.  It is essential to boost Western counterintelligence capabilities, cooperation and coordination to a new level.

President Trump should direct his national security team to focus collection resources on Rosatom’s potential connections to the SVR and the G.U.  They need to target the clandestine European network of politicians and businesses used by these intelligence agencies, and investigate whether Rosatom is involved.  Under the leadership of national security adviser John Bolton, the team is well suited for the task.  Close the door on Putin’s clandestine nuclear weapons procurement operations.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Bart Marcois

Bart Marcois (@bmarcois) was the principal deputy assistant secretary of energy for international affairs during the Bush administration. Additionally, Marcois served as a career foreign service officer with the State Department.

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