As news of a Russian “spy ring” hit the headlines in the US, thoughts of the cold war (or maybe even James Bond) almost certainly entered the minds of the public.
However, as some have already pointed out, it is unlikely that the alleged spying has anything to do with military secrets anymore. In truth, the people accused are nothing more than business people using a tactic commonly used around the world.
Whilst it may not be morally correct, in reality most large businesses obtain “contacts” using a variety of methods (bribery, political persuasion, blackmail and sex). The public’s reaction to these different tactics depends on the label that is applied to them.
Creating a war in the Middle East, so that oil companies can obtain new resources (and profit), is called a “fight for freedom”. But if a few Russian’s try to build up a network of contacts for business purposes, they are called “spies”.
The public’s perception of good and evil is determined by the information they are given (usually by the mainstream media). A celebrity caught taking drugs is more likely to be forgiven than a person living in a ghetto. One will be seen as a person who has made a foolish mistake (and should be treated lightly), and the other as a loser who deserves the maximum penalty available.
Unfortunately, the media (and authorities) still like to promote Russia as the old Soviet Union, even though this changed 20 years ago.
Crime and corruption exists in all countries, but perhaps it is fair to say that it is less hidden in countries like Russia. That of course does not mean that places like the United States or Britain are less corrupt, they just disguise it better and have more “trusting” citizens!
When I first went to live and work in Russia (in the early nineties), the government was in disarray (under Boris Yeltsin), and the so called “mafia” groups had a great deal of power. However, when Vladimir Putin came to power all that started to change and the control began to move in a different direction.
The FSB (former KGB) regained a lot of their earlier power and many of the retired KGB personnel were able to successfully enter businesses with the help of their “FSB” contacts.
Whilst the “new” kids on the block effectively took over the role of the “mafia” groups, they operated in a much more civilized manner. I have worked for such people and found them easy to get along with. In fact, most of the ex-KGB people that I know (many), are nothing like the image they are given.
To presume that only Russian’s are ever involved in spying, or using cash and sex to obtain business deals, would be ridiculously naive. The United States frequently use such methods to obtain contracts in other countries, and finance various organisations for political purposes (in countries like Iran and Russia!).
Many Russian’s have obtained different names and nationalities over the years, and this began because of the restrictions and laws in Russia. Travelling or living outside of Russia was easier if you had a foreign passport.
Whilst this may not be such a problem now, there is still some fear that these restrictions may return. Some obtain secondary passports for other reasons, such as Boris Berezovsky, who is a Russian exile in the UK.
Obtaining military secrets and technology no longer requires the skills of characters like “James Bond”, all you need is plenty of cash (and maybe a pretty girl). That’s how the US (and Israel in more recent times) obtained their ability to build nuclear weapons.
Obtaining business contracts still go to the highest bidder, but we rarely get to see exactly how those deals are conducted. However, the release of the Lockerbie bomber and the contracts given to Haliburton and friends in the Iraq war provide a little glimpse!