Security Threats to Russia: The Analysis of the 2016 FSB Press Releases (Part 3 – Hacking & Other Challenges)

This is the third and last article in the investigative series in which I analyzed the 2016 press releases published on the official FSB website. In the previous two articles, I covered the FSB counterespionage and counter-terrorist operations during 2016.[1] These operations were the subject of more than one third of the FSB press releases. This means that they consumed a great deal of attention, time, and resources of the Russian domestic law enforcement and counterintelligence community. It is safe to conclude that espionage and terrorism are considered the primary threats to Russia’s national security.

However, there are several other types of illegal activity that were occasionally covered in the press releases and that can also be used as tools to undermine political stability and economic well-being in Russia. They involve cybercrime and cyberattacks (hacking), and arms and narcotics trafficking. In this article, I will discuss in detail the FSB press releases dealing with these types of law-breaking activities.

Cybercrime and Cyberattacks (Hacking)

The first 2016 press release concerning cybercrime activities, popularly known as hacking, was published by the FSB on June 1.[2] It reported that during the massive law-enforcement operation taking place simultaneously in 15 regions of Russia, the FSB, in cooperation with the Russian Ministry of Interior and the National Guard, arrested close to 50 people, suspected of being members of a hackers’ group. The group allegedly stole more than 1 billion 700 million rubles ($27 million) from various Russian banks. The FSB recovered some of the stolen money, in addition to seizing a large number of false bank documents, credit cards, and computers.

It is important to note that this was one of the first operations conducted with the participation of the Russian National Guard which was established in April 2016. Just two months after its formation, it is evident that the National Guard proved very efficient in fulfilling its duties. The press release, for instance, stated that the arrested individuals were brought to Moscow on the aircraft operated by the National Guard.

The number of arrested individuals and their geographical dispersion throughout Russia shows that the problem of hacking in Russia is quite acute. This can perhaps open another line of inquiry related to the unproven accusations by the U.S. intelligence community of the Russian hacking of the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. In other words, even if there is a Russian “trace” behind the hacking, perhaps it is not the doing of the Russian government? Could it not be that the hackers worked for their own private benefit or out of ideological beliefs, or were hired by the anti-Putin Russian oligarchs based in the West in order to strengthen the anti-Putin climate in the U.S. political life and make economic sanctions harsher and military confrontation more likely? This would of course depend on the expectation that the Trump administration will not be able to change anything substantial in this respect, which yet remains to be seen. However, judging from the pre-election statements, Tramp’s VP Mike Pence already appears to have taken the side of the anti-Putin hawks.[3]

The FSB press release published on July 30 dealt more specifically with the issue of cyberattacks and cyber-espionage.[4] In fact, it reported that the FSB specialists were able to uncover an especially damaging virus program infiltrated into the network of more than 20 organizations on the territory of Russia. These organizations included the Russian government, military, and academic institutions and even the sectors of the Russian military-industrial complex.

The FSB did not comment as to where this malicious software could have come from. It just stated that it resembled the software found in other cyberattacks around the world. In my opinion, the description of the way that the virus infected the victims’ computers and the damage it caused resembled very much the hacks perpetrated in the U.S., both on the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and on Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta. Considering the timing of the release (the end of July), just after the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia was over and the full extent of the U.S. hacks became publicly known, it definitely raises several very significant questions.

First, was this massive hacking of the Russian “critical infrastructure” a retaliation by the U.S. intelligence agencies for the DNC and Podesta hacks allegedly perpetrated by the Russian military intelligence agency (GRU)? And if so, will the hacked emails and information be made publicly available? Will be we soon be reading the embarrassing details of the Russian government and military officials’ undercover dealings?

Or, alternatively, was this perhaps done by a third party which also hacked the DNC and Podesta? Following in the footsteps of the James Bond classic “From Russia, with Love,” is there perhaps a secret (criminal) network which uses the rogue elements of different intelligence communities to amplify the confrontation between the U.S. and Russia? To get the U.S. to blame Russia and, likewise, Russia to blame the U.S. for criminal deeds actually perpetrated by this hidden network. This of course is a mere speculation. But the coincidence of the almost simultaneous cyber-attacks cannot be denied.

The third and last 2016 press release dealing with cybercrime was published by the FSB on December 2.[5] This press release warned the Russian institutions and the Russian public that unnamed foreign intelligence agencies were preparing massive cyberattacks, starting on December 5, with the goal of destabilizing the Russian financial infrastructure and creating social and political chaos. The release was fairly specific as to where the cyberthreat was supposed to come from. It claimed that the servers and command posts for this attack were located on the territory of the Netherlands and belonged to the Ukrainian hosting company “BlazingFast.” The attack was supposed be initiated via social media with the large number of provocative posts regarding the imminent collapse of the Russian financial system and was supposed to take place simultaneously all across Russia (in “several dozen” Russian cities).

Either the FSB successfully neutralized the threat or it was a false alarm, in any case, not much happened. The Russian financial system preserved its stability and in fact was strengthened as 2016 ended, because of the increase in the price of oil. However, the ties between the Dutch milieu and the aggressive Ukrainian anti-Russian cyber propaganda and hacking efforts were publicly revealed. This perhaps has something to do with the tragic fate of MH-17, the Malaysia Airline Boeing 777-200ER, flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, which crashed in Ukraine in July 2014 under still disputed circumstances with most passengers onboard being Dutch citizens.

Arms and Narcotics Trafficking

The first 2016 press release concerning arms trafficking was published by the FSB on February 1.[6] It reported that the FSB arrested 3 individuals suspected of arms trafficking in the city of Izhevsk, the capital of the Udmurtian republic in the central Russia. According to the release, the arrested individuals were in charge of a criminal organization which "regularly" supplied the neighboring regions of the central Russia and Siberia with illegal weapons. At the moment of arrest, the FSB seized an automatic grenade launcher AGS-17 and more than 100 other automatic and semi-automatic weapons. The FSB did not specify who was purchasing these weapons and whether these individuals were also arrested. There was also no mention of whether the weapons were intended for terrorist activity, though it is difficult to imagine what else they could have been needed for, especially in the case of a grenade launcher.

About two and a half months later, on April 18, the FSB published another press release concerning arms trafficking.[7] It reported that 7 individuals, arrested in the city of Bryansk in the Russian central federal district, were suspected of illegal weapons smuggling. Several automatic weapons and revolvers, a great deal of ammunition as well as about a dozen grenades were seized. The report did not link up the arrested group with any act of terrorism, either planned or already performed.

The next FSB press release concerning arms trafficking, published on June 20, was longer than most because it elaborated on the on-going FSB operations, in tandem with the Ministry of Interior, directed toward discovering and closing down the network of illegal weapons manufacturies throughout Russia.[8] According to the release, a particular problem in this respect represents the activation of deactivated and self-made weapons (in Russian language, they are known under the acronym MMG) because they are very difficult to trace after being used in a criminal or terrorist act. The release noted that these types of weapons were used in several high-level assassinations, such as the assassinations of ex-deputy prime minister and opposition leader Boris Nemtsov and B. A. Kantemirov, a parliamentarian from the Kabardino-Balkarian republic. It also emphasized that their presence in Russia had substantially increased since the beginning of the violent conflict in Ukraine.

In addition, the release stated that in the period from 2014 to 2016, the FSB closed down about 100 illegal manufacturies and seized more than 3,500 different weapons. The release specifically mentioned that, in June 2016, 14 individuals were arrested in three different regions in Russia. They were all charged under Article 222 of the Russian Criminal Code, dealing with the illegal possession and/or trafficking of weapons.

According to the press release published on August 30, the FSB’s Russia-wide sweep for weapons traffickers and illegal manufacturies was also successful in the Far East.[9] The FSB arrested 7 individuals in the city of Vladivostok involved in the illegal making and trafficking of weapons. It seized close to 30 automatic weapons as well as a large quantity of grenades and ammunition. All arrested individuals were charged under Article 222 of the Russian Criminal Code.

Two months later, on October 25, there was another FSB press release concerning its activities against weapons traffickers and illegal manufacturies.[10] This time, the region of Tver in the central Russia was the focus of the FSB activities. The FSB arrested a group of individuals (not mentioned how many), suspected of running a weapons trafficking and manufacturing network. At the same time, the FSB conducted further operations throughout Russia. Altogether, it seized more than 250 automatic, semi-automatic and other weapons, a great number of grenades and various ammunition, and about 20 kilograms of explosives. It also closed down 8 illegal manufacturies. The press release did not make any indications that these weapons were intended for terrorists, though, as I pointed out above, this cannot be ruled out.

The last 2016 FSB press release dealing with arms trafficking was published on December 12.[11] It reported a large-scale FSB operation in the western and central regions of Russia focused on weapons traffickers and illegal manufacturies. 3 individuals were arrested and close to 100 different weapons were seized, including one grenade launcher. In the car belonging to one of the arrested individuals, the FSB found four 80mm grenades from the time of the World War II, which were subsequently destroyed. The release did not say what the intended purpose of these grenades was.

During the entire 2016, there was only one FSB press release dealing specifically with the trafficking of narcotics. It was published on November 17 and mentioned several FSB anti-narcotics operations.[12] One of the operations took place on the territory of the Moscow region in October 2016. 2 individuals were arrested and more than 100 kilograms of synthetic narcotics and 1,900 liters of liquid narcotics were seized. The narcotics-making lab was also discovered and shut down.

Another operation, conducted in 2014, which led to the arrest of 6 individuals and the seizure of 400 kilograms of narcotics with the market value of 400-800 million rubles [$6-12 million], resulted in the sentencing of the arrested individuals to 6 years in prison in May 2016. The release described in detail the modus operandi of these individuals. They never met in person, communicated only via the Internet using fake identities, and distributed the narcotics and money through the system of dead drops. Evidently, catching them was quite an accomplishment.

The FSB concluded the press release by noting that in the preceding two-year period, it seized more than 7,000 kilograms of various narcotics.

Conclusion

Both cybercrime and arms trafficking appear to be serious challenges to Russia’s national security. As I pointed out, foreign cyberattacks against the Russian “critical” infrastructure are on the rise. The sources of these attacks are not always specified, but they seem to be connected to the anti-Russian and anti-Putin forces in the West. They may be a part of the U.S. intelligence community’s strategy of retaliation (or offensive projection of power) against Russia. There is also a (remote) possibility that they are the work of a third party wanting to ratchet up the tensions, even to the point of military confrontation, between Russia and the U.S.

I have no doubt that we will see more of these types of attacks, with rapidly increasing severity, in the coming period. I therefore expect the FSB press releases in 2017 to cover this issue more extensively.

Judging by the number of the 2016 press releases concerning arms trafficking and illegal weapons manufacturing, this is clearly a major problem for the Russian internal political stability. The FSB, in collaboration with the Ministry of Interior and the newly-formed National Guard, appear to be regularly conducting large-scale sweeps throughout the country. They have had a great deal of success, but much more needs to be done. It is especially important to prevent the possible linkages of arms traffickers and illegal weapons manufacturies to terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State and other radical groups which have their followers and agents of influence inside Russia. On the other hand, narcotics trafficking appears to be less of a problem for the Russian security apparatus or, at least, it was so during 2016, according to the FSB press releases.

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Filip Kovacevic, Newsbud-BFP Analyst, is a geopolitical author, university professor and the chairman of the Movement for Neutrality of Montenegro. He received his BA and PhD in political science in the US and was a visiting professor at St. Petersburg State University in Russia for two years. He is the author of seven books, dozens of academic articles & conference presentations and hundreds of newspaper columns and media commentaries. He has been invited to lecture throughout the EU, Balkans, ex-USSR and the US. He currently resides in San Francisco. He can be contacted at fk1917@yahoo.com

NOTES

[1] http://www.newsbud.com/2016/12/28/newsbud-exclusive-security-threats-to-russia-the-analysis-of-the-2016-fsb-press-releases-part-1-counterespionage/ ; http://www.newsbud.com/2017/01/05/security-threats-to-russia-the-analysis-of-the-2016-fsb-press-releases-part-2-counter-terrorism/

[2]http://www.fsb.ru/fsb/press/message/single.htm%21id%3D10437717%40fsbMessage.html

[3] http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/16/politics/mike-pence-donald-trump-russia-hacking/index.html

[4]http://www.fsb.ru/fsb/press/message/single.htm%21id%3D10437870%40fsbMessage.html

[5]http://www.fsb.ru/fsb/press/message/single.htm%21id%3D10438041%40fsbMessage.html

[6]http://www.fsb.ru/fsb/press/message/single.htm%21id%3D10437666%40fsbMessage.html

[7]http://www.fsb.ru/fsb/press/message/single.htm%21id%3D10437706%40fsbMessage.html

[8]http://www.fsb.ru/fsb/press/message/single.htm%21id%3D10437720%40fsbMessage.html

[9]http://www.fsb.ru/fsb/press/message/single.htm%21id%3D10437876%40fsbMessage.html

[10]http://www.fsb.ru/fsb/press/message/single.htm%21id%3D10437888%40fsbMessage.html

[11]http://www.fsb.ru/fsb/press/message/single.htm%21id%3D10438047%40fsbMessage.html

[12]http://www.fsb.ru/fsb/press/message/single.htm%21id%3D10438042%40fsbMessage.html

 

The New Great Game Round-Up: March 30, 2014

FSB Counters Destabilization of Russia, West Protects Saakashvili from Prosecution & More

*The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits in Central Asia and the Caucasus region between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

After the party of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili had lost power in the 2012 Georgian parliamentary election, the controversial political leader faced more and more pressure in his home country. Even before Saakashvili left office, then Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili had threatened him with criminal prosecution and went after his associates. So the former President took no chances and left Georgia after the end of his second term. Although Ivanishvili has turned his back on politics by now, the current government is still determined to hold Saakashvili accountable. After all, he is implicated in numerous criminal cases including the death of his former Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania. Since Saakashvili does not want to acknowledge that there are plenty of reasons for his questioning, he takes the same line as almost all Western politicians and media in recent weeks [emphasis mine]: 

Saakashvili refuses to come home for questioning, blames Putin

Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on Tuesday made his first comments regarding the news that he is asked to testify in ten serious criminal cases in his home country.

He claims the request sent out by his country’s top prosecutor, asking him to help solve ten of the most controversial criminal cases, including the death of his own prime minister, is a ploy masterminded by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Speaking to Rustavi 2, Saakashvili reiterated that he believes that his summoning is a direct order from the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to ‘destroy’ him.

West Protects Saakashvili from Prosecution

Perhaps Saakashvili believes the anti-Russian propaganda, which he and his friend John McCain were spouting during the Euromaidan protests in Kiev. It is definitely more convenient to blame Russia's President Putin than to confront the new information regarding the death of his former Prime Minister. Zurab Zhvania died allegedly from carbon monoxide poisoning, due to an inadequately ventilated gas heater. Most Georgians have never believed this official version and last week an anonymous user posted a YouTube video titled "Saakashvili murderer" showing the autopsy pictures of Zhvania, which suggest that he had been beaten before his death. Georgia's prosecutor's office has now offered Saakashvili to conduct the questioning via Skype but the former President rejected this proposal immediately and emphasized that he does not want to be questioned. Fortunately, Saakashvili can count on his friends in Washington and Brussels to protect him:

West warns Georgia against prosecuting Saakashvili

Georgia’s Western partners are threatening that prosecuting former President Saakashvili may jeopardize an EU treaty and membership in NATO.

Georgia has for years sought closer integration with the European Union and membership in NATO. In June, the EU is expected to sign the Association Agreement, and NATO is rumored to be planning a Georgia membership action plan (MAP) in September – eventually leading to full membership.

But now both “carrots” may be withheld by the country’s closest allies, after the top prosecutor asked former President Saakashvili to come home and be questioned about ten very serious criminal cases.

Tbilisi plans to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union in June and favors an acceleration of the process. But given the latest threats, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili is now concerned about Georgia's future and warned the EU that "crises similar to Ukraine will reemerge" if Brussels fails to give the successful Eastern Partnership countries a clear promise on EU membership. So the Georgian government has to think twice before prosecuting the former President. The U.S. State Department voiced its infamous "concern" regarding the questioning of Saakashvili and without Washington's support there will be no NATO membership for Georgia. However, after President Obama's latest comments, the Georgian authorities will most certainly wonder how much this support is worth anyway:

Obama: Georgia, Ukraine 'Not on Path to NATO Membership'

There are “no immediate plans” for expanding NATO to include Georgia and Ukraine, U.S. President Barack Obama said at a press conference after the EU-US summit in Brussels on March 26.

Responding to a question whether the crisis in Ukraine will make it more or less likely that NATO will expand to include Ukraine and Georgia, President Obama responded: “Neither Ukraine or Georgia are currently on a path to NATO membership.”

While Georgia's Prime Minister and President tried to downplay Obama's statement, some people in the country were disappointed and vented their anger on Facebook and Twitter with comments like this: “Nice to know that all those people died in Afghanistan for nothing.” Georgia has gone to great pains to please NATO including sending soldiers to Afghanistan, 29 of whom have died. More and more Georgian citizens are now starting to challenge the unconditional support of NATO and take a closer look at the U.S.-led military alliance: 

Supporters and opponents of NATO clash in Tbilisi

Three people were detained in Tbilisi on Monday as supporters and opponents of NATO clashed outside the Cinema House.

Tension was already high during the screening of a 30 minutes long film about NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, organized by the Eurasian Institute.

A minor scuffle broke out as a young man went to the front of the cinema hall and accused the audience of being Russian agents.

Turkish Charity Commemorates Doku Umarov

There is abundant evidence of NATO's disregard for international law from Yugoslavia to Syria. This week, the terror campaign in Syria, which has been portrayed as heroic fight of "moderate Syrian rebels" against the evil Assad regime, was once again exposed for what is really is due to an ongoing power struggle in Turkey between the Gülen movement and Prime Minister Erdogan. Vital NATO member Turkey plays a central role in supporting terrorists in accordance with U.S. foreign policy, regardless of whether it concerns Syria or Russia's North Caucasus. Turkish aid organizations like the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) and IMKANDER are essential to keep the Islamist insurgency running. IMKANDER removed any doubt about its relationship with the "Chechen rebels" last week, when the Turkish charity commemorated Doku Umarov, the now officially deceased leader of the Caucasus Emirate (IK):

Turkish charity İMKANDER praises slain Islamic Caucasus Emirate emir in rally

A charity known as İMKANDER has praised Doku Umarov, the former emir of the Islamic Caucasus Emirate whose death was announced by the jihadist group just last week, during recent rallies in several Turkish cities.

Murat Ozer, İMKANDER's president, addressed the large crowd in Istanbul. Ozer "emphasized in his speech that the proclamation of the Caucasus Emirate in 2007 was not something new for the Caucasus, as the opponents try to present, but an act of restoration of an Islamic state, uniting the Caucasian Muslims under the common flag of Monotheism, which was lost as a result of aggression and capture of Caucasus by Russia," Kavkaz Center said.

Of course, the rallies were covered by the Kavkaz Center, IK's mouthpiece and anti-Russian propaganda outlet. Last year, Russia already tried to have IMKANDER as well as Kavkaz Center's Mikael Storsjö and Isa Dzhabrailov blacklisted by the United Nations Security Council but this initiative was blocked by the NATO member states United Kingdom, France and Luxembourg. Russian officials insisted that the Turkish chartiy and the two individuals were linked to the Caucasus Emirate and Russia's Foreign Ministry criticized this decision as "further evidence of a disappointing policy of double standards". But the Kremlin knows very well that NATO counts on the Imarat Kavkaz and other terrorist groups to fight on its behalf, wherever required. Right now, IK's fighters are reportedly doing a great job in Syria and the Russian authorities are therefore keeping a close eye on the Syria-North Caucasus connection: 

MIA: KChR resident trained as terrorist in Syria detained in Krasnodar

As reported by the press service of the Chief Department for the North-Caucasian Federal District (NCFD) of the Russia's Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), a resident of the Karachay-Cherkessian Republic (KChR), who underwent training at the commando training camp of the international terrorist grouping in Syria, was detained in the Krasnodar Airport.

It happened on March 19, when the man arrived in Krasnodar from Turkey. According to the above Department of the NCFD, he was trained in the camp of the international terrorist grouping "Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar", and was sent by its emissaries to Russia for subversive activities.

At the beginning of March, five Dagestani citizens were detained at Makhachkala Airport after arriving from Egypt on the suspicion that they had been fighting in Syria. Even without more battle-tested jihadists from Syria, Russian law enforcers have to deal with more than enough terrorists in Dagestan. According to Dagestan's police chief, there are currently 13 illegal paramilitary formations operating in the volatile republic. During the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russian media refrained from covering special operations and other terrorism-related incidents in the region. But the violence never ended and meanwhile the reporting is back to normal: 

Police Kill Militant Leader, 4 Islamist Rebels in Dagestan

A suspected militant leader and four members of his armed group were killed Tuesday in a shootout with police in Russia’s volatile North Caucasus republic of Dagestan, Russia’s anti-terrorism authority said.

The National Anti-Terrorism Committee (NAK) identified the militant leader as Tural Ataev, a 28-year-old native of Azerbaijan, who allegedly headed a militant group in the Babayurt district of Dagestan. 

FSB Counters Destabilization of Russia

Besides the Sochi Olympics, there was of course another reason why Russia's North Caucasus did not get much media coverage lately: the Ukraine crisis. As previously discussed, some of the Ukrainian neo-Nazis who took power in Kiev had fought alongside the "Chechen rebels" in the First Chechen War against Russia. So it came as no surprise, when one Chechen insurgent turned up in Ukraine. Unfortunately for him, he was arrested before "Yats" & Co. took over and the new regime is now trying to spruce up its image: 

Ukraine Hands Over Suspected Chechen Gunman to Russia

Ukraine has extradited to Russia a Chechen man suspected of assaulting local residents in the North Caucasus republic, the Prosecutor General's Office said Thursday.

Muhammed Migayev, who was put on an international wanted list in 2008, was detained in Odessa, southern Ukraine, last December. Russian prosecutors sent a request on his extradition in January.


Ukraine agreed on Migayev's extradition earlier this month.

At the beginning of this week, prominent Ukrainian neo-Nazi terrorist Alexander Muzychko, who was also wanted by Russia, had to learn the hard way that the putsch regime in Kiev cares a great deal about its image abroad. In the meantime, Russia's President Putin wants to draw a lesson from the coup d'état and urged Russian lawmakers to analyze all colour revolutions including the latest events in Ukraine in order to better defend Russians from terrorism and extremism. Furthermore, the Federal Security Service (FSB) warned against increasing efforts by the United States and its allies to destabilize the Russian Federation and vowed to thwart these plans [emphasis mine]:

FSB: west steps up attempts to destabilize the internal situation in RF

“The number of external threats to the state has increased. The legal volition of the people of Crimea and eastern Ukraine to be together with Russia are driving the United States and its allies into hysteria. They are trying to destabilize the socio-political and economic situation in this country,” FSB Deputy Director Alexander Malyovanyi said at a ceremony on Friday where President Putin met senior officers who had received new appointments and had been promoted to higher military ranks.

“Under these circumstances we are drawing up and implementing offensive counter-intelligence and intelligence measures aimed at thwarting such aspirations,” Malyovanyi went on to say, pledging to protect Russian nationals from radicals and extremists penetrating into Russia, including in the newly-formed Crimean Federal District.

As Pepe Escobar has alerted, especially Tatar jihadists in Crimea could pose a threat to Russia because they might be used by the House of Saud to destabilize the Crimean Peninsula. According to reports in the French, Ukrainian and Russian press, dozens of Crimean Tatar jihadists were transferred from Turkey to Sevastopol by the CIA and Turkey's National Intelligence Organization (MİT) as early as last November. However, at this time they were still needed in Kiev to "secure" the Maidan Nezalezhnosti. Now these jihadi mercenaries are obviously free for new assignments. CIA's propaganda outlet Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is already doing its bit and told us which organization would play a central role in Crimea's destabilization [emphasis mine]:

As Russian Law Comes To Crimea, Local Tatars Brace For 'Extremism' Accusations

Two days before the disputed referendum in Crimea, the Ukrainian branch of Hizb-ut Tahrir issued a statement warning of "provocations." 

"We foresee the possibility of provocations taking place, whether they are attacks on the security forces or citizens by unknown assailants, that will then be falsely blamed on Hizb ut Tahrir to justify the presence of Russia in the Crimea," the statement said "We categorically deny all of this in advance, and if and when this takes place, we hold those who occupied the Crimea responsible."

Hizb ut-Tahrir has been banned in Russia since 2003 and members of the organization are frequently arrested in the country. Since the conveyor belt for terrorists enjoys a strong presence in Crimea, the Russian authorities will have their work cut out. Some Hizb ut-Tahrir members lost no time in leaving the peninsula after the Crimean referendum and moved to Lviv before Russia's FSB could take them off the streets [emphasis mine]: 

Hizb ut-Tahrir activists move from Crimea to Lvov as refugees

Leader of Crimean public organization Milli Firka Vasvi Abduraimov urges to active struggle against followers of the terrorist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir on the peninsula. 

"Hizb ut-Tahrir has nothing to do with Islam. We believe it is the most terrific evil that can be in Crimea. They are non believers, they are potential mechanism for murder and bloody conflicts governed from the outside. So its "clean-up" won't cause any indignation. We believe that corresponding measures including tough ones should be taken against Hizb ut-Tahrir," Abduraimov said in his interview to Moskovsky Komsomolets daily.

According to his information, today main Hizb ut-Tahrir activists moved to Lvov "where there will be settlements and training camps established for them."

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Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here