One day,Vladimir Putin will die.

And the power struggle between those who would succeed him will be intense. As this article outlines, Putin will likely stay in office until he expires, if only for his own safety. He has built a power structure around him that leaves no clear contender for the throne when he’s gone.

Obviously, we’ll celebrate when Putin dies, but we should also be worried about what comes after him.

The return of Smersh

Not just a name from Bond stories, Smersh (“Death to spies”) was a real organisation. As much an instrument of terror to control the civilian population as an intelligence unit, it was responsible for thousands of deaths on its own side.

Now the name has resurfaced in the Ukraine war, though it’s unclear whether there’s a new version of the organisation operating or if it’s just being used for propaganda purposes.

The cost of failure, and mutiny, in Russia

In a not at all surprising development, Yevgeny Prighozin- leader of the Wagner mercenary group- is reported to have died in a plane crash. This is what happens when you try to overthrow Putin, I guess.

There’s some speculation that the crash is staged, and Prigozhin isn’t one of the bodies recovered at the scene. Presumably, in this scenario, he put one of his doubles on the jet, and is now planning to lay low somewhere safe. It’s straight from spy fiction, but wouldn’t be a huge twist after the black farce of everything Wagner has been involved in.

I think he’s really dead. But if he isn’t, I don’t think he could stay quiet for very long, and would just put himself back in the crosshairs rather than living in luxurious anonymity.

What makes a traitor?

The term used in the book discussed is collaborator, but I’m sure there are many who’ll argue either term is appropriate.

The commentators and politicians who’ve been giving support to Russia over Ukraine are a twist on the traditional collaborator, with so many at a safe distance from the reality of the conflict. They have to be driven by money or ego, given that self preservation isn’t an issue.

Mild Spoilers

The news that a Russian journalist wasn’t actually shot dead in the Ukraine, but was actually in on a sting against his would be assassins, is one of those cases of real life reading like spy fiction.

It’s also yet another example of how I’ve managed to put particularly relevant plot points into A Death In Didsbury. Without giving too much away, there may be some parallels between the story of Arkady Babchenko, and the truth behind the death in my work in progress.

Every few days, there seems to be a news item that suggests my current project isn’t so much ‘plucked from the headlines’ as predicting them.

Recent Research Reading

A few articles that have been sitting in open tabs for too long, that I’ve finally got round to reading-

During the 2008 financial crisis the theory emerged that certain companies, particularly financial institutions, were “too big to fail.” These firms were considered to be so large and entwined with other companies that their closure would be catastrophic to the entire economy. In today’s Navy, the aircraft carrier has become “too big to sink.” When it functions as designed, it is an extremely powerful platform that has remarkable economies of scale. But carriers are crucial to so many of the fleet’s missions that if the enemy can defeat them, the results would be catastrophic for both the Navy and the nation. The loss of a $12 billion capital ship, more than 5,000 American lives, and a powerful symbol of U.S. military superiority would send shock waves around the world.

Too Big to Sink – Proceedings Magazine – May 2017

Perepilichnyy, who faced repeated threats after fleeing to Britain, was found dead outside his home in Surrey after returning from a mysterious trip to Paris in 2012. Despite an expert detecting signs of a fatal plant poison in his stomach, the British police have insisted there was no evidence of foul play, and Theresa May’s government has invoked national security powers to withhold evidence from the inquest into his cause of death – which is ongoing.

Poison in the System – Buzzfeed (Part 1 of 5)

Lavish London mansions. A hand-painted Rolls-Royce. And eight dead friends. For the British fixer Scot Young, working for Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critic meant stunning perks – but also constant danger. His gruesome death is one of 14 that US spy agencies have linked to Russia – but the UK police shut down every last case. A bombshell cache of documents today reveals the full story of a ring of death on British soil that the government has ignored.

From Russia With Blood – Buzzfeed (Part 2 of 5)

His nuclear research helped a judge determine that former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko had been assassinated – likely on Putin’s orders. Just months after the verdict, the scientist himself was found stabbed to death with two knives. Police deemed it a suicide, but US intelligence officials suspect it was murder.

The Man Who Knew Too Much- Buzzfeed (Part 3 of 5)

After the dead body of an MI6 spy was found locked in a sports bag in London, police said the death was “probably an accident” – but British and American spy agencies have secret intelligence suggesting Gareth Williams may have been assassinated over highly sensitive work on Russia.

The Secrets Of The Spy In The Bag- Buzzfeed (Part 4 of 5)

Vladimir Putin’s former media czar was murdered in Washington, DC, on the eve of a planned meeting with the US Justice Department, according to two FBI agents whose assertions cast new doubts on the US government’s official explanation of his death.

“Everyone thinks he was whacked”- Buzzfeed (Part 5 of 5)

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukrainians have long struggled with fake news from Russia, but last week, they discovered something even more insidious: a fake journalist.

Masquerading as Reporter, Assassin Hunted Putin Foes in Ukraine- New York Times

Reports of satellite navigation problems in the Black Sea suggest that Russia may be testing a new system for spoofing GPS, New Scientist has learned. This could be the first hint of a new form of electronic warfare available to everyone from rogue nation states to petty criminals.

Ships fooled in GPS spoofing attack suggest Russian cyberweapon- New Scientist

Stephen Fry’s Open Letter to David Cameron and the IOC

An absolute ban on the Russian Winter Olympics of 2014 on Sochi is simply essential. Stage them elsewhere in Utah, Lillyhammer, anywhere you like. At all costs Putin cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilised world.

via An Open Letter to David Cameron and the IOC « The New Adventures of Stephen Fry.

Moscow has activated the sleeper agents!

Numbers stations are a mysterious phenomenon possibly related to espionage. They are radio transmitters in Russia which broadcast seemingly random numbers or sounds. Recently one of them, UVB-76, changed from its normal buzzing to garbled messages. Theories abound about what they could possibly mean. If this was part of the prologue to a piece of spy fiction it would signal the activation of a sleeper agent or cell intent on killing key members of the British establishment (or US government if you must insist on not being parochial). They would have been called out of retirement by reactionary forces within the Russian government intent on taking the world back to the uncertain certainties of the Cold War or creating a neo-Soviet empire.

Another real life event which sounds like the opening of a thriller is the gruesome and bizarre murder of Gareth Williams a specialist in codes who worked at GCHQ and had been seconded to MI6. The conspiracy theories are already being formulated on that one, and everyone’s calling him a spy when the label is almost certainly inappropriate, just to sex the story up.

The Irwin series of stories (I have ideas for a few more after Tiger has finished serialising) feature a former MI6 analyst, so stories like this are of great interest to me. The reality will be much more mundane than the imagined reasons behind them, of course, but they fascinate for alittle while.

In Soviet Bulgaria, model builds you! 1

Here’s some interesting finds on eBay. Soviet era Russian models, of British cars. The Bulgarian seller has listed three 1:18th scale car kits- a Vauxhall of some type, a Jaguar E Type and an Austin Morris. It seems odd that the Soviets would want to make models of Western vehicles, particularly such decadent items as an E Type. The models came with an electric motor, though not all three listed still have theirs. I must resist the temptation to bid and find out more.

Holidays in Chernobyl

I go looking for abandoned industrial buildings and decay because they make for good photos. In fact I spent most of yesterday afternoon riding around east of Manchester on the lookout for ruins and old signs (photos to come soon). I’ve never got up the nerve to do much urban archaeology and actually poke around inside the buildings, as some do. On the other hand, given the money, I could see myself visiting Pripyat and Chernobyl. I don’t know if I could bring back such good photos as Tim Suess did from his recent visit.

(I’ve got an idea for a film/comic script which would have a prologue in an abandoned Soviet science city. Picture sets such as this will make great photo reference.)

The strays of Moscow

There have beenpacks of stray dogs in Moscow at least since the 19th century and during that time the pressures of scavenging and surviving amongst humans has led to the evolution of a new breed, itself made up of smaller, more specialist packs. Most famous of the specialists are the metro dogs, which live near or in underground stations and have in some cases learnt how to use the trains to get around.