Quietly, as the U.S. news cycle moved on from the food-fight that erupted over the veracity of reports that Russian hackers had played a key role in influencing the course of the U.S presidential election, Russian security forces loyal to Russian president Vladimir Putin moved quickly and ruthlessly to plug their intelligence leaks. A sure sign that information was flowing out of Russia in a manner unacceptable to Putin.
The reports are sketchy, but widespread among veteran Russian observers is the belief that a portrait of a purge is emerging. The New York Times cites "multiple Russian news reports" saying, "Two Russian intelligence officers who worked on cyber-operations and a Russian computer security expert have been arrested and charged with treason for providing information to the United States."
The Times goes on to cite "one current and one former United States official, speaking about the classified recruitments on condition of anonymity" as confirming that "human sources in Russia did play a crucial role in proving who was responsible for the hacking." RSN frequent contributor and former CIA counter-terrorism expert John Kiriakou notes that in Putin's Russia these are "executable offenses."
Robert Mendick and Robert Verkaik, writing for The Telegraph in the UK, are reporting that Oleg Erovinkin, "a former general in the KGB and its successor the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB)," was found shot to death in the back seat of his car under "mysterious circumstances." Mendick and Verkaik further report that Erovinkin was suspected of being a source for information contained in the controversial dossier that was made public by the U.S. entertainment website BuzzFeed. U.S. media critics like The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald alleged that the release of the dossier was premature and irresponsible. The death of Erovinkin seems to bear that out, as well as lend credence to Christopher Steele's research and analysis.
At this stage the behavior of Putin's security forces seem highly likely to indicate a harsh crackdown on officials providing information to American and western investigators concerning Russian involvement in the so-called hacking of the U.S. presidential election. This further appears to be a confirmation of assertions by U.S. intelligence officials that Russian operatives were involved in providing to Wikileaks confidential emails obtained illegally from the servers of the DNC and Clinton campaign officials.
One question that jumps out is this: why would veteran high-ranking Russian intelligence officials risk their lives to reveal to American and western investigators the role of Russian operatives in the hacking of the U.S. presidential election? The answer may be that opposition factions in Russia are as opposed to the Putin-Trump alliance as American opposition factions are to the Trump-Putin alliance.
Russian affairs analysts have for years studied interactions of the old-guard Communist, Soviet officials and loyalists in relation to the new-guard Putin regime. Putin's public position is that he is leading Russia into a new era of better international cooperation. However, his critics counter by saying that a more efficient system of international exploitation is what he is really building.
Putin's modernized empire relies on wealthy oligarchs acting as feudal lords overseeing the modern Russian Federation's satellites. Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was a prime example. Yanukovych, a staunch Russian-Putin loyalist and a leader of Ukranian oligarchs, controlled Ukrainian affairs from 2010 to his removal from power in a U.S.-backed overthrow in 2014. Yanukovych is now in exile in Russia and wanted in Ukraine for high treason.
All of this creates the backdrop for the new and very rapidly emerging relationship between a quintessential American oligarch, Donald Trump, and the man he calls the "very smart V. Putin."