Just yesterday, Obama’s baseless assertion that America is not entering into a new Cold War with Russia was shown to be little more than aspiration when NATO officials blamed Russia for a recent rocket attack on a Ukrainian city and a Russian spy ring was broken up in Manhattan.
While the hot war raging in Europe has slipped from Western headlines, the busting up of a group of Russians tasked by “Moscow Center” with executing operations against the American financial system threatens to refocus America’s attention on the Russian menace.
According to an indictment, Evgeny Buryakov, one of three Russians charged with conspiracy and employee at a Russian bank in New York City, was not only seeking to recruit Americans to serve Moscow’s interests but was attempting to covertly subvert American markets.
In May 2013, Buryakov and another member of the ring discussed what an unnamed Russian news organization should ask New York Stock Exchange employees “for intelligence gathering purposes,” the indictment said. Chatting over the phone, Buryakov advised that it would be useful to know more about the workings of Exchange Traded Funds — popular investment vehicles for millions of Americans composed of baskets of stocks, such as those in the Dow Jones Industrial Average or the S&P 500, that are traded like stocks. According to studies, ETFs are approaching $5 trillion in assets.
Buryakov allegedly wanted to know “how they are used, the mechanisms of use for destabilization of the markets.”
“Mechanism — of — use — for — market — stabilization in modern conditions,” his conversation partner said back, presumably writing it down.
No, Buryakov corrected. “For destabilization. . . . Then you can ask them what they think about limiting the use of trading robots.”
The Washington Post noted that it is extraordinarily disturbing that Russia was seeking to use automated trading algorithms to disrupt the financial system. On several occasions in the past, the malfunction of these programs has caused cascading market failures and has cost those affected by these failures tens of millions of dollars in mere minutes.
It is possible to debate whether the alleged intentions of this Russian spy ring constitutes a legitimate act of reciprocity in the semi-covert war between the West and Russia. Even some Americans, like former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), have called the imposition of targeted sanctions on Russian industrial sectors and individuals acts of war. Some might contend that this attempted act of vengeance against civilian targets is warranted.
It is tempting to engage in the philosophical debate over whether this apparent reprisal for Western economic sanctions was morally, if not legally, justified. And we can have a lively and nuanced theoretical discussion about whether or not covert actions like those allegedly embraced by Moscow, or overt sanctions regimes imposed on Russia by the United States and its Western allies, constitute acts of war. It is not any longer possible, however, to pretend as though the West and Moscow are not engaged in a contest with both nations’ fundamental interests at stake.
If we refuse to call it a “Cold War,” then we need to invent a new term to describe this state of conflict between nations.