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The Daily Vertical: Criminal, Gangster, Smuggler, Spy (Transcript)

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.

Weaponized cigarette smugglers anybody?

Hey, why not? It seems the W-word has been used as an adjective for just about everything else lately, so why not cigarette smugglers too?

According to a revealing new report in BuzzFeed, Russia's Federal Security Service has been systematically using criminal smuggling rings on the Russian-Estonian border to gather information about the movement of military vehicles, the habits of border guards, as well as for other intelligence and espionage operations.

In fact, it was a small-time cigarette smuggler posing as an informant who lured Estonian law enforcement officer Eston Kohver into a trap and set-up his kidnapping by the FSB back in September 2015.

Estonia has arrested at least five such smuggler-spies in the past two years alone.

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The scheme the FSB uses to recruit the smugglers is a familiar one.

They're arrested on the Russian side of the border and then made an offer they can't refuse: prison or gainful employment as an intelligence and espionage asset for Moscow.

The Kremlin recruits many of its so-called patriotic hackers in similar fashion.

Now, none of this, of course, should surprise us.

The FSB has long colluded with organized crime, often to the point where it is indistinguishable from organized crime.

It's used Russian mafias to carry out tasks the Kremlin wants to keep its fingerprints off, like assassinations and moving weapons into the Donbas.

It facilitates criminal enterprises, takes a cut of the profits, and uses the untraceable black cash to finance wet ops and active measures across Europe.

Now, over the next week, we'll all be focused on the Zapad 2017 war-games exercises and the threat Russia's military poses to its neighbors.

But as Moscow's weaponized cigarette smugglers illustrate, Russia's war on Europe is largely taking place in the shadows.

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