Wanted urgently: Russian speakers

Wanted urgently: Russian speakers

SINGAPORE - British security chiefs are appealing to their former employees to come back from retirement, as they scramble to beef up the number of Russian-speaking analysts in the wake of the Ukraine crisis.

"Britain no longer has the capability to deal with the Russian threat and everybody in the business knows it," reports London's Daily Telegraph, quoting unnamed intelligence sources.

But the new recruitment drive, which includes the re-hiring of people able to monitor and translate Russian media and secretly- intercepted communications, is unlikely to fill all intelligence gaps. For all Western spying agencies are suffering from acute shortages of expertise.

Throughout the Cold War, the study of Russian language, history and politics was one of the key academic disciplines. Graduates had no difficulty landing well-paid jobs: Up to 70 per cent of the intelligence capabilities of all Western countries was devoted to analysing the Soviet Union.

The result was the growth of a generation of Sovietologists, or "Kremlinologists" as they were also known, after the Kremlin fortress in central Moscow where Russia's top leaders reside.

Most of what such experts did, such as analysing with magnifying glasses grainy black-and-white photographs published in Russian newspapers in order to plot rising or falling fortunes of Russia's officials, appear decidedly odd now. But in Cold War days when Russia admitted almost no foreigners and information was scarce, any snippet was treated as gold.

The effort was worthwhile: When the archives of ex-communist states opened up after the Soviet bloc collapsed, it became evident that Sovietologists were often spot-on in analysing developments behind the Iron Curtain.

But capabilities which took half a century to build were dismantled years after the end of the Cold War as intelligence agencies shifted their focus to China and to global terrorist organisations.

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