With the ongoing geopolitical chaos, as well as the bloodthirsty ambitions of Putin’s regime gaining ground in Ukraine, Africa and maybe even Belarus, it is no wonder that Russian spies are getting caught in Europe one after another. This is a signal that the concentration of Russian spies in Europe, especially its eastern part, is greater than we assumed. It seems that even after the USSR imploded, its embalmed corpse still remains somewhere at the side of Putin’s regime. The Cold War did not in fact end, and this is proved by the regularity of Russian spy scandals. What do you expect from a country lead by a Cheka student – Vladimir Putin?
Recently, there have been several reports of Russian spies being caught in Bulgaria. For instance, Bulgarian officials announced in late January that two Russian diplomats have been expelled from Bulgaria on the grounds of espionage. It was revealed that the diplomats – who were caught in the act – were the first secretary in the Russian Embassy’s Consular Office and a trade representative, who had both been gathering “Bulgaria’s secrets” concerning elections, the energy sector and energy security. Moreover, briefly before this spy scandal in October 2019 Bulgarian intelligence services expelled the first secretary in the Russian Embassy, who had been gathering intelligence on Bulgaria, the EU and NATO. Notice the positions and diplomatic ranks if the expelled Russian spies and ask yourself – how many James Bonds are there in Russian embassies and consulates all over Europe? There are hundreds, if not thousands of them! And if we add in those who do not have Russian diplomatic passports – people who are skilled with Novichok, who photograph trains, organize protests, initiate language referendums, engage in provocations and glorify Putin’s regime in media – this number reaches tens of thousands. This means that there are not only classical spies, but also people who are willing to do even dirtier work for the Kremlin. An example – Bulgaria accused three Russian citizens of attempting the murder of arms dealer Emilian Gebrev and two other persons that took place in 2015.
Bulgaria is not the only country that has recently encountered Putin’s shameless spies. Not long ago, a possible female spy was caught in the neighboring Lithuania. This Russian Juliette was able to become a member of the Lithuanian parliament. Some time ago, the Lithuanian parliament, or the Seimas, launched an impeachment procedure against one of the leaders of the Russian Alliance party Irina Rozova, who she represents the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Alliance (EAPL-CFA) faction. You see, this lady did not disclose having contacts with Russian diplomats. During the investigation, it was found that the politician had met with Russian diplomats to discuss financial aid for the Russian Alliance. Moreover, it was also discovered that she maintained contacts with former Russian consul general in Klaipeda Vladimir Maligin, who was expelled from Lithuania for espionage. Does this remind you of anything? One can only wonder how many such “conversationalists” have been or still are in the Latvia parliament. I can think of two such collaborationists off the top of my head – Inguna Sudraba and Jānis Ādamsons.
Both of them are quite odious personalities, outshined perhaps only by the Russian plumbers with diplomatic passports, who were detained in Davos in summer 2019 on suspicions of preparing a covert espionage operation. In the recent years, the Swiss intelligence service has identified an increased activity of Russian intelligence “plumbers”. For instance, according to a 2018 report by the Intelligence Service of the Federation a quarter of Russian diplomats in Switzerland are engaged in espionage. In 2018, Swiss intelligence officers caught two agents of the Russian GRU attempting to steal documents from a laboratory in Bern that researched the use of chemical weapons in Syria, as well as investigated the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergey Skripal. It is no wonder that the Kremlin did everything in its power to cover up its two GRU agents – Aleksandr Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov – who were suspected of the poisoning. Swiss authorities are still investigating a 2017 Russian espionage operation that targeted the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne. Incidentally, this took place when WADA had banned Russia from participating in major sporting events for four years, and Moscow, naturally, did not appreciate it.
These recent espionage scandals are not the only filthy activities in which Putin’s regime likes to engage its embassies abroad. In early October 2019, Czech intelligence services reported that they have successfully eliminated a Russian spy network operating from the Russian Embassy in Prague.
In August, Deutsche Welle reported that the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has declared a Russian diplomat working in the consulate general persona non grata. The Security Service of Ukraine caught a Ukrainian citizen handing over sensitive information to the Russian diplomat. The intelligence authority revealed to media that they have detained a Russian intelligence officer who posed as a diplomat.
In February 2018, the Swedish Security Service in Stockholm detained a local computer specialist on the grounds of spying for Russia. It turned out that the detained spy had cooperated with Russian intelligence officer Yevgeny Umerenko who worked under diplomatic cover. Back then, Swedish media reported that Umarenko had “silently left Sweden” at the end of March, adding that he had previously engaged in espionage as a diplomat in Germany.
In 2018, Slovakia expelled a Russian diplomat suspected of espionage. In December 2018, Slovakian Prime Minister Peter Pelligrini announced that that the Russian diplomat was expelled for “engaging in espionage activities against Slovakia and NATO”.
In July 2018, the Athens newspaper Kathimerini wrote that the Greek government has decided to expel two Russian diplomats, including an official in the Russian Embassy Viktor Yakovlev, in addition to denying entry to two other diplomats who were accused of failed attempts to acquire and transmit information, as well as bribe Greek officials.
To be continued – but where? Perhaps in Latvia…
*Zintis Znotiņš is an independent investigative journalist