By RFE RL
By Mike Eckel
(RFE/RL) — A Russian man who had diplomatic credentials in Geneva was in fact a military intelligence officer linked to a secret hit squad accused of a spate of poisonings in Europe, according to a new report by the open-source investigative organization Bellingcat.
The report, released on February 25, was the latest to examine the operations of Russian security agencies, highlighting what experts warn are aggressive and far-reaching efforts by Moscow to conduct surveillance, sabotage, and even assassinations abroad.
President Vladimir Putin, who previously headed Russia’s main intelligence agency, has made the country’s military and spy agencies a priority during his tenure in office.
In March 2018, former Russian agent Sergei Skripal, along with his daughter, nearly died after being poisoned with what British experts said was a sophisticated military-grade nerve agent.
Bellingcat, along with other outlets, later identified a military intelligence unit — known as Unit 29155 — that was behind the incident, and two of the agents involved.
Bellingcat later published a report accusing Russia’s military intelligence agency, unofficially known as the GRU, of also being responsible for the poisoning of a Bulgarian arms dealer in Sofia in 2015.
In December, Bulgarian officials said their investigation of the case focused on five alleged GRU agents, including a Russian general.
Last month, Bulgarian prosecutors announced charges against three Russians, and an Interpol arrest warrant was issued.
In its new report, released in conjunction with the Russian news site The Insider and the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger, Bellingcat said one of the three Russians who was charged by the Bulgarians and who went by the name Georgy Gorshkov was in fact a Russian named Yegor Gordienko.
The report said Gordienko had official diplomatic status at Russia’s mission to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva, and was first posted there in January 2017, with an expected assignment of three years.
But he was abruptly recalled from Switzerland in October 2018 after Bellingcat and The Insider published a report identifying the existence of a GRU team operating in Europe.
Bellingcat said Gordienko was also in regular contact with two other GRU agents who have been charged in Britain for their role in the Skripal poisoning.
Bellingcat said they confirmed Gordinenko’s presence in Geneva based on official diplomatic lists provided by the WTO and the Swiss Foreign Ministry. And they published what they said was an online record of a road race that Gordienko apparently ran in 2018.
But Bellingcat said that, when their Swiss partner publication contacted the Russian diplomatic mission in Geneva, they were told no such diplomat named Gordienko had ever existed.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking further comment from RFE/RL.
Bellingcat said that Gordienko left Geneva late on October 25, 2018, and arrived in Moscow early the next month. Electronic metadata for Gordienko’s cell phone showed that he called his boss, the commander of Unit 29155, Major General Andrei Averyanov.
Averyanov wasn’t widely known publicly until last year, when his name first surfaced in a New York Times report that examined the operations of Unit 29155.
A joint investigation by RFE/RL and Bellingcat later determined Averyanov attended the wedding of his daughter in July 2017 at a Moscow region country club.
Among those in attendance was one of the two Russian agents who were charged with the Skripal poisoning almost a year later.