Spying for Russia: Europeans recruited for Putin's information war

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jan 20 2023 03:07 AM

Members of public go past the sealed-off Zizzi restaurant, in Salisbury, Britain, on 17 September 2018. Tolga Akmen, EPA-EFE/File
Members of public go past the sealed-off Zizzi restaurant, in Salisbury, Britain, on 17 September 2018. Tolga Akmen, EPA-EFE/File

PARIS—European countries are on high alert for Russian spies in their military, intelligence services and other state agencies following a growing number of espionage scandals that have caused blushes from Bulgaria to Berlin.

On Thursday, a Swedish court sentenced a former intelligence agent to life in prison and his brother to 10 years behind bars for passing sensitive information to Russia's military intelligence service, GRU.

Here are some other cases of Europeans caught up in Russian spying scandals in recent years:

- German suspected double agent - 

German police in December 2022 arrest a suspected double agent within the BND foreign intelligence agency for allegedly sharing state secrets with Russia.

The arrest of the man, identified only as Carsten L., comes a month after a German man was given a suspended prison sentence for passing information to Russian intelligence services while working as a reserve officer for the German army between 2014 and 2020.

- Italian captain - 

In March 2021, an Italian navy captain and father of four is arrested after being caught handing over a memory card containing 181 pictures of confidential documents to a Russian military officer.

Walter Biot, who worked in the office of the Chief of the Defence Staff and had access to classified documents, was allegedly paid 5,000 euros.

His wife tells the Corriere della Sera newspaper he was "desperate" for money to support his family.

- Bulgarian defense officials - 

In March 2021, Bulgarian authorities break up a suspected Russian spy ring comprising several defense ministry officials.

The ring is allegedly led by a former intelligence officer whose Russian-Bulgarian wife played the role of intermediary with the Russian embassy.

Two Russian diplomats are expelled over the affair.

- Austrian colonel -

In 2018, a retired Austrian army colonel is arrested on charges of spying for Russia for decades, starting in the 1990s.

Under questioning, he reveals the Russians wanted information about weapons systems and the migrant crisis in Europe. In 2020, he is sentenced to three years in prison.

- Polish energy official -

In March 2018, a Polish energy ministry official is arrested for passing information to Russia about Poland's stance on the Nordstream 2 gas pipeline project.

Poland staunchly opposed the pipeline built to transport Russian gas through the Baltic Sea to Western Europe, bypassing transit countries Poland and Ukraine. 

The official is sentenced to three years in prison.

- Hungarian politician -

In 2017, a Hungarian member of the European Parliament from the nationalist Jobbik party, Bela Kovacs, is charged with spying on the EU for Russia.

Kovacs, whose father was Russian, was a frequent visitor to Moscow, where is now believed to be living.

He is sentenced in absentia to five years in jail in September 2022.

- Former Moldovan lawmaker - 

A former MP in the former Soviet republic of Moldova, Iurie Bolboceanu, is arrested in March 2017 on charges of regularly selling information to Russia. 

Moldova has been pushing to rid itself of Moscow's influence.

Bolboceanu is sentenced to 14 years imprisonment for treason.

- Latvian railway worker -

In late 2016, Latvian railway worker Aleksandrs Krasnopjorovs is arrested for recording videos of NATO troops and cargo being moved by rail and then sending them to contacts in Russia. 

An ethnic Russian and former Soviet Red Army soldier who served in Afghanistan during the 1980s, he is sentenced to 18 months behind bars.

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