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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/23/21

Kremlin maintains worldwide network of spies and saboteurs under embassy cover

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Message Augusts Augustiņš

You will most likely never see a Russian spy ordering dry vermouth at a bar, because if he was indeed there, he would drink vodka and gather information to be delivered to the Russian embassy or diplomatic mission, from where it would then travel to the Kremlin by air and wire.

The people that spy for the Kremlin are those that Moscow has assigned to work in its embassies and diplomatic missions abroad. After the collapse of the USSR and with the beginning of Putin's era, these people have established a network of influence around the globe. Putin's regime uses this network to extort, blackmail and do other similar activities.

It's no wonder that with every passing day there is growing discontent with the Kremlin's emissaries that represent Russia in the spheres of trade, defense and culture. We've already gotten used to scandals involving Russian spies, which seem to appear with almost predictable regularity   - one day in Belgium, the next in Bulgaria, then Denmark and then perhaps again Bulgaria, and so on. Russian diplomats who get caught spying have always tried to hide their identity with pre-made stories circulating in the media, for instance, by publishing fake articles and reports or by making irresistible business cards with only lies printed on them.

The main task of these "elegant" diplomats/spies is to visit political and business events, as well as any proceedings that involve journalists and cultural workers. If there are no such events, The Kremlin's embassy, as a rule of law, will organize them itself. By attending these events, Putin's spies hope to get their hands on confidential information.

In reality, Putin's regime inherited this spy network from the Soviet Union, as it was impossible for it to disappear overnight. After the USSR was no more, control over the Soviet agents was assumed by the KGB, which later turned into the FSB.

One of the most recent and loudest espionage scandals began in late 2020 in the Netherlands, where Russian diplomats were caught maintaining an entire network of spies all over the country. Unfortunately, the response by the Dutch authorities was snot so impressive as it decided to expel only two Russian "diplomats" that were accused of industrial espionage. During the investigation, it was found out that the Russian attache' was involved in spying at high-tech companies and educational institutions.

In response, the moldy Russian foreign affairs expert Sergey Lavrov, tasked by the Kremlin, didn't hesitate to expel two random Dutch diplomats from Russia. It is, after all, standard procedure.

Despite the Kremlin's complaints, the Netherlands' General Intelligence and Security Service wasn't intimidated and published exact and undisputable information on the activities of the expelled spies and the "secret" assignment that they were to carry out in the Netherlands in the name of the Kremlin. Information and evidence were also published regarding the ties of the Russian spies with the Russian Embassy in the Hague and elsewhere. One of the Russians had established quite a complicated network of contacts consisting of roughly ten people with access to classified information. The investigators were also able to prove that the "diplomats" paid for the sensitive information. The other expelled Russian spy, holding a diplomatic passport, dealt with logistics and support functions. They carefully delivered the acquired information on IT, artificial intelligence, chips and related topics to their command center in Moscow.

A Russian spy group in the Netherlands, uncovered two years before the said incident, dealt with acquiring similar information. This group was caught when it was carrying out a cyberattack against the Organization of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons literally standing next to the organization's building. These Russian spies were tasked with launching a cyberattack against the computer systems of the organization in order to infect and steal data. The attack was carried out from a specially equipped vehicle that was in the parking lot of a hotel right next to the organization's building. During the investigation, it was uncovered that this operation was planned, coordinated and executed by the Russian GRU.

The Kremlin was very interested in the dealings of the Organization of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. At the time, the organization's experts were researching the chemical substances that were used during a chemical attack in the Syrian city of Douma, as well as the substance used to poison the Skripals. Only later, the attempts of Russian spies to acquire the sensitive information began to make sense, because the evidence gathered by the Dutch organization proved that Putin's ally Assad had used chemical weapons against his own people and that Putin had sent GRU officers to use Novichok against Russian nationals Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia. This damaged the Kremlin's image significantly and the scandal concluded with the expulsion of four Russian "diplomats" from Netherlands in April 2018.

The fact that these Russian espionage scandals bare remarkable similarities has made many people wonder whether Russian intelligence services and diplomatic corps are really that cliche'd and dumb. It seems that it's true, as numerous espionage scandals involving Russian diplomats later emerged in Czechia, Colombia, Bulgaria, Denmark and elsewhere in the world.

For instance, in Czechia the Russian spy network was tasked with engaging in subversion and cyberattacks. This scandal was perhaps one of the most painful ones for the Kremlin, as it was not some investigative commission that informed the public about it, but instead head of the Czech Security Information Service Michal Koudelka. "This Russian spy network was funded by the Kremlin through the Russian embassy. The uncovered spy group was tasked with launching cyberattacks against targets in the Czech Republic and the IT infrastructure of Czechia's partner nations," Koudelka revealed in a statement.

Not even a year passed when another espionage scandal broke out in Czechia in December of the same year, this time featuring Chinese "diplomats" and "tourists". As if the Russians weren't enough, Czechia also caught Chinese spies who were tasked with undermining the EU and NATO.

Let's return to Russian spies - in late December 2018, spokesman for the Security Information Service Ladislav Sticha pointed out: "There is a large number of Russian agents operating in Czechia. These people hold diplomatic passports and their task is to weaken the EU and NATO."

But the Kremlin was still hungry, so it devised the next diabolical plan that, of course, failed - Russian diplomats working in the Russian Embassy in Prague were planning to poison the mayor of Prague. In May 2020, it was uncovered that a high-ranking Russian official working in the Czech capital tried to give poison brought from Russia to Mayor of Prague Zdenek Hrib and two other officials within the Prague City Council.

The Russians once again failed, and the spy/saboteur was identified. It was 35-year-old Andrey Konchakov - a "diplomat" who had arrived in Prague on 14 March carrying poison. After his arrival, he headed for the Russian Embassy in Prague, and since he had a diplomatic passport his luggage was not inspected at the airport. Konchakov was taken from the airport by the Russian embassy's driver who appears in Czech intelligence reports as "Aleksandr A." - presumably an FSB officer tasked with taking care of the diplomat/poisoning team and keeping his eyes open so that classified documents and other items brough into Czechia by Russian spies/saboteurs don't disappear. This reminds me of the notorious FSB group that failed twice to poison Aleksey Navalny.

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