Elite Russian spy unit used French Alps region as logistical base

Chamonix FranceAn elite group Russian military intelligence officers, who have participated in assassinations across Europe, have been using resorts in the French Alps as logistical and supply bases, according to a new report. The report concerns Unit 29155 of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, commonly known as GRU. According to The New York Times, which revealed its existence of 29155 in October, the unit has been operating for at least 10 years. However, Western intelligence agencies only began to focus on it in 2016, after it was alleged that an elite group of Russian spies tried to stage a coup in the tiny Balkan country of Montenegro.

Unit 29155 is believed to consist of a tightly knit group of intelligence officers led by Major General Andrei V. Averyanov, a hardened veteran of Russia’s Chechen wars. The existence of the unit is reportedly so secret that even other GRU operatives are unlikely to have heard of it. Members of the unit frequently travel to Europe to carry out sabotage and disinformation campaigns, kill targets, or conduct other forms of what some experts describe as the Kremlin’s hybrid war. They are believed to be responsible for the attempt on the life of Sergei Skripal, a former GRU intelligence officer who defected to Britain. He almost died in March 2018, when two Russian members of Unit 29155 poisoned him in the English town of Salisbury.

On Wednesday, a new report in the French newspaper Le Monde claimed that Unit 29155 used the French Alps as a “rear base” to carry out operations throughout Europe. According to the paper, the information about the unit’s activities in France emerged following forensic investigations of the activities of its members by British, Swiss, French and American intelligence agencies. In the same article, Le Monde published the names of 15 members of Unit 29155, which allegedly stayed in various French alpine towns and cities between 2014 and 2018. The paper said that they traveled to France from various countries in Europe, such as Spain, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, or directly from Russia.

The alleged Russian spies stayed in France’s Haute-Savoie, which borders Switzerland, and is among Europe’s most popular wintertime tourist destinations. The area includes the world-famous Mont Blanc mountain range and the picturesque alpine towns of Annemasse, Evian and Chamonix. Several members of the unit visited the region repeatedly, said Le Monde, while others entered France once or twice, in connection with specific spy missions. It is believed that the reasoning behind their trips to the French Alps was to blend in with the large numbers of international tourists that travel to the region throughout the year. However, the unit also utilized several other areas in Eastern Europe as rear bases, including cities and towns in Moldova, Montenegro and Bulgaria, said Le Monde.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 December 2019 | Permalink


5 Responses to Elite Russian spy unit used French Alps region as logistical base

  1. Figaro says:

    This seems like further Russophobia. What I get from this is that “Russians should not be trusted wherever they might be seen”. This is basically saying that even in resorts – skiing resorts – people should be suspicious towards Russians – it might just be a base for some nefarious activities. A correction: only Higgins has claimed he knows who the men in Salisbury were. People argued from what he said. However, their identities and what they were doing in the town are still being debated. Helmer is still pursuing the medical examiner doing the Dawn Sturgess autopsy. The examiner has lied many times already. It would be good to get back to the developments from that side of things. There are a lot of allegations without merit going around. It would be better if this blog actually did some more research and stopped giving us CNN/Fox talking points.

  2. Robert says:

    @Figaro: No. What it’s saying is that Russian intelligence officers have been using resorts in the French Alps as a logistical and supply base. This is not “Russophobia”; people shouldn’t be suspicious that every Russian is a spy; however, it appears that this scenario was related to espionage. Russia is aggressive in their foreign intelligence collection, so it is likely more stories like this will pop up. Not sure how you’re coming to the conclusion that it’s a concerted effort to shape opinions against Russia. They’re actually doing it.

  3. Figaro says:

    @Robert, I attribute such analyses and reports to a phobia because they simply repeat what are unsubstantiated claims. Where there is needed an expansion on claim, the articles do not expand. For instance, the article does not expand on the quagmire that Salisbury has been for those who claim to know that Russians actually did it. Instead what is done is connect cases that have not been investigated to their conclusion and state those as reasons enough to think what is being alleged could be true. I believe it is called McCarthyism when you see a Russian up to no good everywhere. This is how Trump cannot even have a good meeting with Lavrov without people thinking he is some sort of Russian agent. It really is not that hard to see how such rumour and innuendo can lead to stereotypes. What is even more unbelievable is that with all the “investigations” there will never be any sharing of information with the public – national security will be blamed, and we will never find out what the actual undiluted outcomes were.

    Lastly, most countries are “aggressive in their foreign intelligence collection”. You still do not hear Australia saying that Americans in a hotel killed a Swedish diplomat. When it comes to Russia I once read someone stating that it is always rather curious that Russians when killing other Russians always wait till those Russians are outside of Russia to try and do it. Furthermore, the killings always happen right before an important international meeting for Russia – as if to skew the meeting a particular way. I guess Russians are that self-destructive.

  4. Robert says:

    @Figaro given that the subject of this relates to intelligence, it is reasonable to assume that there are details being withheld that would otherwise substantiate the claims. I’m sure the author of this article is not privy to all the details that led to what happened, nor the decision-making process. I’m not denying that this can lead to stereotypes and Russophobia for some people, but I don’t think that is the intention of the article (nor does it dismiss the notion that espionage has/is happening).

    When I said “aggressive in their foreign intelligence collection”, I was specifically referring to Russia (re-read that sentence), as it relates to this article. I’m not as knowledgeable about the Australia reference, but I think a better comparison would be that of Chinese espionage. Similar to how you mentioned Russophobia, the Chinese are receiving similar reactions (there was an article in NYT [I think] about this recently. However, they have a very aggressive foreign intelligence agenda (similar to Russia) that warrants such scrutiny. Check this article out: https://intelnews.org/2019/12/12/01-2686/

    And yes, I find it curious that “Russians always wait till those Russians are outside of Russia to try and do it”. I’m sure Sergei and Yulia Skripal would concur, as well as Alexander Litvinenko if he could.

  5. Figaro says:

    @Robert: I am quite aware that there are details being withheld. It is only natural. However, with so many instances of “intelligence” being illegitimately withheld or straight up fabricated, there has to be a better argument for withholding information beyond simply saying “national security dictates”. I am not expecting the author of the article to know every detail. I am expecting him to at least acknowledge that there is continuing debate over some of the issues. For instance, John Helmer has been doing a lot of work on Russia – in this article it is as if his work does not exist. Even the “b” character has long ago done a lot of work on the fabled assassins’ unit. I still maintain that there is no reference to the two alleged assassins being from that unit – save that made by Elliot Higgins, a person whose funding is already quite suspect, the same for his views.

    I am aware that you were referring specifically to Russia. That is the only way one could read this. However, in your convictions, you fail to acknowledge that ALL countries are aggressive. That is what intelligence is about. Just reading this blog, you can even see that even Sri Lanka is aggressive with an embassy worker. The problem is that you make a conviction that can be read as exclusive. In other words, you make it appear as if there are no other options – just as this article does. Even your response to me mentions just China. What about such countries as Saudi Arabia who actually killed a journalist? It is my conviction that ALL countries are aggressive at intelligence.

    The curiosity is an inside joke in some circles. What is even more curious is how – supposedly well-protected Russians outside of Russia – seem to fall victim despite all the protections they enjoy? That is quite curious. In some circles, the question “Cui bono?” always does not point to Russia. Yet somehow people seem to appreciate the Russian connection.

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