French lieutenant-colonel serving with NATO arrested for spying for Russia

Florence ParlyFrench authorities are reportedly investigating a senior military officer, who is serving with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Italy, for spying on behalf of Russia, according to a news report from France. On Sunday, France’s Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly (pictured), gave a press conference in Paris, during which she provided limited information about the ongoing investigation. Parly said she could confirm that “a senior officer” in the French military was undergoing “legal proceedings” relating to a “security breach”. She refused to provide specific details on the case.

Later on Sunday, however, French radio station Europe 1 reported that the military officer was a lieutenant-colonel who is currently serving at a NATO facility in Italy. The officer is believed to speak Russian and is considered a specialist on Russian military affairs, said the station. It added that French authorities began investigating him after he was spotted in Italy with a man who was later identified as an intelligence officer with the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, known commonly as GRU. According to Europe 1, the French military officer was arrested by the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI), France’s counterintelligence and counterterrorism agency.

At the time of his arrest, the unnamed man was making preparations to return to his NATO post in Italy, after holidaying in France, according to the radio station’s report. He is currently in detention in the French capital on suspicion of having supplied classified military documents to Russian intelligence. Europe 1 cited an unnamed source who said the officer would be prosecuted for “collecting [and] sharing information with a foreign power” that “harms the fundamental interests of the [French] nation” and “harms national defense”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 August 2020 | Permalink

Belgium knew about Russian bounty offered to Taliban, defense minister says

Belgian German AfghanistanBelgium’s spy services were aware of financial rewards that Russia allegedly offered to the Taliban in exchange for killing American and other Western troops in Afghanistan, according to Belgium’s defense minister. Late last month, three leading American newspapers, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal alleged that the White House had been briefed about an alleged Russian bounty program that was in existence in Afghanistan. According to the allegations, the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, known as GRU, had offered Taliban fighters financial rewards in exchange for killing American and other North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops. Both the White House and the Kremlin denied the allegations, with US President Donald Trump dismissing them as “fake news” and “a hoax”.

On Wednesday, Philippe Goffin, who serves as Belgium’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Defense, told the Belgian Federal Parliament that his office was aware of the Russian bounty program. The minister was speaking before the parliament’s Committee on National Defense, where he responded to questions from committee members. According to Goffin, he had been briefed on the matter by the General Intelligence and Security Service (SGRS), Belgium’s military intelligence organization. He said the SGRS was “aware of Russian support for the Taliban in Afghanistan” and offered evidence that “confirmed Russian interference there”. He added that the Belgian intelligence services had linked “only one incident” to the Russian bounty program. It had occurred in April of 2019, and had resulted in the deaths of three American soldiers, he said.

Belgium is a founding member of NATO and hosts the alliance’s headquarters in its capital, Brussels. The country until recently participated in the NATO joint force in Afghanistan, but recalled its troops home in May due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 July 2020 | Permalink

Russia arrests space agency employee for giving secrets to NATO country

Ivan SafronovRussia’s security service has arrested the media advisor to the director of the country’s space agency, accusing him of supplying military secrets to a spy agency of an unnamed Western country. The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) announced on Tuesday the arrest of Ivan Safronov, a former journalist specializing in military affairs.

Safronov was the military correspondent for the Russian newspaper Kommersant, which is described by some as the Russian equivalent of Britain’s Financial Times. He then worked as a military affairs reporter for Vedomosti, a Moscow-based financial daily, which has a reputation for independence from the Kremlin. He briefly represented the paper in the Kremlin pool of journalists, who accompany the Russian President Vladimir Putin on official trips.

Safronov resigned from Vedomosti last spring, along with several of his colleagues, following a dispute with the newspaper’s management over editorial freedom. In May he was hired by the Russian space agency, the Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities, where he now works as a media advisor for Dmitry Rogozin, the agency’s director-general.

On Tuesday, the FSB issued a statement to the press saying it had arrested Safronov for carrying out espionage for a foreign country. The statement said Safronov had “collected and surrendered to [the foreign nation’s] representative state secrets and information about military-technical cooperation and about the defense and security of the Russian Federation”. According to the FSB, the person that Safronov is alleged to have shared state secrets with is an intelligence officer of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization member state. However, the Russian security agency did not name the country in its statement to the media.

Also on Tuesday, the FSB published video footage showing Safronov being arrested by a group of plainclothes FSB agents outside his Moscow apartment. The agents are seen approaching Safronov and searching him before putting him inside an unmarked van and driving away. He has not been seen in public since, and some have suggested that Russian authorities have not permitted lawyers to contact him.

Following the statement by the FSB, reports in the Russian media claimed that Safronov had been approached repeatedly by security officers in the past and questioned about his work as a journalist. Some of Safronov’s colleagues have said on social media that he was arrested due to his political views, rather than alleged espionage activities. Meanwhile, Roscosmos director Rogozin told Russian media that Safronov did not have access to classified information, so it was unlikely that his arrest was related to his work at the space agency.

Safronov’s trial is expected to take place behind closed doors, due to the nature of the charges he is facing. If found guilty, he could face up to 20 years in prison.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 July 2020 | Permalink

Spain ‘shifts to a war economy’ and calls on NATO for help with COVID-19

COVID-19 SpainThe government of Spain said on Tuesday it had begun to shift to “a war economy”, as the Spanish Ministry of Defense called on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for assistance to fight the coronavirus pandemic. The term war economy is used to describe the rapid reorganization of a nation’s production and distribution capacity in response to a direct military threat to its existence.

Spanish officials announced on Tuesday that the rate of COVID-19 illness in the country was growing faster than in Italy. Despite a nationally mandated lockdown, which began on March 14, coronavirus infections exceeded 42,000 yesterday, up from 25,000 on Saturday. Spanish medical facilities announced 514 new deaths in a 24-hour period, bringing the total number of COVID-19-related deaths to 2696. The deaths are reflective of Spain’s desperate struggle to provide sufficient medical supplies for its healthcare workers, or treatment hardware for patients.

On Tuesday afternoon, NATO’s Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Center (EADRCC) said it had received “a request for international assistance from the Armed Forces of Spain in their response to the global pandemic”. The EADRCC said in a press statement that the Spanish military had asked its “international partners […] to provide assistance to the Ministry of Defense of Spain”. Spanish media reported that the request included “450,000 respirators, 500,000 rapid testing kits, 500 ventilators and 1.5 million surgical masks”.

Meanwhile the Spanish military helped convert an ice ring in Madrid’s popular Palacio de Hielo mall into a makeshift morgue, in order to accommodate the projected surge in deaths due to COVID-19 in the coming days. The Spanish capital has suffered over 30 percent of all coronavirus-related deaths in the past week. Over the weekend, a nearby convention center was converted into a hospital that can accommodate 5,500 patients.

In neighboring France, the army set up a field hospital on French territory for the first time in the country’s peacetime history. Field hospitals are temporary tent structures designed to provide medical services to wounded soldiers and civilians in a warzone. The erection of field hospital tents in the eastern city of Mulhouse, close to the Swiss and German borders, was described by the French media as an unprecedented sight.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 March 2020 | Permalink

Intelligence officer who forged credentials did not betray secrets, says Sweden

Sweden militaryA man who rose through the ranks of the Swedish Armed Forces by using forged credentials, and worked as an intelligence officer in NATO while liaising with the Russian security services, did not betray national secrets, according to Swedish officials.

The man, who has not been named by the Swedish government, served in the Försvars- makten —the Swedish Armed Forces— for 18 years. He used forged certificates to claim that he had a university degree in political science. He also claimed that he had successfully completed the Swedish Army’s officer training program, a claim that he supported with a forged certificate of completion.

During his military career, he participated in Sweden’s international peacekeeping missions in Kosovo, as well as in Afghanistan, where he served with the rank of major. Between 2007 and 2010, and then again in 2013, the unnamed man was an employee of the Swedish Military Intelligence and Security Service (MUST), where he worked as a liaison between MUST and Russia’s Federal Security Service.

In 2012 he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel and was dispatched to the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, which is the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Allied Command Operations. Sweden is not a member of NATO but has close ties with the alliance. While in Belgium, the unnamed man joined the Afghanistan Mission Network, an intelligence-sharing platform for nations that participated in military and peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan. He then joined Sweden’s United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali as its chief of staff, with the rank of major.

The forgeries that he used to join the military were reportedly detected in 2019, but the case did not become public until earlier this month, when the Stockholm-based newspaper Dagens Nyheter published an claimed about it. On Thursday, the chief of staff of the Försvarsmakten, General Micael Byden, told the Defense Committee of the Swedish Parliament that the unnamed man did not harm Sweden’s national security. General Byden briefed the committee on the results of an internal investigation into the case by the armed forces. He claimed that the investigation had found “nothing that indicates that classified information had been disseminated” to Russia or any other foreign power by the unnamed man. NATO has not commented on the case.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 24 January 2020 | Permalink

Turkey offers to send troops to Libya as tensions rise with Greece, Egypt

Turkey LibyaTurkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said his country is prepared to deploy troops to Libya, just days after Ankara surprised analysts by announcing an agreement with the embattled Libyan government in Tripoli. The Turkish-Libyan agreement has spurred angry reactions from Israel, Greece and Egypt, all of which are competing with Turkey for control of newly discovered gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean seabed.

The Turkish-Libyan agreement merges the two countries’ Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) and ostensibly prevents other players in the area, including Greece, Egypt, Israel and Cyprus, from drilling for natural gas without the consent of Ankara and Tripoli. However, according to Greece, the agreement disregards the presence of several Greek islands —including the largest one, Crete— in the Turkish-Libyan EEZ. Athens says that it views the Turkish-Libyan agreement as a direct claim against its territory. Last week the Greek government summarily expelled the Libyan ambassador from the country, marking a dramatic deterioration in the historically close relationship between Athens and Tripoli.

To further-complicate matters, several European countries, as well as Russia and the United States, do not support the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), with which Turkey has signed its agreement. Instead, they support the Libyan National Army (LNA), which is commanded by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, an old adversary of the Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi. Haftar lived in the United States under Washington’s protection for several decades before returning to Libya in 2011. The LNA, which is based in eastern Libya, is also supported by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other American allies in the Persian Gulf.

It follows that, if Turkey deploys troops to Libya, it may be entering a collision course with several of its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies. Ankara’s move will also be confronted by Russia, which is purported to have troops in eastern Libya. On Tuesday, however, Turkish President Erdoğan seemed determined to proceed with his plan. In a speech at a university in Ankara, the Turkish leader proclaimed that, “if Libya were to make a request, we would send a sufficient number of troops”, adding that “there is no hurdle” to doing so “after the signing of the security agreement” between Ankara and Tripoli.

This is the first time that Turkey has secured an agreement with a regional ally in the matter of energy exploration rights. Previously, Greece, Israel, Egypt and Cyprus struck a deal to coordinate their gas exploration activities, and eventually supply Europe with Israeli and Cypriot natural gas via a projected gas pipeline that would pass through Greece. But the Turkish move raises doubts about the prospects of such a project, with some analysts even speculating whether centuries-old rivals Greece and Turkey may be getting closer to war.

In a speech on Monday, Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos warned Ankara that “Greece will defend its borders [and] territory”. Meanwhile European Union leaders met on Monday behind closed doors to discuss the imposition of sanctions on Turkey as punishment for disputing the maritime territorial boundaries of Cyprus, a European Union member.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 December 2019 | Permalink

Estonian court to release defense official who spied for Russia for 13 years

Herman SimmA court in Estonia has ordered the release of a former senior defense official who spied on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for Russia, causing what experts described at the time as “the most serious case of espionage against NATO since the end of the Cold War”. Herman Simm was a high-level official at the Estonian Ministry of Defense, who once led the country’s National Security Authority. This meant that he was in charge of Estonia’s national cyber defense systems and supervised the issuing of security clearances.

He was arrested in 2008 along with his wife and charged with spying for Russia for over a decade. At the time of his arrest Simm was responsible for handling all of Estonia’s classified and top secret material regarding NATO. This prompted European and American security officials to describe Simm as the most damaging spy against NATO since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. In February of 2009 Simm was sentenced to 12½ years in prison.

On Thursday, a county court in Estonia’s southeastern city of Tartu ruled that Simm is eligible for parole, because he has served the majority of his prison sentence without committing any disciplinary infractions. Officials from the Tartu County Prison and the prosecutor’s office agreed that early release would provide Simm with an incentive to abide with Estonian law. The court also stated in its decision that Simm had no more access to classified information and that he was of no further interest to foreign countries and intelligence organizations.

Simm is expected to be released within days, and will remain under probation until March of 2021. The court’s decision can be appealed by December 20.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 06 December 2019 | Permalink

Turkey arrests German embassy lawyer on espionage charges

Germany Embassy TurkeyTurkish authorities have charged a lawyer working for the German embassy in Ankara with espionage, further-straining the already tense relationship between the two North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies. German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, which reported on the arrest, did not name the lawyer, but said he is a Turkish citizen and was arrested in September.

The newsmagazine said the lawyer had been hired by the German embassy to obtain information about Turkish citizens who had applied for political asylum in Germany. German authorities would regularly give the lawyer identifying information about asylum applicants. The lawyer would then verify with Turkish police that the applicants had a blank criminal record and were not wanted for participation in criminal activity. The German embassy would then forward the information collected by the lawyer to the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (known in Germany as BAMF), which would subsequently approve or reject the asylum applications.

Following the lawyer’s arrest by the Turkish National Intelligence Service (MİT), German authorities are concerned that the Turkish government has seized identifying information on at least 50 Turkish applicants for political asylum in Germany. Some of these applicants are reportedly members of Turkey’s persecuted Kurdish minority. Others are alleged supporters of Fethullah Gülen a United States-based former political ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who Turkey accuses of having orchestrated the failed 2016 military coup against Erdoğan.

The German Foreign Office has described the lawyer’s arrest as “incomprehensible” and has reportedly warned those asylum seekers affected by it that their safety may be endangered. Meanwhile, German diplomats are engaged in high-level talks with the Turkish government to secure the lawyer’s release, according to Spiegel. The effort is being led by no other than Martin Erdmann, a veteran diplomat who is serving as Germany’s ambassador to Turkey.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 November 2019 | Permalink

Senior Belgian counterintelligence officer arrested on suspicion of spying for Russia

NATO HQ BrusselsA senior counterintelligence official in Belgium’s external intelligence service is under house arrest on suspicion of sharing classified documents with Russian spies, according to a Belgian newspaper. Additionally, the chief of the agency’s counterintelligence directorate has been barred from his office while an internal investigation is underway on allegations that he illegally destroyed government documents. These allegations surfaced last Thursday in a leading article in De Morgen, a Flemish-language daily based in Brussels.

Citing anonymous sources from the General Information and Security Service —Belgium’s military intelligence agency— the paper said that the arrestee has the equivalent rank of major in the General Intelligence and Security Service. Known as GISS, the agency operates as the Belgian equivalent of the United States Central Intelligence Agency or Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service —better known as MI6. GISS officers collect information abroad and are not permitted to operate within Belgium’s borders. The man, a career counterintelligence official, is suspected of having passed secrets to Russia with the help of a woman who claims to be Serbian, but who is in fact believed to be an operative for Russian intelligence. It is not known whether the compromised information included secrets involving the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, of which Belgium is a founding member. In the same article, De Morgen also said that Clement Vandenborre, who serves as chief of GISS’s counterintelligence directorate, has been barred from his office while an investigation is taking place into allegations of mismanagement. He is also accused of having shredded classified government documents without permission. It is not believed that this case is connected with the alleged Russian penetration.

De Morgen quoted a spokesperson for Belgium’s Ministry of Defense, who confirmed that an investigation into alleged foreign espionage targeting a GISS employee was underway, but added that “no comment” would be made on the subject so as “not to hinder” the probe. Ironically, German newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag reported last week that the European Union’s diplomatic agency warned officials in Belgium to watch out for “hundreds of spies” from various foreign countries, including from Russia and China. The warning, issued by the European Union’s diplomatic agency, the European External Action Service (EEAS), said that “approximately 250 Chinese and 200 Russian spies” were operating in Brussels.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 February 2019 | Permalink

Details of Albania’s clandestine operatives posted online due to admin error

Albanian State Intelligence Service Sensitive information about the identities and activities of Albania’s intelligence operatives appeared online, apparently due to an administrative blunder. The incident has reportedly alarmed officials at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), of which Albania has been a member since 2009. British newspaper The Independent, which reported the incident earlier this month, described it as “a dangerous breach that could have international consequences”. The paper quoted a former officer in the United States Central Intelligence Agency who described the breach as “the type of bureaucratic catastrophe that could put lives at risk”.

Until the end of the Cold War, Albania was a communist state aligned with China. Since 1991, however, the former communist country has tried to align itself with the West. As part of this strategy, successive Albanian administrations have tried to combat widespread nepotism and government corruption. A significant aspect of this ongoing anti-corruption campaign involves the daily publication of the financial activities of Albanian government agencies. This information is available in searchable spreadsheets on the website of Albania’s Ministry of Finance and Economy. Recently, however, Vincent Triest, a researcher with British-based investigative website Bellingcat, noticed that the publicly available spreadsheets contained information about the State Intelligence Service, Albania’s spy agency, known as SHISH. In reading through the spreadsheets, Triest was able to find the names, official job titles, salaries and monthly expenses of at least eight senior members of SHISH. Most of them, said Triest, serve under official (diplomatic) cover at Albanian embassies and consulates in Greece, Italy, Belgium, Serbia, and elsewhere in Europe.

In a follow-up article posted yesterday on Bellingcat’s website, Triest said that the spreadsheets on the website of the Albanian Finance Ministry contain names and national identification records of SHISH officers, the agency field offices where they are serving, and even the make and model of the vehicles they drive along with their license plate numbers. A separate spreadsheet lists the construction contractors, plumbers and electricians used by various SHISH field offices, as well as the mechanics that are contracted to service the agency’s vehicles. Remarkably, at least two of the exposed SHISH officers are serving in “sensitive posts at NATO headquarters in Brussels”, writes Triest. This has raised alarms at NATO, as Albanian intelligence officers with access to NATO’s secrets could now become susceptible to possible recruitment by adversary spy agencies, said The Independent. The paper added that it notified the Albanian government of the security breach, and was told that the sensitive data would be promptly removed from government websites.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 December 2018 | Permalink

Greece expels Russian diplomats who ‘tried to bribe Greek officials’

Greece RussiaIn a rare moment of downturn in relations between Athens and Moscow, Greece has expelled two Russian diplomats and refused to accredit two more, reportedly for “undermining Greek national security”. Greece was not among nearly 30 countries that expelled or refused to accredit over 150 Russian diplomats in March, in an act of solidarity with the United Kingdom. The expulsions came in response to the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal, a Russian former intelligence officer who had been living in England since 2010. Britain accused the Kremlin of having sponsored the attack on Skripal. But the Greek government, which has enjoyed warm relations with Moscow for decades, warned against unduly aggressive measures against the Kremlin.

Things changed swiftly on Wednesday, however, when Athens announced the surprise expulsion of two Russian diplomats from the Greek capital. One of the two diplomats has been named as Victor Yakovlev, third secretary of the Russian embassy in Athens, who some say is in fact an intelligence officer. Two more Russian diplomats, who have not been publicly named, were barred from entering Greece —a move that effectively amounts to a refusal by the Greek government to accredit them. According to an official statement from the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the expulsions were meant to prevent the “undermining of [Greek] national security”. However, a report in the Greek daily Kathimerini said that the move was taken in response to attempts by Russian spies to bribe Greek state officials. Other reports claim that the Russians were caught trying to blackmail Greek lawmakers over the possible expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), of which Greece is a member.

Some of the allegations in the Greek press refer to the country’s three-decade long dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which Athens accuses of harboring territorial ambitions against its neighbors. Greece —the wealthiest and most powerful state in the Balkans— has barred the entry of its northern neighbor into the European Union and NATO until it complies with a list of Greek demands. Chief among those is the drawing of a clear distinction between Greek Macedonia —once an ancient Greek kingdom ruled by Alexander the Great— and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which encompasses a small portion of Alexander’s former empire. Last month, the decades-long dispute between the two neighboring countries appeared to draw to a close with the proposed adoption of “Northern Macedonia” as the official name of the former Yugoslav republic. The agreement would open the way for the tiny landlocked country to enter into negotiations for eventual entry into NATO. However, nationalists in both countries have staged public rallies to protest against the proposed agreement.

It appears that Russian diplomats may have tried to convince Greek lawmakers —through extortion, bribing or both— to vote against the proposed agreement. There are also reports that Russian diplomats assisted in the organization of nationwide rallies against the proposed agreement in Greece, possibly by funding them or by spreading information about them on social media. The Russian government said on Wednesday that it would protest the expulsion of its diplomats from Athens. It also said that it reserved the right to respond to Greece’s move in kind, possibly by expelling an equal number of Greek diplomats from Moscow.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 July 2018 | Research credit: SF | Permalink

NATO obtained Soviet Novichok nerve agents through German intelligence in 1990s

Sergei SkripalSome North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member states obtained access to the Soviet Union’s so-called ‘Novichok’ nerve agents in the 1990s, through an informant recruited by German intelligence, according to reports. NATO countries refer to ‘Novichok-class’ nerve agents to describe a series of weaponized substances that were developed by the Soviet Union and post-Soviet Russia from the early 1970s to at least 1993. They are believed to be the deadliest nerve agents ever produced, but Moscow denies their very existence. A type of Novichok agent, described by British scientists as A234, is said to have been used in March of this year by the person or persons who tried to kill Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, England. Skripal is a former Russian military intelligence officer who spied for Britain in the early 2000s and has been living in England ever since he was released from a Russian prison in 2010.

On Thursday, two German newspapers, Die Süddeutsche Zeitung and Die Zeit, and two regional public radio broadcasters, WDR and NDR, said that the NATO alliance has had access to the chemical composition of Novichok nerve agents since the period immediately following the collapse of the USSR in 1991. Specifically, the reports claimed that the access was gained through a Russian scientist who became an informant for the German Federal Intelligence Service, known as the BND. The scientist struck a deal with the BND: he provided the spy agency with technical information about the Novichok agents in exchange for safe passage to the West for him and his immediate family. Initially, the German government was reluctant to get its hands on material that was —and remains— classified as a weapon of mass destruction by international agencies. But eventually it asked for the chemical composition of the Novichok nerve agents and even acquired samples from the Russian informant.

According to media reports, the BND proceeded to share information about the chemical composition of the Novichok nerve agents with key NATO allies, including Sweden, France, Britain and the United States. The sharing of such a sensitive substance was approved by the then German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, said the reports. In the following years, a handful of NATO countries proceeded to produce what media reports described as “limited quantities” of Novichok agents, reportedly in order to experiment with various defense measures against them and to produce antidotes. Russia has denied accusations that it was implicated in Skripal’s poisoning and has argued that other countries, some of them NATO members, have the capacity to produce Novichok agents.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 May 2018 | Permalink

UK blames Russia, says it will not invoke NATO Article 5 in attack on ex-spy

Theresa MayThe British prime minister said on Monday that it was “highly likely” the nerve agent used to attack a Russian defector in England last week was developed by Russia. But sources in London told the BBC that the British government would not invoke Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which states that an attack on one member of the alliance is an attack on all. Theresa May was referring to an assassination attempt carried out on March 4 by unknown assailants against former KGB Colonel Sergei Skripal. The 66-year-old former spy and his daughter were found in a catatonic state in the town of Salisbury. It was later determined that they were attacked with a nerve agent.

Speaking in the British House of Commons, Mrs. May said that “world-leading experts” in chemical weapons had concluded Mr. Skripal had been attacked with a “military-grade nerve agent”. It was, she added, part of a group of nerve agents developed by the USSR in the 1970s and 1980s, known collectively as novichok (newcomers). The existence of these nerve agents took place in secret, but was later revealed by Russian government agents who defected to the West. British officials also disclosed yesterday that the British Foreign Office summoned the Russian Ambassador to London, Alexander Yakovenko, to seek an explanation about the attack. Additionally, London has called on Moscow to provide a “full and complete disclosure” of its novichok nerve agent program to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an intergovernmental agency based in the Netherlands, which oversees the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention.

Meanwhile NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters on Monday that the alliance viewed the use of a military-grade nerve agent on British soil as “horrendous and completely unacceptable” and that it was in contact with British officials about the matter. But British government officials told the BBC that London had no intention of invoking Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which requires all member-states to rally to the defense of a member under attack. The only time that Article 5 has been invoked by a member was by the United States, in response to the September 11, 2001, attacks. In Washington, White House Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Monday that the United States was “monitoring the incident closely” and took it “very seriously”. Mrs. Sanders described the attack on Mr. Skripal as “reckless, indiscriminative and irresponsible”, and extended the American government’s “support […] to our closest ally”, the United Kingdom. But she refused to respond to questions about whether the Russian government was behind the attack, saying that British experts were “still working through […] some of the details” of the case.

On Monday, during an official visit to the southern region of Krasnodar, Russian President Vladimir Putin was asked by a BBC reporter to comment on the attack on Skripal. He responded to the British reporter saying that the government in London would first have to “sort this out for yourselves first, then come talk to us”. He then walked away. Commenting from Moscow on Mrs. May’s allegations, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that her statement in the British Parliament had been “a circus show”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 May 2018 | Permalink

Russian-trained Serb separatists are forming paramilitary group in Bosnia

Serbian Honor militiaA group of hardline Bosnian Serbs, some of whom have been trained in military tactics by Russian instructors, are secretly creating a paramilitary group to undermine the territorial integrity of Bosnia, according to reports. Information about the alleged paramilitary group was published on the Friday edition of Žurnal, a nonpartisan investigative newsmagazine. The allegations exposed by Žurnal were later repeated by Dragan Mektić, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Minister for Security, who is himself a Bosnian Serb. Žurnal’s revelations came just days after hardline Serb separatists, dressed in dark-colored combat gear, staged a military-style rally in Banja Luka. The city of 200,000 is the administrative center of the Republika Srpska, the semi-autonomous Serb entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The entity was established under the terms of the 1995 Dayton peace agreement, which ended the Bosnian War that began in 1992.

The rally was held despite an earlier decision by the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which ruled that military-style marches by separatist organizations were unconstitutional. According to Žurnal, the rally was organized by Srbska čast (Serbian Honor), a militia made up of hardline Serb separatists. The group strongly supports Milorad Dodik, a Serb nationalist who has served as president of Republika Srpska since 2010. The investigative news site said that several members of Srbska čast’s were trained by Russian paramilitary instructors in the Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Center, a Russian-funded disaster relief center based in southern Serbia, which Western officials claim is really an intelligence base. Žurnal also said that one of Srbska čast’s leading figures, Bojan Stojković, a former commando, was trained in military schools in Russia and has been decorated by the Russian military.

Friday’s report by the investigative news outlet quoted extensively from a leaked report by Bosnia and Herzegovnia’s intelligence agency. The report allegedly states that Srbska čast leaders, including Stojković, met secretly with Dodik and discussed the formation of a new, heavily armed paramilitary unit, which will operate as an extrajudicial force in support of Dodik’s administration in Republika Srpska. One quote from the document said that the paramilitary force would engage in “possible intervention if the opposition [i.e. those opposed to Dodik] seeks to obstruct the functioning of the authorities” in the Republika Srpska. Bosnia and Herzegovina has been seeking to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization since 2006. The country has gone through a series of stages in negotiations with NATO and ratified a membership action plan in 2010. Bosnia’s application is heavily supported by Turkey, NATO’s only predominantly Muslim member state, but is fiercely opposed by Russia and by the Balkan country’s Serb minority.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 January 2018 | Permalink

Poland arrests military intelligence chiefs for ties to Russian spies

PytelAuthorities in Poland have charged three high-level military intelligence officials with acting in the interests of Russia. The three include two former directors of Polish military intelligence and are facing sentences of up to 10 years in prison. The news broke on December 6, when Polish authorities announced the arrest of Piotr Pytel, who was director of Poland’s Military Counterintelligence Service (SKW) from 2014 to 2015. It soon emerged that two more arrests had taken place, that of Pytel’s predecessor, Janusz Nosek, and Krzysztof Dusza, Pytel’s chief of staff during his tenure as SKW director.

According to the newsmagazine Gazeta Polska, which provides extensive coverage of the arrests in its latest issue, the SKW officials are accused of having had unauthorized contacts with Russian intelligence personnel and of “operating on behalf of a foreign intelligence service”. The court indictment reportedly states that the Polish officials “cooperated, without seeking the necessary authorization, with members of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB)”. The indictment also notes that “the mission of the FSB conflicts with that of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization”, of which Poland is a full member.

According to reports in the Polish media, the three men are accused of having held several undisclosed meetings with FSB officers in Poland. One such meeting allegedly took place in the village of Ułowo, in north-central Poland. The village is located just a few miles from Poland’s border with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, which lies between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea. During the meeting, which included dinner and “heavy consumption of alcohol”, the SKW officials allegedly met with the FSB’s senior representative in Poland, identified in court documents only as “W.J.”, as well as with several other Russian intelligence officers. Following that meeting, Pytel and Dusza allegedly helped falsify the application data of an unnamed representative of the FSB in Poland, who was stationed at Russia’s embassy in Warsaw. This allegedly allowed the Russian intelligence officer to evade diplomatic restrictions on travel and to gain access to information about Poland’s military that he otherwise would not have.

Speaking on Polish state-owned television, Poland’s Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz said last week that he was aware of the seriousness of the accusation against the three SKW officials. He told the Telewizja Polska station that the three officials face “very serious allegations” that point to “fully conscious and illegal cooperation with Russian spies”. That, said Macierewicz, was the “worst kind of betrayal that can be committed by a Pole”. The three defendants claim that they were not working in the interests of the FSB and that it was their job to meet regularly with Russian intelligence representatives in Poland.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 December 2017 | Permalink