Putin says US and Ukrainian intelligence ‘lured’ Russian mercenaries into Belarus

Belarus KGBRussian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview that a group of Russian paramilitary contractors, who were arrested in Belarus last month, were lured there as part of a joint American-Ukrainian spy operation. On July 29, Belarussian secret services announced the arrest of 33 Russian citizens, who were employees of Wagner Group, a private Russian military company that some believe operates as a private paramilitary wing of the Russian Armed Forces.

The Investigative Committee, Belarus’ primary investigating authority, determined that the 33 had entered the country as part of a 200-strong group of Russians working for Wagner, in order to destabilize the country in the run-up to the presidential election. The election resulted in the return to office of Belarus’ authoritarian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, for a record sixth term. According to Belarussian state television, the 33 Russians were found in possession of Sudanese currency and a Sudanese smartphone card. Sudan is believed to be one of Wagner Group’s most active areas of operation, and in the past the company has used Belarus as a transit center from which it coordinates its operations in the African continent.

On Thursday, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that the 33 Russians were arrested as part of a joint American-Ukrainian intelligence operation, which lured the Wagner employees into Belarus. Speaking to state-owned Rossiya 24 television, Putin said the alleged operation was “carried out jointly by Ukrainian and American special services. The Russians, he said, had been hired “for absolutely legal work in Latin America and the Middle East” by an employer who “dragged them into Belarus”. The men were then “presented as a ‘strike force’ to destabilize [Belarus] during the presidential campaign”, said the Russian strongman.

Putin’s statement follows reports earlier this month in the Russian media, which claim that the 33 Russians were given forged passports as part of the alleged joint American-Ukrainian operation, in order to enable them to leave Russia undetected. However, neither the Russian media nor the Russian leader have provided evidence for these claims. Meanwhile Belarus expelled 32 of the 33 Russians a few days following their arrest. One remains in prison in the Belarussian capital Minsk.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 August 2020 | Permalink

KGB officer who handled Aussie double spy is now Putin crony

Lev KoshlyakovBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A KGB intelligence officer, who handled an Australian double spy during the closing stages of the Cold War, now holds several prestigious corporate posts in Moscow and is believed to be close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Lev Koshlyakov, 69, is director of corporate communications for two Russian airline companies, including the state carrier, Aeroflot, and a member of the prestigious Moscow-based Council for Foreign and Defense Policy. But from 1977 until 1984, Koshlyakov served as the press and information officer for the Russian embassy in Australian capital Canberra. Intelligence sources, however, told The Weekend Australian last week that Koshlyakov’s diplomatic status was in fact a cover for his real job, which was station chief for the Soviet KGB. During his stint in Canberra, Koshlyakov is believed to have handled an especially damaging mole inside the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), who was allegedly recruited by his predecessor, KGB station chief Geronty Lazovik. Canberra was alerted to the existence of the mole in 1992, when the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), along with Britain’s’ Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), briefed Australian officials on information acquired from Russian defectors. Soon afterwards, a government-commissioned report produced by Australian former diplomat Michael Cook described Koshlyakov as “one of the most dangerous KGB officers ever posted” to Australia. Eventually, Koshlyakov was assigned to a desk job by the KGB, after his cover was blown in Norway, where he was also serving as KGB chief of station. The Norwegians expelled Koshlyakov in 1991 after accusing him of espionage activities that were incompatible with his official diplomatic status. Since his retirement, however, Koshlyakov has done well for himself, having been appointed to senior corporate positions —some say with the personal backing of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. As for the ASIO mole he allegedly handled in the 1980s, The Australian reports that he was forced to retire in 1992, after he was identified by the CIA and MI6. There was insufficient evidence to try him, however, so he “lived out his retirement in Australia” looking nervously over his shoulder, says the paper.

News you may have missed #812

Yasser ArafatBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Russia to help probe Yasser Arafat’s death. Russia will join an international investigation to determine whether the first Palestinian president, Yasser Arafat, was murdered, the current Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, has said. French and Swiss experts are due to exhume Arafat’s body in Ramallah later this month in an attempt to discover how he died after an al-Jazeera documentary in July suggested he was killed by a rare radioactive poison. Abbas asked Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov for Moscow’s help during talks in Jordan, Palestinian sources said.
►►Revisiting the foiled 1984 Nigerian kidnap plot. In London in 1984, a team of Nigerians and Israelis attempted to kidnap and repatriate the exiled former Nigerian minister Umaru Dikko. Mr. Dikko, who had fled Nigeria after a military coup, was accused of stealing $1bn (£625m) of government money. The plot was foiled by a young British customs officer and, as a result, diplomatic relations between the UK and Nigeria broke down and were only fully restored two years later. The Nigerian and Israeli governments have always denied involvement in the kidnapping.
►►Putin congratulates KGB double spy on his birthday. Russian President Vladimir Putin has congratulated famous double agent George Blake on his 90th birthday, the Kremlin press office has said. Blake betrayed British intelligence starting in the 1950s; he was found out in 1961 and sentenced to 42 years in prison. But he escaped five years later using a ladder of rope and knitting needles, made his way to the Soviet Union and has been living out his last years serenely in a cottage outside Moscow. After his escape from the Wormwood Scrubs prison in London, he was smuggled to Berlin in a wooden box in the back of a van. In the interview published last week, he said he then presented himself to border guards in East Berlin, asked to speak to a Soviet officer, and when told to wait, immediately fell into a deep sleep.

News you may have missed #789

Mikhail FradkovBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Putin adds spy chief to energy commission. Russian President Vladimir Putin has reinforced a presidential commission seen as Kremlin’s vehicle for vying for control over the country’s crucial oil and gas sector, by adding the country’s top police officer and senior spy to its ranks. They are Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev and Mikhail Fradkov, director of the Foreign Intelligence Service, formerly a department of the KGB. The commission is driven by Igor Sechin, a former KGB officer and close ally of President Putin.
►►US spy sat agency plans major expansion. The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), America’s secretive spy satellite agency, operates a vast constellation of spy satellites in orbit. But these surveillance spacecraft have traditionally only been able to gaze down on a few small areas of the planet at a time, like flashlights probing the dark. And this, only with careful advance planning by human operators on the ground. Now the NRO wants to expand the current flashlight-like satellite deployment to a horizon-spanning, overhead spotlight that can illuminate vast swaths of the planet all at once. The agency also wants new spacecraft that can crunch the resulting data using sophisticated computer algorithms, freeing the satellites somewhat from their current reliance on human analysts.
►►GCHQ warns of ‘unprecedented’ cyberattack threat. The British government’s electronic eavesdropping and security agency, GCHQ, has warned the chief executives of Britain’s biggest companies about an allegedly “unprecedented threat” from cyber-attacks. “GCHQ now sees real and credible threats to cybersecurity of an unprecedented scale, diversity, and complexity”, said Ian Lobban, the agency’s director. The magnitude and tempo of the attacks pose a real threat to Britain’s economic security’, Lobban adds, but notes that about 80% of known attacks would be defeated by embedding basic information security practices.

Vladimir Putin ‘targeted by German spy agency’ during his KGB days

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A German researcher claims that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was targeted by West German intelligence in the 1980s when he was a KGB operative in East Germany. In the Cold War’s closing stages, Putin and his wife, Ludmila Putina, who were then in their thirties, spent five years in Dresden, German Democratic Republic. As one of four KGB officers in Dresden, Putin was tasked with infiltrating the local university and monitoring the on-campus activities of the children of Soviet and East German notables. But according to new research published last week, an undercover agent of the BND, West Germany’s external intelligence agency, was able to infiltrate the Putin household in Dresden, and pass private information about the couple’s personal life to her spymasters in Bonn and in NATO. The agent, codenamed LENCHEN, a native German, worked as a translator at the KGB station in Dresden. She reportedly befriended Ludmila Putina, eventually becoming her “shoulder to cry on”, according to Erich Schmidt-Eenboom, director of the Weilheim-based Institute for Peace Studies, who has published several books on the history of the BND. Schmidt-Eenboom claims that LENCHEN became Ludmila Putina’s closest confidante in Dresden. The latter told her that Vladimir Putin had been involved in numerous infidelities over the years and that he often beat his wife. LENCHEN reported to her handlers that life in the Putin household was highly dysfunctional, despite an outward appearance of happiness and normality. Schmidt-Eenboom claims he confirmed the report with at least two unconnected sources with knowledge of BND operations during the Cold War. If the story is historically accurate, it will signify only the second known penetration of KGB structures in Europe by the BND. The only other such example, says Schmidt-Eenboom, involved an agent named COLONEL VIKTOR, who also worked as an agent for the BND in the 1980s. Read more of this post

Russians ‘uncovered plan to kill Greek prime minister’

Kostas Karamanlis

K. Karamanlis

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A Russian counter-surveillance team operating in Athens in 2008 confronted a foreign team from “a country allied to Greece”, which planned to kill Kostas Karamanlis, then Greece’s Prime Minister. The revelation, published in the current issue of Greek weekly newsmagazine Epikera, is allegedly based on a Russian briefing contained in a classified document authored by the Greek National Intelligence Service (EYP). According to the document, the assassination plot was code-named Pythia and was hatched by the intelligence agency of “a country allied to Greece”. It was aimed at preventing Athens from signing on to a series of energy pipeline deals with Moscow. The 19-member Russian counter-surveillance team mentioned in the EYP document had allegedly been set up a few months earlier by the FSB, Russia’s primary foreign intelligence agency. The team was deployed after the Russians realized that that Prime Minster Karamanlis’ telephone calls with Russian leader Vladimir Putin were being intercepted by foreign spies, at least two of which were allegedly British citizens. According to the Epikera article, between April 20 and 25, while shadowing the Greek Prime Minister in the Nea Makri area, just north of Athens, a four-member Russian counter-surveillance team faced off two spy operatives of “a country allied to Greece”. Read more of this post

German police probe poisoning of ex-KGB colonel

KGB seal

KGB seal

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Police in Berlin are investigating a possible attempt to assassinate a Russian former KGB operative and his wife, through mercury poisoning. According to German newsmagazine Focus, Viktor Kalashnikov, a former colonel and authority on military matters for the Soviet KGB, was taken in critical condition to a Berlin hospital along with his wife, Marina. The two were found to have over ten times the highest permissible level of mercury in their blood, which, according to medical experts, points to a deliberate poisoning attempt. Colonel Kalashnikov, who arrived in Germany three months ago, is known as one of the Russian government’s harshest critics. He became famous in the 1990s, when he joined other former KGB operatives —most notably the late Alexander Litvinenko, who was assassinated in 2007, and whose widow is also named Marina— in accusing the Russian administration of Vladimir Putin of manipulating the separatist Chechen movement in order to solidify his vision of “a national security state” in Russia. Read more of this post

Austrian probe finds Chechen president behind Vienna killing

Ramzan Kadyrov

Ramzan Kadyrov

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A report by Austrian government officials has found that the Moscow-appointed President of Chechnya ordered the 2009 assassination in Vienna of a Chechen dissident, who had been given political asylum by Austrian authorities. In 2009, Umar Israilov, who was once a bodyguard of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, alleged in Vienna and in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg that Kadyrov had “personally participated in the torture of detainees”. But on January 13, 2009, Israilov was shot dead by two men in broad daylight outside a grocery store located less than two miles from Vienna’s historic city center. Now the Vienna Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counterterrorism has said in a detailed report that Israilov’s murder was a political assassination ordered personally by Chechen President Kadyrov, who is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0243

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Analysis: Cyprus-Russia-Israel Arms Affair Points to Wider Questions

TOR-M1 radar

TOR-M1 radar

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Diplomatic observers were surprised in November 2008, when the then Russian President Vladimir Putin failed to meet his Cypriot counterpart, Dimitris Christofias, during the latter’s official visit to Moscow. Considering the traditionally close bilateral ties between Russia and Cyprus, the excuse from President Putin’s office, that he was too busy attending his United Russia party’s national conference, appeared unconvincing. An article published recently in Greek-Cypriot newspaper O Politis, traced the cause of the Russian President’s apparent snub to a 2007 attempt by the Cypriot government to hand over parts of a Russian-made missile system to Israel. The paper said the Cypriot plan was hatched in response to a request by Israeli intelligence officials, who were interested in acquiring technical insights into the Russian-made TOR-M1 surface-to-air missile defense system. The Israelis were concerned about the TOR-M1 because Iran was also said to be using a variant of the same system, which features a radar apparatus unknown to Israel, the United States or NATO. On the website of the Research Institute for European and American Studies, I explain what this alleged breach of trust between traditional Greek ally Cyprus and Russia may mean for the wider geostrategic balances in the east Mediterranean. Read article →

Article on formerly unknown Soviet spy published

George Koval

George Koval

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
On November 2, 2007, some of Russia’s most senior military and intelligence officials gathered at the Kremlin to honor a Soviet spy whose name was until then completely absent from the annals of espionage history. Russian defense minister Anatoly Serdyukov and Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) chief Valentin Korabelnikov were among several officials who joined Russian president Vladimir Putin to pay tribute to George Koval. Koval was an American citizen born in Iowa to immigrant parents from Belarus. In 1932, Koval, his parents and two brothers, all of whom were US citizens, moved back to the then rapidly developing Soviet Union to escape the effects of the Great Depression. It was there that the young George Koval was recruited by the GRU, the foreign military intelligence directorate of the General Staff of the Soviet Armed Forces. He received Soviet citizenship and returned to the US through San Francisco in October 1940. Read more of this post

Ex-KGB agent, wanted for murder in Britain, to run for mayor



By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| intelNews.org |
Andrey Lugovoy, who is wanted in Britain for the 2006 murder of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, is poised to run for mayor in the Russian city of Sochi. British authorities believe that Lugovoy, who served in the KGB and in Russia’s Federal Protective Service (FSO) from 1987 to 1996, carried out the radioactive poisoning of Litvinenko, a former intelligence officer who had defected to the UK. Litvinenko, who was a vocal critic of former Russian President Vladimir Putin, came down with radioactive poisoning soon after meeting Lugovoy in a London restaurant. The latter is believed by British authorities to have acted “with the backing of the Russian state”. A victory by Lugovoy in next month’s mayoral race could potentially pose a diplomatic challenge for London, as Sochi will be hosting the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. If he wins, therefore, the prime murder suspect will be expected to lead local officials in “welcoming the British team to the Games”. Britain’s Daily Telegraph notes that such a possibility could ultimately “lead to the first ever British boycott of an Olympic Games”. Read more of this post

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