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Media: Russian agents pose as activists, filmmakers to reportedly spy on domestic civil society organizations

by Nate Ostiller February 6, 2024 12:54 PM 2 min read
An aerial view of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces building, also known as the Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, July 6, 2023, in Moscow, Russia. (Contributor/Getty Images)
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Members of Russia's military intelligence (GRU) created false identities to blend in with domestic civil society networks and conduct espionage on their activities, the independent Russian media outlet The Insider reported on Feb. 5.

The Insider has published a series of investigations into alleged Russian intelligence agents in Europe in recent weeks, including a Latvian member of the European Parliament and an advisor to a German lawmaker from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

The Insider's Feb. 5 report detailed three alleged Russian agents who instead reportedly focused on domestic spying on civil society organizations perceived as being potential opponents of the regime.

The alleged agents, who The Insider said posed as a human rights activist, a documentary filmmaker, and a journalist, are allegedly associated with the GRU Unit 29155, best known for reportedly being responsible for the 2011 Novichok poisoning of Russian dissident Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the U.K.

While Skripal and his daughter survived the attempt, a U.K. national was killed by the same type of poison in an incident that many assumed was connected with the Skripal case.

The involvement of the GRU Unit 29155 in domestic espionage of civil society organizations illustrates "just how seriously the Kremlin took the 'threat' of Russians anywhere exercising their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly," The Insider wrote.

One of the agents allegedly infiltrated well-known Russian human rights organizations such as the Free Russia Forum, the Moscow Sakharov Center, and the Moscow Helsinki Group.

The Insider wrote that the activities of the "journalist" and the "documentary filmmaker" were less clear.

The GRU does not have official permission to operate within Russia, "suggesting that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin has grown so confident of the capabilities of his notorious black ops team that he has tasked it with keeping an eye on his enemies at home, even as it continues to track its enemies abroad," The Insider wrote.

SBU uncovers alleged Russian spy network, including Ukrainian intelligence officers
The suspects were allegedly tasked with passing intelligence about Ukraine’s military and strategically important energy facilities to the FSB. They were managed by an FSB handler based in Russian-occupied Crimea, the SBU said.
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