Tuesday

9th Aug 2022

Investigation

Revealed: Who were Russia's spies in the EU corridors?

  • Dmitry Kirizliyev — a Russian 'senior advisor' on human rights expelled in April (Photo: Dossier Center)
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An IT expert who whipped up anti-EU hatred, a brilliant Orientalist, a woman called "the pride" of Dagestan, and chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons specialists — the profiles of 19 more 'diplomats' expelled from Belgium in April for espionage show what Russia's embassy to the EU has really been up to.

Arseny Nedyak, a 44-year old "counsellor" at Russia's EU embassy, might have been known to his EU acquaintances for his famous grandfather — Leonid Nedyak, a Soviet-era navy minister.

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  • Expelled Russian 'counsellor' Arseny Nedyak (Photo: Dossier Center)

But what they didn't know was that Nedyak Jr. was actually a lieutenant colonel in Russia's SVR foreign intelligence service and a communications specialist who previously worked in Russian IT giants, such as Sistema Group and IBS Group Holding, and whose task in Brussels was to orchestrate anti-EU and anti-Ukraine propaganda.

Nedyak "while at the EU mission, supervised the pro-Kremlin Russia Today, Sputnik, and bloggers broadcasting to European audiences", a source at Ria Novosti, a Russian state media, told the Dossier Center, a London-based NGO which hunts Russian spies in Europe.

The Russian spy expulsions came in reaction to atrocities in Ukraine.

And, in an ironic twist, had Nedyak Sr. been alive today, he might himself have become a target of his grandson's propaganda as an enemy sympathiser.

The navy minister used to live in Mariupol, in today's Ukraine, and once organised exports from the Azovstal steel plant, which became infamous this year after Russia's bombardment of civilians there.

And Nedyak Sr.'s contemporaries told Dossier Center the minister was so fond of Ukrainian culture, he used to carry a thermos of Ukrainian borscht when he went on foreign trips.

The Orientalist, Timur Akhtareyev, also an SVR officer, used the cover of "first secretary" at Russia's EU embassy.

The 37-year old, Polish-born polyglot taught himself English, Dari, Farsi, and Tajik before joining the Faculty of International Relations and Political Science at Kazan University, where he published an academic paper entitled "Iranian-British relations during the reign of Reza Shah (1921-1941)" while a student.

Akhtareyev's first foreign posting was as "press secretary" to the Russian mission in Tehran some 10 years ago.

And he was not the only scholarly spy expelled from Russia's EU mission, according to EUobserver and Dossier Center's sources.

The 32-year old Alexander Zavarukhin, a "second secretary" and SVR officer, used to work at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences and once published a paper entitled "Foreign Trade in Southeast Asia as a Reflection of Integration Processes in the Asia-Pacific Region".

The only woman sent home on suspicion of espionage was embassy "counsellor" Nasiyat Shirinova.

Her spy-service branch and age could not be verified.

But she was called the "pride of the republic [of Dagestan, in south-west Russia]" in local media for her stellar career.

Shirinova graduated in 1989 from Dagestan State University, where she studied Romance and Germanic philology, before moving to Moscow to rise through the ranks of the transport ministry, where she became deputy head of relations with international organisations.

And that ministry post was "most likely assigned to the SVR", a Russian intelligence source told Dossier Center.

Five more of the 19 had backgrounds in biological and chemical weapons, nuclear energy, rocket technology, and radioelectronics.

The 43-year old Sergei Zubkov, a "first secretary" and an officer in Russia's GRU military intelligence, used to live at a secret military camp in Sergiev Posad-6, Moscow, which hosts the Virus Centre of the Research Institute of Microbiology of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation, a facility that studies dangerous pathogens.

Alexander Studenikin, a 48-year old embassy "counsellor" and SVR officer who arrived in Brussels in 2014, graduated at the Military Academy of Chemical Defence and used to work at Rosboepporyasy, a now-defunct agency that was responsible for destroying Soviet-era biological and chemical arms stockpiles.

He also studied at the Maastricht School of Management in the Netherlands and worked for seven years at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague.

The 46-year old Alexander Tsibulya, an embassy "counsellor" also expelled for espionage but whose spy-service affiliation is unknown, graduated from the Obninsk Institute of Atomic Energy and used to work for a UK-funded programme at Russian energy firm Rosatom, which helped nuclear scientists who became unemployed when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Anatoly Nedrov, an embassy "administrator" and SVR officer, whose age is unknown, graduated in 1995 from the Moscow Aviation Institute's Baikonur Cosmodrome facility, which trains rocket scientists.

And Denis Shurutin, a "first secretary" and GRU officer, had previously studied at the A.S. Popov Naval Institute of Radioelectronics in St Petersburg.

The 19 included 41-year old Dmitry Kirizliyev — a "senior advisor" on human rights, who worked for the 5th Service of Russia's FSB domestic intelligence service, which does foreign espionage, a Dossier Center source said.

They included Anton Arkhipov, a 46-year old "counsellor" and SVR officer, who was previously at Russia's embassy in Paris.

They also included Alexei Chuvaev (a 63-year old "counsellor" and SVR officer who used to work for arms firm Rosoboronexport), Sergei Koristkiy (a "counsellor" and SVR officer who used to be at Russian academic publisher Nauka), and Valery Kuritsyn (a 53-year old "counsellor" and GRU officer with a background at the Institute for Systems Analysis of the Russian Academy of Sciences).

Kirill Logvinov, the Russian EU embassy's chargé d'affaires (Photo: Dossier Center)

Chargé de what?

But they did not include Kirill Logvinov — the Russian embassy's 47-year old chargé d'affaires and trade envoy.

Logvinov is a big name in Germany.

The trade envoy's late father, Mikhail Logvinov, was Russia's consul general in Munich and a prominent Russian-German business lobbyist. Logvinov Jr. went to school in Berlin and was twice posted to Russia's embassy in the German capital before he came to Brussels in 2020.

Belgium's homeland security service, the VSSE, originally added Logvinov Jr. to a list of 19+1 expulsions on grounds he was an SVR officer, a Western intelligence source told EUobserver.

His task was to infiltrate the circles of EU Commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovksis, in charge of trade and Russia sanctions implementation, the intelligence source added.

But the EU foreign service, which compiled the expulsions list together with the VSSE, asked Belgium to let Logvinov stay, the source said.

VSSE and EU spokespersons declined to comment on the reported U-turn.

The EU Commission said neither Dombrovksis nor his head of cabinet, Michael Hager, for instance, had ever met Logvinov.

But in any case, Russian spies did not groom EU assets in official meetings in the commission's Berlaymont HQ, a Belgian security source said.

"There are plenty of better places in Brussels to do this type of thing, such as sports clubs frequented by EU officials, where you can play tennis and then have a sauna afterwards," the source said.

Zooming back out, 11 of the 19 expelled Russians came from the SVR, five came from the GRU, and at least one from the FSB.

SVR officers are more highly educated and better trained to blend in as civilians.

GRU officers are trained like soldiers and considered more dangerous by Western intelligence.

The SVR-bias and the scholarly backgrounds of several of the 19 might look like Russia was showing a softer face to EU institutions than it was to Belgian ones or to Nato.

Belgian authorities also expelled 21 spies from Russia's bilateral embassy to Belgium in April and eight from Russia's embassy to Nato last year, in steps which included more GRU officers and spies with higher level Kremlin links.

The military-technological profile of several of the EU-19 might also look odd given that EU institutions aren't privy to Western military secrets.

But looks can be deceiving in Russia's modus operandi.

A lowly janitor in Russia's embassy to Belgium was in fact a GRU colonel, in one example.

And just because a spy is accredited at Russia's embassy to the EU doesn't mean he can't target Nato personnel in Brussels — or vice versa.

One FSB officer expelled last year from Russia's embassy to Nato — Dmitry Filippenok — also went to conferences at the EU Parliament and to seminars at EU think-tanks, in a second example.

And professional meetings aside, EU, Nato, Belgian, Russian and other diplomats mingled anyway in the same bars, parks, and restaurants in the city in what expats called the "Brussels bubble".

Nasiyat Shirinova, a 'second secretary' and 'pride' of Dagestan expelled by Belgium (Photo: Dossier Center)

Watershed

The 19 expulsions marked a watershed for EU institutions, who had never before declared foreign diplomats persona non grata.

And EU officials have started taking security more seriously since the outbreak of the war.

The EU Council is building an insulated bunker for secret talks and creating a cell to sweep for bugs in council, commission, EU foreign service, and EU Parliament buildings.

The EU Parliament has closed its doors to Russian diplomats and the EU Commission has banned Russian lobbyists.

Russia still has well over 100 diplomats in Belgium and "about half" of these are spies, Belgian security sources estimate.

Their diplomatic badges never meant they could wander the corridors of the EU Council, foreign service, and commission buildings as they pleased, however.

"Any diplomatic visitor needs to be properly announced, registered, and picked up from reception," an EU foreign service spokesman said.

"They cannot enter the building on their own, move around there on their own and while in the building they are accompanied by a member (or members of staff). The furthest they would be able to come if they came spontaneously without prior appointment would be the reception desk," he said.

The exception used to be the EU Parliament (EP), where diplomatic-badge holders normally come and go as they like.

But even though the EP has closed its front gate to Russian diplomats, it has back doors to get in.

Dozens of MEPs are openly pro-Russian.

Some 36 far-right and non-attached MEPs from parties such as France's Rassemblement national, Germany's Alternative für Deutschland, and Belgium's Vlaams Belang staunchly voted against a parliament resolution in June on EU-candidate status for Ukraine, for instance.

And many fringe MEPs go on bogus election-observation missions to Russia and Russia-occupied territories, in trips which can act as recruitment vehicles for spy services.

Alexander Tsibulya (r), an embassy 'counsellor' kicked out by Belgium (Photo: arch.adm-sarov.ru)

Back doors

In one case, Janusz Niedźwiecki, a Polish election-mission organiser who cultivated ties with British, French, and Polish eurosceptic MEPs, was arrested by Polish authorities last year and is being held in remand on charges of collaboration with Russian services.

Every MEP also has €26,734 a month to hire assistants and interns, who don't have to be EU nationals and who aren't vetted by national or EU in-house security services.

In a second pre-war investigation, Tamara Volokhova, a Russian with French nationality, who started her Brussels career as a policy advisor to a French far-right MEP, allegedly helped Russia to recruit EU politicians.

And in a third suspicious case, the former long-term assistant of a far-right Hungarian MEP with shady Russian links changed her name and applied for internships in EU programmes and in Brussels-based media.

Her CV included spots at the College of Europe in Bruges, which teaches many future EU officials. And she gave yoga classes in a leafy Brussels suburb which lots of EU personnel and their families call home.

"Her profile indicates [name withheld by EUobserver] is a go-between with Russian services," a Western intelligence source said.

Four senior MEPs warned EU Parliament bosses about security loopholes a whole year before Russia went to war.

"We call upon you [the EU Parliament president and secretary-general] to consider investing in bolstering our capabilities in this domain by establishing fully-fledged screening structures, whose task would include vetting non-elected personnel employed in the European Parliament," they wrote in a letter last March.

"I am aware that EU institutions and agencies are more than ever targets of hostile intelligence gathering," the late EU Parliament president David Sassoli replied at the time.

And given the nature of the Brussels bubble, it made little difference how potential infiltrators got in.

"Needless to say, in the EU Parliament, Russia has links with people not of Russian nationality, who work for Russian services under other covers," a Belgian security source said.

"The parliament is the weakest link in terms of security in the EU institutions," the Western intelligence source said.

Denis Shurutin, a Russian 'first secretary' sent packing from Brussels in April (Photo: Dossier Center)

Author bio

This article is the third in a series of stories on Russian espionage in Belgium and the EU institutions in a project supported by journalismfund.eu, a Brussels-based NGO, and Dossier Center in London.

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