A Russian-born Swedish citizen was charged on Monday with collecting information for the Russian military intelligence service GRU for almost a decade.
The Swedish Prosecutor’s Office reported that Sergey Skvortsov, 60, was accused of “serious illegal intelligence activities against Sweden and against a foreign power.” Subsequently, prosecutor Henrik Olin identified the foreign power as the United States.
Skvortsov was arrested in November 2022 along with his wife in a pre-dawn operation in Nacka, on the outskirts of Stockholm. Swedish media reported that elite police rappelled down from two Black Hawk helicopters to arrest the couple.
Skvortsov has been in custody since his arrest and denies any wrongdoing, according to his lawyer Ulrika Borg. His wife was released without charge after an investigation by the Swedish security agency.
According to the statement of objections, obtained by Associated PressSkvortsov, from July 1, 2014 to November 2022, “secretly and/or using fraudulent means carried out activities for the Russian state with the aim of acquiring information on conditions whose disclosure to a foreign power could put endangering the security of Sweden.
“It was first and foremost electronic equipment” that would be used in the Russian military, Olin said later at a news conference.
“He was part of a network”, indicated the prosecutor, adding that gathering the evidence was “a huge puzzle”.
Prosecutors said Skvortsov used his import-export business to illicitly obtain technology and hand it over to Russia’s GRU military intelligence service.
“I wanted to create a legal front for activities using false identities and Western names,” Olin said. “We have had extensive cooperation with US authorities, primarily the FBI.”
Swedish station SVT published that Skvortsov had lived in Sweden for 25 years and obtained Swedish citizenship in 2012.
If convicted, he faces up to six years in prison.
Russian spies in Europe
Russia has adopted riskier espionage methods following the expulsion of spies operating under diplomatic cover in Europe. Over the past year, a number of people leading seemingly ordinary lives in different parts of the world have been accused of being Russian intelligence agents or collaborators. Among them, an Argentine couple in Sloveniaa photographer of Mexican and Greek descent in Athens and three Bulgarians recently arrested in United Kingdom.
In addition, many others have been singled out for transmitting information to Russia. This includes a security guard from the British embassy in berlinsentenced to 13 years in prison, and more than a dozen people in Poland accused of working for Russian intelligence.
Although there are details that are still not clear about the three Bulgarians arrested in February, it is clear that since the invasion of Ukraine by putin last February, Moscow has resorted to bolder and unconventional spy tactics. This is due, in large part, to the expulsion of numerous spies operating under diplomatic cover in Europe.
Historically, the main Russian security services sent their agents abroad under such cover, as well as posing as Russian businessmen, tourists or journalists. After the conflict, the expulsion of Russian diplomats increased significantly. It is estimated that more than 450 were expelled in the first three months of the war, mainly from Europe.
A European intelligence officer confessed to Guardian that the post-war period has been crucial for Russian intelligence, and they have tried to adapt through new strategies. The operation that led to the poisoning of Sergey Skripal in 2018 by agents of the GRU using fake passports evidences these tactics. Furthermore, the organization bellingcat traced those passports, exposing other agents.
Currently, it is more difficult for any Russian citizen to obtain visas for the United Kingdom or the area schengenfurther reducing its infiltration options.
Thus, Russia has chosen to activate sleeper cells or delegate espionage tasks to unofficial agents. These can be citizens of third countries or “illegals”, Russian agents who pose as citizens of other countries and establish their cover for years.
Although traditionally the “illegals” do not carry out active missionsin the last year at least seven of them have been discovered in countries like Norway, Brazil, Netherlands, Slovenia and Greece. Some managed to flee and others are still detained.
In February, three suspected spies were arrested in United Kingdomshortly after the arrests of “Mary Meyer” and “Ludwig Gisch” in Slovenia, suspected of being Russian agents posing as Argentines. It is believed that “meyer” used his art gallery in Slovenia as a facade to travel, including the United Kingdomalthough his participation in espionage activities on British territory or his connection to the detained Bulgarians has not yet been confirmed.
(With information from AP)
The UK arrested three suspected Russian spies who held passports from nine different countries
Russian spies detained in Slovenia lived in Argentina and had two children
A Russian spy entered Argentina and operates under the facade of a translator