Russia tries to rebuild its battered spy network in Europe with hidden agents in Latin America

A guard at the gate of the German Federal Intelligence Service, the BND, in Berlin. A Russian mole operated there who became the head of cybersecurity and half of the information handled by the service passed through his hands. (John MACDOUGALL / AFP) (JOHN MACDOUGALL /)

He fbi interrogated the Russian secret agent Arthur Eller for two weeks after his arrest in Miami on January 21 and smuggled him to Germany for the services of that country to continue with the investigation. They had discovered that Eller was one of the key men in the Russian spy network operating in Europe with “sleeping operatives” that were hidden for years in Latin America.

Ellen was handed over to the Germans in Munich. An hour from there, in Weilheima town of houses painted in pastel shades and with wooden shingle roofs, lived Eller’s most important contact in the Russian spy network in Germany who served as a double agent. Carsten Linkenan ex-serviceman who coaches a youth soccer team in that town on weekends, was the director of technical reconnaissance, the unit responsible for cybersecurity and surveillance of electronic communications, of the German Federal Intelligence Serviceeither BND. According to the magazine Der Spiegel “provided approximately half of the spy agency’s daily volume of intelligence.” Eller was one of his main contacts with Moscow and who provided “fresh agents” that he kept hidden in the American continent to act in Europe when necessary.

Participated in this network Ludwig Gisch and his wife Maria Rosa Mayer Muños who were arrested last December in lubljana, the Slovenian capital, and were part of the Russian spy network. When they were arrested, both had Argentine passports. They lived intermittently for about ten years in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Belgrano and had two children who were born in the Italian Hospital of Buenos Aires and, therefore, they have authentic Argentine nationality.

Sergey Cherkasov in a 2017 video
Sergey Cherkasov, the Russian spy acting under the false Brazilian identity of Victor Muller Ferreira, who tried to infiltrate the International Tribunal in The Hague.

It is also believed that he was involved Sergei Cherkasova Russian citizen with the false Brazilian identity of Victor Muller Ferreira, accused of espionage when trying to infiltrate as an intern at the Tribunal in The Hague, in the Netherlands, where, according to investigations, he wanted to access information about investigations related to Russian war crimes. Dutch authorities they deported him to Brazilwhere he was arrested on April 3, 2022 and sentenced to 15 years in prison by the Federal Justice of Sao Paulo for “continued use of false documentation.” Since December, Cherkasov has been in prison in Brasilia and Moscow has requested his extradition. It is speculated that he could be exchanged for the journalist Evan Gershkovicthe correspondent of Wall Street Journalarrested last week in Russia and accused by the Kremlin of being an American spy.

Russia is trying to recover from last year’s coordinated mass expulsion of Russian intelligence officers operating under diplomatic guise in Europe after Kremlin troops invaded Ukraine. More evidence appears every day that the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and his Military Intelligence Agency (GRU) they are aggressively trying to rebuild their human spy networks – particularly with an eye on the weapons the West is sending as military aid to the Ukrainian government. Since the invasion of February 2022, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Albania, Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Norway they arrested Russian agents and moles working for the GRU or SVR.

This is what Ken McCallum, head of Britain’s MI5 security service, calls the “most significant strategic strike” against Moscow in recent intelligence historymore than 400 undeclared intelligence agents have been expelled from Europe since February last year, including those from France, Belgium and Germany, drastically reducing the reach and ability of the Kremlin to spy on Europe. This last week, the Finnish Security and Intelligence Service (SUPO)a country that has just joined the Western military alliance of NATO, reported that the expulsions of Russian intelligence officers, and the denials of visas for their replacements, “substantially weakened” Moscow’s intelligence operations in the Nordic region.

Antti Pelttari, director of SUPO, the Finnish secret service.
Antti Pelttari, director of SUPO, the secret service of Finland, a country increasingly exposed to Russian spies. (AFP)

“Last year, the Russian intelligence services in Finland were reduced to half their previous size,” he declared. Antti Pelttari, director of SUPO. “While Russia continues to try to place intelligence agents under diplomatic cover, it will have to find ways to make up for the shortfall in human intelligence, for example, increasingly embracing other forms of covert operations abroad”, he added.

The Russian services are trying to find ways to make up for the huge loss of embassy-based spies who, among other things, “had the task of `detect talents´ recruiting, directing moles and other ‘human assets’, and assisting logistical operations `active measures´such as poisoning Sergey Skripal and her daughter in 2018 in the UK.”

Another intelligence chief of the Baltic region, interviewed by the magazine Political, Darius Jauniškisdirector of the State Security Department of Lithuaniasaid that “Russian intelligence services are trying to restore or create new opportunities for their intelligence activities in Europe,” and are exploring “other intelligence-gathering methods: cyber, non-traditional coverage, online operations.”

Darius Jauniškis, director of the Lithuanian State Security Department, said that
Darius Jauniškis, director of the Lithuanian Department of State Security, believes that “Russian intelligence services are trying to restore their networks throughout Europe.”

According to Jauniškis, Europe’s critical infrastructure is a key target for Russian intelligence gathering – the priority is monitor “the production and supply of Western weapons to Ukraine”– and Russia has been on recruitment drives where and when it can. “Lithuanian citizens are approached and recruited while traveling to Russia or Belarus”he claimed.

Two weeks ago it was the Poles who disrupted a spy ring serving Russian intelligence in their country, which had been hiding cameras on major rail routes to monitor Western deliveries of arms and ammunition destined for Ukraine. The Minister of National Defense, Mariusz Blaszczak, suggested that the group had entered from neighboring Belarus and, according to local reports, those detained included Belarusian citizens. And the Polish Minister of the Interior, Mariusz Kaminski, stated at a press conference that the suspects, who they were based near the Rzeszów-Jasionka military airportthey were preparing for “sabotage actions aimed at paralyzing the supply of equipment, weapons and aid to Ukraine.”

European intelligence services suspect that the Russian hand is behind a series of bizarre sabotage incidents that occurred last year, such as cable cutting in northern Germanyused by train conductors to communicate, and the breakage of submarine cables supplying electricity to a Danish island. So much Norway as Lithuania They denounced the flight of unauthorized drones near airfields and energy infrastructures.

Last year, two Russians and a Ukrainian were arrested when They were trying to break into an Albanian military compound to take pictures. And also in 2022, Bulgarian prosecutors revealed details of an investigation into an army reserve general working in the defense sector who had been passing classified intelligence to Russia since 2016.

María Adela Kuhfeldt Rivera, Russian spy.
María Adela Kuhfeldt Rivera, supposedly born in Peru to a German father, was actually Olga Koloba, a Russian agent who was caught spying on NATO in Italy. (Facebook)

Slovak counterintelligence also detained an army reserve colonel last year Pavel Buczykclaiming that he had been providing Russia with information about the Slovak and Ukrainian defense forces; they paid him at least 46,000 euros for the information. Buczyk was part of a four-man network operated by the GRU, which also included Bohuš Garbár, a writer for a pro-Russian website, recruited in 2021 by the then Russian military attaché, and whose gatherings in parks were videotaped by Slovak counterintelligence agents. Among Garbár’s tasks was seeking out individuals sympathetic to Russia and helping to form a network of influencers.

In September, a Hungarian court sentenced the former European Union legislator in absentia Béla Kovács -member of the right-wing party jobbiknow exiled in Moscow- to five years in prison for spying for Russia. However, Hungary is seen by neighboring EU countries as “a weak link in collective counter-espionage efforts” despite this case, as the presence in Budapest of the Russian-controlled International Investment Bank is a focus. of dispute since the prime minister Viktor Orban agreed that it could move there in 2019. The shadowy bank, now fighting for its financial survival, is chaired by Nikolai Kosov, whose parents had prominent careers in the KGB during the Soviet era. Hungarian opposition politicians and former intelligence officials, as well as Western security officials, sounded the alarm for the use of the bank as a logistics base for Russian espionage activities; however, he continues to enjoy diplomatic immunity, as do his staff and advisers, who are issued Schengen visas and enjoy free movement within the EU.

And to all this is added the fantastic story of the Russian spy who posed as a Peruvian jewelry designer to infiltrate the staff of the NATO base and from the US Sixth Fleet in Naples. The woman, an attractive brunette of about 35 who said her name was Maria Adela Kuhfeldt Riveraborn in Lima to a German father, was actually Olga Kolobaa spy who disappeared from Italy the day after the specialized site bellingcat published a report on Moscow agents who had crossed the border into Belarus shortly before the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces. María Adela was married to a man she said was Italian, but in reality had passports from Russia and Ecuador. Investigators say the two are undercover Russian GRU agents. The woman managed to escape and is believed to have continues to operate from Moscow.

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