NewsKremlin adapts espionage tactics amid Ukraine conflict: The rise of 'traveling agents'

Kremlin adapts espionage tactics amid Ukraine conflict: The rise of 'traveling agents'

Moscow changes tactics. It relies on "traveling agents"
Moscow changes tactics. It relies on "traveling agents"
Images source: © PAP | MIKHAIL METZEL/SPUTNIK/KREMLIN POOL

10:23 AM EDT, April 9, 2024

Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, Russian intelligence services have had to adapt their operations significantly. The expulsion of numerous spies and accredited diplomats in various countries has severely impacted Moscow's espionage capabilities. German experts caution that the Kremlin is now putting its efforts into deploying "traveling agents."

In a notable move, Germany expelled 40 Russian diplomats in 2022, signaling its disapproval of Russia's actions. In 2023, Germany intensified its stance by expelling an additional 30 Russian diplomats, leading to the closure of Russian consulates in Munich, Frankfurt, Hamburg, and Leipzig.

The Kremlin has chosen to maintain only the embassy in Berlin and the consulate general in Bonn, as reported by German media sources, including WDR, NDR, and the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" newspaper. These reports suggest that about 20 spies remain accredited as diplomats in Germany, a significant reduction from the approximately 100 present before the conflict in Ukraine.

"German counterintelligence estimates that up to one-third of the Russian diplomatic staff are actually intelligence agents," according to the Tagesschau portal.

Russian agents operating undercover

In response to the expulsion of its diplomats, Russia has been attempting to replace them with spies previously stationed in embassies across African nations. Recent warnings from Dutch intelligence services, as reported by tagesschau, highlight the deployment of agents with counterfeit biographies acting as businessmen.

Additionally, Russian spies have increased their activity in Turkey, Dubai, and North Africa. There are also suspicions of the Putin regime's collaboration with organized crime groups.

The Russian consulate general in Bonn is believed to have played a pivotal role in their espionage efforts, given its proximity to a sizable portion of the German defense ministry located at Hardthoehe. This former capital harbors numerous international organizations of interest to Moscow, and its staff can easily travel to neighboring countries such as France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, or Belgium for operations, experts believe.

Putin's strategy involves "traveling agents"

Brussels, hosting key European Union and NATO institutions, is a prime target for Russian intelligence for its wealth of information. However, Belgium has become a challenging environment for their spies, suggests Tagesschau. Bonn serves as a strategic location since agents based there are less likely to be detected by authorities in other countries.

The portal remarks that the exposure of their activities abroad would not immediately trigger diplomatic conflicts, as these agents are not accredited in the countries where they operate. This allows them to exploit a sort of international loophole.

Security analysts think that Russian espionage efforts in Germany might be significantly supported by diplomatic staff accredited in Austria. Although only eight spies have been expelled from Austria, it's estimated that as many as 100 Russian agents posing as diplomats are stationed in Vienna.
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