The Russian spy and supremacist behind the mystery of the letter bombs in Spain?
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According to a New York Times investigation published on Sunday, the Russian Imperial Movement, a supremacist group, is accused of having participated in organizing a campaign to send letter bombs to Spanish figures by the end of 2022. A “terrorist” operation to be facilitated by the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service, the NYT claims. For everyday life, this can be a “warning shot”. Not really sure.
It could be a cross between a disaster movie and a new James Bond episode: the Russian secret service encourages a supremacist movement to carry out terrorist attacks in Europe.
However, this is the situation described by the New York Times in an investigation published on Sunday January 22 that addresses the backstage of the recent letter bomb campaign sent to various prominent Spanish figures, including the Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez.
At least six letter bombs and one injured
Agents of the GRU – Russia’s top military intelligence service – allegedly used members of the ultranationalist and Russian supremacist paramilitary group, the Russian Imperial Movement, to send at least six letter bombs between late November and early December 2022, according to US officials and a Spaniard the New York Times interviewed with terms of anonymity.
The letters did not cause any casualties, except for an employee of the Ukrainian Embassy who was injured in the finger during the explosion.
The link to the war in Ukraine quickly became a key clue for Spanish investigators because of the target chosen by the terrorists. In addition to the Prime Minister’s Residence, the Ministry of Defence, the US Embassy and the Embassy of Ukraine also received stacks of explosives. Installaza, an arms company that supplies grenade launchers to Ukraine, was also targeted in this campaign, which Madrid describes as “terrorists”.
The Spanish authorities soon realized that senior members of the organizational chart of the Russian Imperial Movement were in Spain at the time the letter was sent.
Founded in 2002 in St. St. Petersburg; This small group, described as ultra-nationalist, racist, anti-Semitic, and advocating the return of the tsar to the head of Russia, was the first far-right movement to be included on America’s list of terrorist organizations in 2020.
It has distinguished itself on several occasions through acts of violence, either in 2014 in Ukraine or later in Libya and Syria. “After the invasion of Ukraine, the Russian Imperial Movement wanted to spearhead international supremacy by establishing contacts in Europe and the United States. The group has dubbed this network its ‘final crusade,’” wrote Stanford University’s Center for Security and International Cooperation, which maintains a directory of major transnational supremacist groups.
The Russian Imperial Movement was involved in another attack
The Russian Imperial Movement also opened two paramilitary training centers for militants of all nationalities. Two Swedish extremists, convicted in 2017 of planting bombs at a literary cafe and refugee shelter, had trained there a year earlier.
Therefore, the involvement of these right-wing Russians in international terrorist campaigns is not that surprising. But from there see the hands of the GRU? In particular, US authorities suspect agents from Unit 29155 – which forms a kind of elite team of GRU assassins – of being responsible.
>> Read: Unit 29155, This Russian Spy Specializes in “Sabotage and Assassination”
“There are many rumors and no certainty about the relationship between Russian far-right groups and intelligence services. It is assumed that groups such as the Russian Imperial Movement have links in politics and even in the presidential administration. It is also typically the type of organization that allows itself to be influenced by the GRU for these types of operations”, estimates Mark Galeotti, British specialist in Russian intelligence services and director of Mayak Intelligence, a security consultancy. problem in Russia.
It would also be the modus operandi already used by Russian spies. “They have used criminal organizations to act in their place in various European countries in the past,” said Dan Lomas, an intelligence specialist at Brunel University in suburban London. In 2011, for example, Czech intelligence services were alarmed by contacts established between Russian spies and organized crime in the country.
The goal “is to send a signal while making it very difficult to attribute to the GRU”, summarizes Dan Lomas. In the Spanish case, the Russian Imperial Movement’s involvement was reminiscent of a remote-controlled operation from Moscow, but neither has officially accused the Russian intelligence services.
GRU as the mastermind behind it?
If the GRU is indeed linked to this campaign, it brings back “one of the intelligence community’s main fears at the start of the war: that Russia would use its intelligence services to launch a destabilization campaign against the West”, emphasized Mark Galeotti.
Moscow has so far refrained from doing so. “There is a mutual desire in the United States and in Russia to avoid excessive escalation of tensions,” explained the British expert. And terrorist attacks on European soil or cyber attacks on “critical infrastructure will inevitably lead to a Western response,” said Mark Galeotti.
Letter bombs can be a “warning shot”, said Nathan Sales, former chief of counter-terrorism issues during Donald Trump’s presidency, interviewed by the New York Times.
Discussions around sending tanks to Ukraine could push the Kremlin into action… without going too far. “This is a way of saying that we are able to act in the heart of Europe without launching too destructive attacks”, analyzes Dan Lomas. For him, the idea is to “provide an argument to people in Europe who want to limit support for Ukraine. They can now say, ‘look there is a real risk to us’”.
Still, the choice of type of operation – the bomb package – might come as a surprise to the GRU, an agency that has never shone with its restraint, either by trying to poison former double agent Sergei Skripal in 2018 or participating in the pro-Serb coup attempt in Montenegro in 2016, believes Mark Galeotti. Spain is also not a symbol of Western support for Ukraine “and to send a message, it would be more effective to target a country like Poland”, believes this specialist.
Another explanation is that the current GRU cannot do more. Russian intelligence services “are operating in a very difficult environment for them right now in Europe where they are being watched very closely”, notes Mark Galeotti.