February 15, 2024

Putin's Agents in Sheep's Clothing


Putin's Agents in Sheep's Clothing
Training of a special force GRU unit.  Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation, Wikimedia Commons

Journalists from the independent investigative outlet The Insider have exposed covert operatives from the GRU (Russia's military intelligence agency) infiltrating Russian activist, human rights, and professional groups. They operate under the guise of human rights activists and filmmakers, seeking access to various international organizations.

In particular, The Insider's investigation discusses Ivan Zhigarev, a member of a highly secret unit of saboteurs from the 29155 GRU unit. This unit, among other activities, has been linked to the poisoning of the Russian former spy Sergei Skripal and the orchestration of explosions in the EU. Known to Russian human rights activists as Ivan Zhikharev, Zhigarev posed as an activist who dedicated his free time to human rights work. At the Moscow Open School of Human Rights, he is remembered as one of the most active volunteers, consistently participating in Forum Svobodnoy Rossii (Free Russia Forum) events, contributing to the working group on sanctions, and advocating for environmental protection and blood donation.

Zhigarev also participated in campaigns supporting imprisoned human rights defenders, attended international human rights forums, and was a member of the chat group for the working group on sanctions against Russia.

Another GRU spy-saboteur, Maxim Rodionov, posed as a "documentary director" for several years. He was a member of the Non-Fiction Film Guild and co-founder of the Tomiris video production studio. According to Insider journalists, the studio served as a cover for organizing events involving international delegations, such as round tables with DPRK representatives, conferences on nuclear nonproliferation in Kazakhstan, and discussions on Russian-Chinese cooperation.

Assuming false identities is not new for Russian special services and law enforcement agencies. For instance, journalists from Mozhem Obyasnit uncovered Alexander Pelevin, who, under the guise of a correspondent for independent media, monitored opposition activists, wrote denunciations, threatened journalists, and had connections with Center E, a unit of the Ministry of Internal Affairs aiming to combat extremism.

In a notable case in 2018, provocateurs working for the FSB infiltrated an opposition chat. Through their actions, they fabricated a criminal case about the creation of an "extremist community," with the alleged goal of violently overthrowing the government and the constitutional system of Russia.

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