Tag Archives: Federal Security Service

A new report says Russia is intensifying its spy game in Eastern Europe

From the northern tip of the Baltics to the southern edge of the Balkans, Russia is stepping up spying on its neighbors, according to numerous reports from the region.

The most recent notice of such activity comes from Estonia, whose intelligence service’s annual report says the “Baltic Sea area is especially vulnerable to threats from Russia.”

According to Estonia’s national intelligence service, Russia, acting through its military intelligence agency, the GRU, and its Federal Security Service, or FSB, has taken a special interest in the foreign and security policies, defense planning, armed forces, arms development, and military capabilities of its neighbors.

Continue reading A new report says Russia is intensifying its spy game in Eastern Europe


Lavrov Rejects Any Moscow Motive In Killing Of Voronenkov

While Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov implies Ukraine is “undemocratic” for voicing suspicions about Russia – which not only seized and annexed Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in March 2014 but has backed separatists in eastern Ukraine – Kyiv has valid grounds to implicate Russia in the murder of a Russian MP who fled to Ukraine fearing for his life, and who told reporters of threats made against him.

Képtalálat a következőre: „Moscow  Voronenkov”

Voronenkov was a key witness in Ukraine’s treason case against deposed President Viktor Yanukovych. In January 2017, Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko announced that Voronenkov had given testimony about two letters written by Yanukovych in February 2014, one of which was registered with the UN Security Council by Russia on behalf of Yanukovych by the late Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, in which Yanukovych requested Russian troops to put down the Maidan demonstrations.

Continue reading Lavrov Rejects Any Moscow Motive In Killing Of Voronenkov

Texas man admits sending military technology to Russia

NEW YORK (AP) — A Texas man admitted Wednesday in federal court in New York that he acted as a secret agent for the Russian government and headed an operation over about 10 years to export military technology to that country.

Alexander Fishenko, a naturalized U.S. citizen and owner of Houston-based Arc Electronics Inc., pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn to numerous crimes, including money laundering, obstruction of justice and acting as an agent of the Russian government in the United States. A sentencing date hasn’t been set.

Prosecutors say he headed a scheme to purposely evade strict export controls for cutting-edge microelectronics commonly used in missile guidance systems, detonation triggers and radar systems. The 49-year-old Fishenko, among 11 people charged in the case, “lined his pockets at the expense of our national security,” Acting U.S. Attorney Kelly Currie said in a statement.

Defense attorney Richard Levitt did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Fishenko was arrested in October 2012 amid a modernization campaign by Russian military officials hungry for the restricted American-made components, investigators say.

During the probe, prosecutors say, investigators learned that Fishenko’s company had shipped about $50 million worth of microelectronics and other technologies to Russia between 2002 and 2012. They also uncovered a letter that was sent by a lab for Russia’s Federal Security Service that said it obtained the microchips from Fishenko’s company, prosecutors say.

Four others have pleaded guilty to charges in the case; the remaining six have pleaded not guilty and three of them are expected to go on trial in September, authorities say.

The War Against Tor: Russia Takes Aim At Popular Web Anonymizer

With nearly 150,000 users, Russia is currently the third-highest user of Tor in the world. (file photo)

Moscow — The Russian authorities apparently have a new enemy in their crosshairs: web tools that give users online anonymity.

On February 5, lawmaker Leonid Levin proposed blocking so-called web anonymizers including the most popular program, called Tor.

Tor — an acronym for “The Onion Router” — is encryption software that allows users to stealthily surf the Internet and bypass locally-imposed web restrictions.

Levin’s proposal won quick backing from Roskomnadzor, Russia’s state communications watchdog.

Roskomnadzor’s press secretary, Vadim Ampelonsky, derided Tor users as “ghouls” and likened the program to a hangout for criminals. He seconded the call for it to be blocked, saying it is “technically complex, but solvable.”

Internet analysts, however, are skeptical.

“It’s impossible to block Tor,” said Irina Levova, a Moscow-based Internet analyst.

Levova added that the authorities could feasibly block all encrypted Internet traffic. But such a move would wreak havoc on online banking and commerce. They could also address the problem legislatively, by banning software that bypasses web filters.

With 143,000 users, Russia is the third-highest user of Tor in the world, after the United States and Germany.

To conceal users’ locations and usage, the Tor browser, which can be downloaded free of charge, directs Internet traffic through a worldwide volunteer network consisting of thousands of relays.

It is popular among privacy advocates, private investigators, journalists, bloggers, hackers, and criminals.

In Russia, Tor has the additional use of helping dissidents bypass web censorship amid the country’s creeping online clampdown.

Under legislation purportedly to protect minors from suicide, sexual exploitation, and drug abuse, authorities have obtained the power to extra-judicially block websites.

The legislation was used to deny many Russians access to three opposition news portals — Kasparov.Ru, Grani.Ru, Yezhednevny Zhurnal.

Opposition leader Aleksei Navalny has also had his blog blocked, while popular liberal radio station Ekho Moskvy was briefly blocked on some Internet service providers.

The first official call to block Tor came from the Federal Security Service back in June 2013.

Anatoly Kucherena, an FSB-affiliated lawyer, told the pro-Kremlin daily Izvestia at the time that lawmakers should impose penalties for creating websites that allow users to bypass the web black list.

And, in June 2014, the Interior Ministry announced a tender on the government procurement website offering 3.9 million rubles for research that would allow authorities to identify Tor users.

According to the Tor Project’s website, the number of Russian users surged after the tender was announced.

And this, said Internet analyst Levova, illustrates the dilemma the authorities face in confronting Tor: the more they try to block it, the more popular it becomes.

And Tor users say they are not concerned about all the scrutiny.

Mika, a 30-year-old Tor user who runs a smartphone software company, has been using the program to access banned opposition websites since 2014.

“How are you supposed to block constantly changing proxies?,” said Mika, who declined to give his last name.

Ukraine’s top intelligence agency deeply infiltrated by Russian spies


KIEV, Ukraine – On a morning earlier this year, Ukraine’s top intelligence officials woke up to discover that the country’s spy agency had been ransacked and torched by intruders who seemed to know what they were looking for.

The previous night, it turned out, the country’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, had ordered his operatives to steal a trove of state secrets from Ukraine’s Security Service, known as the SBU, before fleeing to Moscow on Feb. 22.

During their raid on the spy agency, the thieves also stole data on more than 22,000 officers and informants as well as anything documenting decades of cooperation between the SBU and its Russian counterpart, the Federal Security Service, or FSB.

What the burglars weren’t able to carry, they burned or destroyed.

What the burglars weren’t able to carry, they burned or destroyed. In the ruins of the offices, scorched files and empty folders lay strewn on the floors.

“Every hard drive and flash drive was destroyed — smashed with hammers,” said one current Ukrainian intelligence official recently. By the time he and his colleagues got there, “it was all ash and dust.”

For a country in the shadow of Russia and embarking on an uncertain path toward democracy, the break-in was devastating.

As the current SBU director Valentyn Nalyvaichenko put it, the thieves took “everything that forms a basis for a professional intelligence service.”


Just days after the break-in, the director of the intelligence service, Oleksandr Yakymenko, surfaced in Russia, having defected with four other top spies and a dozen or so subordinates loyal to Moscow.

In the following weeks and months, the security service was thrown into turmoil as the agents’ new allegiances played out. After the Russian invasion of Crimea, thousands of Ukrainian spies switched sides and began reporting to Moscow.

Similarly, as the Kremlin-backed insurgency took off in eastern Ukraine, dozens of Ukrainian agents in there became agents of the Kremlin.

“We have no idea who we can trust right now,” said a top SBU spy, still loyal to the government in Kiev.

“Everybody is suspicious of everybody.”

When Nalyvaichenko became the SBU’s new chief on Feb. 24, he inherited a spy agency already riddled with spies. According to him, as many as one in five SBU agents had either worked for the Soviet KGB or studied at its training academy.

Even as Ukraine was in the midst of pro-democracy protests, a team of 30 Russian agents from the FSB came to Ukraine to meet with Yakymenko, allegedly to discuss assisting his officers in quashing the civil uprising.

Since then, the SBU has sought to root out pro-Russian spooks among its ranks.

Gun smugglers

So far, 235 agents, including the former counterintelligence chief and his cousin, and hundreds of other operatives believed to be working for Moscow, have been arrested and 25 high treason probes against Yanukovych-era SBU officials have been launched. All regional directors for the agency have changed, as well as half of their deputies.

After the arrests, Nalyvaichenko boldly stated that “all traitors” have been purgedfrom the SBU — a declaration that even the agency’s own officials say they find hard to believe.

Indeed, three senior sources from within Ukraine’s security services, who agreed to be interviewed on condition of anonymity, said the thefts and mass defections had compromised SBU more severely than previously acknowledged.


Ukrainian soldiers get new tanks and other military vehicles on Dec. 6, 2014.

Many agents with ties to the Russians are “still in the business,” as one of the SBU officials said. He added, however, that these mostly dormant agents are “closely watched” by Ukraine’s own security services.

Olexiy Melnyk, co-director for Foreign Relations and International Security Programs at the Kiev-based Razumkov Center, said that Nalyvaichenko’s assessment is “too optimistic.”

“It’s very unlikely that they got rid of all collaborators and spies,”

In April, as fighting raged between government forces and Kremlin-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, the SBU started planning a secret operation for its elite tactical unit, called Alpha. An enigmatic Russian known as Igor “Strelkov” Girkin, himself a confessed former FSB agent, was commanding rebel fighters on the front lines and the Ukrainians were keen to get him.


Igor Strelkov, the top military commander of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’, delivers a press conference on July 28, 2014 in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine

According to two senior Ukrainian security officials, agents had figured out that Girkin was spending time at a checkpoint on the edge of Sloviansk with several of his fighters. But no sooner had the operation gotten underway before Girkin was tipped off by a mole inside the Ukrainian security service and he slipped away.

He has since surfaced in Russia, where he has become quite the star after boasting that he “was the one who pulled the trigger of war” in Ukraine.

But sabotage and defectors are not the only challenges — the country’s security service is also hobbled by inexperience and a lack of funds, officials said.

Sergei Shoigu

In this photo provided by the Russian Defense Ministry, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, left, awards a former Ukrainian special forces “Berkut” officer, back to camera, at a military base in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, March 24, 2014.

To overhaul the agency, the SBU has brought in scores of fresh recruits. But while the young agents come from more Kiev-friendly western regions of Ukraine, many of the recruits — who are mostly in their early twenties — have little experience. Still, the intelligence service has little choice.

“What is better, to have professional former KGB guys who probably still have more friends in [Russia] or have loyal young guys who can learn and who we can be confident he will not leak secrets to Russia?” said Melnyk.

And it may not be very hard to turn the new recruits as pay is meager — about $200 per month — and moonlighting as a Russian informant may pay “three, maybe four times more,” according to one SBU officer.

To test their loyalty, new and old agents are subjected to recurrent interrogations and lie detector tests. But, as one security officer put it: “the rifle is the best lie detector.”

Russia’s Eighth Richest Man Gets FSB to Stop Son From Going to U.S., Ex-Wife Says

Russia’s eighth richest man, Vladimir Potanin, has enlisted the help of the Federal Security Service (FSB), a successor agency of the Soviet KGB, to stop his 15-year-old son from going to school in the U.S., the billionaire’s ex-wife said.

The son, Vasily, who has been living with Potanin’s ex-wife Natalya since the couple’s divorce earlier this year, was at Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport to fly to the U.S. when he was stopped by agents from the FSB’s border guard service who told the teenager that he did not have his father’s permission to leave the country, Natalya Potanina said in a statement, RIA Novosti reported Monday.

The teenager attended Friends Academy, a Quaker preparatory school, in the state of New York the previous year, but visited Russia to take state-administered exams at his previous alma mater in Moscow, the statement said.

Image from www.samoshkin.narod.ru

He was scheduled to fly back to the U.S. on Sunday. The billionaire father had chosen Friends Academy for his son a year earlier, the ex-wife’s statement said.

An unidentified source close to Potanin told Interfax that the billionaire co-owner of Norilsk Nickel considered the issue of his son’s education abroad “moot,” given the “current situation.”

The report said the billionaire had repeatedly asked his ex-wife to reconsider plans for the teenager’s education, suggesting that the boy should attend school in Russia.

Forbes Russia quoted the ex-wife’s statement as saying that “it looks like Vladimir Potanin is ready to sacrifice his own child’s education to get his former spouse to obey him on the issue of [post-divorce] property settlement.”

Potanin is Russia’s eighth richest man this year, according to a Forbes ranking, with his wealth estimated at $12.6 billion.

Kadyrov Envoy Implicated In Extortion Scandal

The brother of Ramzan Tsitsulayev, Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov’s personal plenipotentiary in Ukraine, and two of Tsitsulayev’s bodyguards have been remanded in pretrial detention in Moscow after a fistfight last week with plainclothes police officers who sought to apprehend Tsitsulayev in a sting operation on suspicion of involvement in an illegal cash-withdrawals racket. But the police officer in charge of the operation has resigned after being suspended from duty.

Tsitsulayev reportedly attracted suspicion through his apparent willingness to help an acquaintance, a businessman named Novikov, who had been arrested in connection with an attempt to extort 109 million rubles ($2.37 million) from a Chechen named Zakriyev. Tsitsulayev is said to have told Novikov’s wife Maria he could arrange her husband’s release in return for a payment of 500,000 euros ($619,534).

Novikova allegedly tipped off the police, who filmed a rendezvous on November 15 at which Novikova handed over to Tsitsulayev a first installment of 50,000 euros. Police arranged to apprehend him at a second meeting with Novikova four days later.

Tsitsulayev, however, tells a different story. The daily Kommersant quoted him as saying he was approached out of the blue by a woman named Maria Novikova who solicited his help in hiring a lawyer to represent her husband, who had been arrested on charges of extortion and kidnapping.

Tsitsulayev gave Novikova the advice she sought, but she insisted on meeting with him personally, and they agreed on a rendezvous at the restaurant of his Moscow hotel. When Novikova showed up carrying a large black parcel, which she tried to present to him, Tsitsulayev says, three men sitting at the next table tried to apprehend him, but were prevented from doing so by Tsitsulayev’s brother and bodyguards.

Is the Kremlin no longer ready to look the other way on transgressions by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov's (center) entourage in Moscow?

Tsitsulayev managed to evade capture and flee to Chechnya; he has denied the charge of extortion and affirmed his readiness to “provide the necessary explanations” if formally summoned for questioning by the Investigative Committee.

It is conceivable, however, that no such summons will be forthcoming: Kadyrov, who has not yet commented publicly on the incident, may pressure the federal prosecutor’s office to have the investigation dropped, especially in light of Tsitsulayev’s reported role in negotiating the release by the Ukrainian authorities of Russian journalists Oleg Sidyakin and Marat Saichenko, who were apprehended in eastern Ukraine in May.

If, on the other hand, the charges against Tsitsulayev and his brother and bodyguards are not dropped, that would imply a major shift in the Kremlin’s attitude to Kadyrov and, by extension, his entourage. Until now, Kadyrov’s henchmen have been free to wreak havoc in Moscow with impunity, apparently in light of orders from the highest level not to touch them.

The independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta chronicled last year how a group of Chechen policemen who were detained for having kidnapped and tortured a man in Moscow in 2011 to extort money from him were subsequently released, while the investigator who had worked on the case was fired. Federal Security Service (FSB) officers involved in the case threatened to go on strike in protest.

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