Prior to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, European counterintelligence agencies turned a blind eye to Russian intelligence operatives who often used Russian diplomatic documents to cover their espionage activities. While these Russian operatives were monitored, no radical measures were taken against them. However, after Putin unleashed a full-scale war in Ukraine, the situation drastically changed. While Western countries increased weapon supplies to Ukraine and imposed economic sanctions on Russia, European intelligence services conducted a parallel, but less conspicuous, campaign to dismantle Russian spy networks.
The exposure of the Russian spy agency in EU countries marked the most significant blow to espionage networks since the Cold War. The scale of the work carried out by European intelligence services is evident from the fact that European countries have expelled over 600 Russian diplomats since January 2022, surpassing the total number expelled in the last 20 years.
In just the past few months, Russian spies have been exposed in many EU countries, including Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Austria, Poland, Slovenia, and others. For example, in October 2022, a «Brazilian academic» and an employee of the Norwegian Arctic University in Tromsø, who posed as a Brazilian citizen, was arrested in Norway. The «academic» turned out to be Mikhail Mikushin, an officer of the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU). In late December of the same year, a member of the Federal Intelligence Service of Germany (BND) named Karsten Linke was arrested in Germany on suspicion of spying for Russia. His alleged accomplice was arrested a month later. In January of the current year, the Security and Intelligence Service of Slovenia discovered and detained two foreigners spying for Russia in Ljubljana, as reported by Slovenia Posts. Both agents were GRU employees working under false identities, and one of them held Argentinean citizenship.
After the deportation of hundreds of Russian spies operating under diplomatic cover from EU countries, Russia’s agent networks in Europe continue to operate. As evidence, on July 19, Gazeta Polska reported that the Polish Internal Security Agency, together with the Lublin branch of the National Prosecutor’s Office, exposed the largest Russian intelligence network in Poland’s history. Russian agents paid special attention to controlling railway routes that could be used to transport military equipment to Ukraine. These spies were tasked not only with gathering information and photographing military and civilian targets or fueling anti-Ukrainian and anti-NATO sentiments but also with preparing acts of sabotage.
Initially, nine individuals were apprehended while planning diversions and monitoring trains, but the further course of the investigation led to the exposure of the entire network. Between March and July 2023, 15 people were arrested on charges of espionage, all of whom were part of this covert network.
The Kremlin’s agents have infiltrated Europe, as seen in the illustrative case of Poland. Russia is already waging an undeclared war against the West, and if not stopped in Ukraine, the whole of Europe may become a battleground. Russian propaganda claims that Russia must liberate the «sacred Russian land from Kharkiv to Warsaw.» Poland could be Putin’s next target if he seeks revenge in Ukraine. Russia attempts to use a hybrid toolkit, including creating diversionary and intelligence groups, secretly moving Wagner PMC fighters to Europe’s borders, and provoking artificial famine globally. Each of these components weakens Western civilization, and Russia has become a common threat to the entire civilized world. Putin does not limit himself and uses terror as a method of warfare, as evidenced by the events in Poland. Ukraine must receive all necessary support and win this war; otherwise, the Russian soldier’s boot will trample Europe from Warsaw to Lisbon.