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Russia keeps losing its secret intelligence groups

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International pressure on Russia and the sanctions imposed on defense and technology mobilize Russian secret intelligence groups abroad. With Russian spies under diplomatic cover revealed, there have been more and more deep-cover agents disclosed starting from the beginning of 2022, who had been infiltrated by Moscow in late 80s and 90s.

It can now be argued there is a wide network of secret intelligence agents in Europe, affiliated with both Russian military and political intelligence.

Most of them left Russia with their families following the Soviet collapse. Most of them have a technical background and own small technology firms. The second cover is the service sector, as it permits contacts with those having access to classified information.

Such conclusions could be made on the base of the arrest of a Russian married couple in Sweden, on charges of espionage. 

The arrest took place in dramatic fashion in the early hours of Tuesday, November 22. According to the Swedish media, members of the security forces descended via tactical ropes from two Blackhawk helicopters, as startled residents in the typically quiet Stockholm suburb of Nacka looked on.

The raid was apparently conducted based on information received by Sweden’s counterintelligence agency, the Swedish Security Service (SAPO), coupled with tips from the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The targets of the operation were Sergei Nikolaevich Skvortsov and Elena Mikhailovna Kulkova, a Russian-born married couple, who moved to Sweden from Russia in 1999. According to their identity documents, Skvortsov was born in Perm on July 28, 1963, and Kulkova in Moscow on May 22, 1964.

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Both Skvortsov and Kulkova are university-educated, with a background in science, mathematics and cybernetics. Upon settling in Sweden, they worked in the import-export technology sector. By 2013 they had become Swedish citizens and had a son. Kulkova also had a daughter from a previous marriage. 

Bellingcat claims that shortly before leaving for Sweden, Skvortsov and Kulkova got an apartment in Zorge Street, at the same address as Denis Sergeyev, one of those who poisoned the Skripals, who worked for 29155 Russian military intelligence unit. This unit is associated with General Ilchenko who oversaw disinformation campaigns, including the Bonanza project spreading false theories on MH-17.

Kulkova’s daughter, Anna Run, was a cohabiting partner of the ex-head of Swedish military intelligence department. Anna left for Sweden as a child and had no time to obtain Russian citizenship. Anna’s patronymic is Vladimirovna, not Sergeyevna, which casts doubts on the fact she is Kulkova and Skvortsov’s daughter. It is highly likely, however, she was also involved in intelligence operations.

A company named European Technical Trading was Skvortsov’s Building and Data Technologies counterpart. Skvortsov received regular payments there of exactly the same amount. The Swedish government suspects the transactions were bogus, with money pumping from the Netherlands to Sweden, in fact. We believe these transactions were to prove the company’s activity and legitimize Skvortsov’s income. This money was unlikely paid for intelligence needs. The purpose was to maintain the cover story for Russian deep-cover agents. The Dutch company was run by the Belgian Hans de Geetere, whose companies had previously been hit by US sanctions for trying to resell American technology used in missiles and aircraft to China.

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Skvortsov was a managing director at Instrument Electronics i Stockholm AB, owned by Kulemekov, a retired Russian military intelligence colonel (who’s likely to have a cover job today). He was expelled from Paris in 1981, over spying for military intelligence.

According to the court indictment, Skvortsov and Kulkova began to actively spy against the United States in 2013 and against Sweden in 2014.

The Skvortsov-Kulkova case shows that deep-cover agents had been put on hold for long 23 years, needed to legalize them. It means Russia has to activate its inactive spies. Long time on hold and the terms set by intelligence centers cause them to fail. These disclosures, meanwhile, allow to shape a profile of Russian deep-cover agents, identify the basis of their cover stories, and verify those who meet these characteristics. It is objectively possible now to eliminate most of Russian spies in Europe and the U.S., amid turbulent environment, difficulties in contacts with Moscow, and high-strain job they have.

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