US and European intelligence agencies discovered Russian military intelligence members to be working from the French Alps, according to an NBC News report published Thursday. News of the operation was first reported by French newspaper Le Monde.
Up to 15 members of the GRU, the Kremlin’s military intelligence agency, had lived in the French Alps, where they established their base for European covert operations, according to the reports. Some of the alleged officers’ names were previously published by Bellingcat, an independent investigative group.
Two of the Russian agents, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Roshirov, were accused of poisoning defected Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in the UK in 2018. The two Russian agents reportedly used aliases and a military-grade nerve agent to poison the Skripals. Both of them recovered after being hospitalized.
Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov during an interview, Sept. 12, 2018.
The Russian government denied involvement and said it did “not understand why that was done and what signal the British side is sending.”
“We heard or saw two names, but these names mean nothing to me personally,” Russian diplomat Yuri Ushakov told reporters at the time, according to Russia’s Tass news agency.
The French Alps’s roughly 620-mile-long chain of mountains is the longest in Europe. It includes a number of hiking trails, natural parks, and skiing destinations.
The GRU has been accused of orchestrating cyber operations against the West. In 2018, it was accused of a global hacking campaign against anti-doping agencies, a nuclear power company, and a chemical-weapons watchdog, according to Reuters.
Head of the Russian General Staff’s Main Intelligence Department Igor Kostyukov.
In addition to cyber operations, the GRU also reportedly has a special operations unit composed of Russian military service members. The agency also recruits sleeper agents “reserved for the most sensitive or deniable tasks across the spectrum of GRU operations,” according to a Western report acquired by Reuters.
Several of the agency’s leaders have been sanctioned by Western countries, including the US, UK, and the Netherlands.
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