Moscow spin­ning new web of spies in UK

Rus­sian intelligen­ce chiefs re­build Bri­tish net­work bro­ken up af­ter Sal­is­bury at­tack

The Sunday Telegraph - - Front page - By Robert Men­dick and Do­minic Ni­cholls

RUS­SIA’S for­eign intelligen­ce ser­vice is try­ing to set up a new spy net­work in Bri­tain af­ter the mil­i­tary unit be­hind the Sal­is­bury nerve agent at­tack was dis­man­tled in the UK, ac­cord­ing to well-placed sources.

Au­thor­i­ties are in­creas­ingly con­cerned at at­tempts by the SVR, Rus­sia’s for­eign intelligen­ce agency, to reestab­lish a foothold in Bri­tain.

Of­fi­cials are con­fi­dent that the GRU, the agency re­spon­si­ble for the at­tempted as­sas­si­na­tion of Colonel Sergei Skri­pal, has been ef­fec­tively neu­tralised.

It fol­lows a de­tailed counter-ter­ror­ism and intelligen­ce-led in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the use of weapons grade Novi­chok nerve agent that ex­posed the GRU’s net­work of agents in the UK and across Europe.

But it is now un­der­stood that the SVR – the equiv­a­lent of Bri­tain’s MI6 – has been or­dered by the Krem­lin to re­sume op­er­a­tions in Bri­tain. The view among Bri­tish intelligen­ce of­fi­cials is that the SVR is a more ef­fec­tive and dan­ger­ous or­gan­i­sa­tion than the GRU and poses a big­ger threat.

A se­nior Gov­ern­ment source said: “We are more fear­ful of what we don’t know about the SVR com­pared to all the things we do know about the GRU.

“If Moscow is now giving more re­sources to the SVR and more free­dom to op­er­ate in the UK, which is what we believe is hap­pen­ing, then that is of far greater con­cern be­cause they are a more pro­fes­sional out­fit.”

A sec­ond source said: “The GRU has been se­verely im­pacted by our in­quiries into Sal­is­bury,” while an­other said it would take years for it to re­group.

The Prime Min­is­ter pledged to dis­man­tle the GRU’s net­works when she un­masked the or­gan­i­sa­tion as be­ing be­hind the nerve agent at­tack in a

‘We are more fear­ful of what we don’t know about the SVR com­pared to what we do know about the GRU’

state­ment to Par­lia­ment in Septem­ber. Bri­tish au­thor­i­ties are said to be con­fi­dent they know “ev­ery­thing worth know­ing” about the as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt, in­clud­ing the chain of com­mand right up to Vladimir Putin, the Rus­sian pres­i­dent.

The mass ex­pul­sion of spies from the Rus­sian em­bassies in Europe and the US also played a role in dis­rupt­ing Rus­sia’s intelligen­ce net­work abroad.

The UK ex­pelled 23 Rus­sian diplo­mats and the US 60 more in re­tal­i­a­tion for the nerve agent at­tack in March last year. Bri­tish of­fi­cials were cer­tain that they were GRU and SVR spies and that in ex­pelling them had un­picked the

Bri­tish au­thor­i­ties are con­fi­dent they know “ev­ery­thing worth know­ing” about the as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt on Sergei Skri­pal, in­clud­ing a trail right up to Vladimir Putin.

The Rus­sian intelligen­ce agency be­hind the Sal­is­bury nerve agent at­tack has been dis­man­tled in the UK and will re­main out of ac­tion for years to come, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment sources.

The threat posed by the GRU, which car­ried out the at­tempted as­sas­si­na­tion of Skri­pal last March, has been se­verely cur­tailed as a re­sult of the coun­tert­er­ror in­ves­ti­ga­tion that ex­posed the agents who car­ried out the at­tack. Sep­a­rate sources have told The Sun­day

Tele­graph that details of the plot have been well es­tab­lished, in­clud­ing the chain of com­mand right up to Mr Putin that gave the green light for the use of weapons-grade nerve agent on Bri­tish soil.

“We are con­fi­dent we know ev­ery­thing we need to know about Sal­is­bury,” said the source, adding: “It will take the GRU decades to re­gain a foothold back in the UK.”

The GRU’s op­er­a­tions have been ex­posed in part by a se­ries of blun­ders that in­cluded giving many of its agents con­sec­u­tive passport num­bers. As a con­se­quence, it is un­der­stood, Bri­tain and its West­ern al­lies have been able to gather and share the iden­ti­ties of the ma­jor­ity of GRU of­fi­cers who have ever trav­elled abroad on covert op­er­a­tions.

The mass ex­pul­sion of spies from Rus­sian em­bassies in Europe and the US has also played a huge role in dis­rupt­ing Rus­sia’s intelligen­ce net­work abroad.

Sources have sug­gested the SVR, Rus­sia’s for­eign intelligen­ce ser­vice – the Rus­sian equiv­a­lent of MI6 – is des­per­ately try­ing to re­build its ca­pa­bil­i­ties in the West. Af­ter the Sal­is­bury at­tack, Sergei Naryshkin, the direc­tor of the SVR, claimed the poi­son­ing was a “grotesque provo­ca­tion rudely staged by the Bri­tish and US intelligen­ce agen­cies”.

The UK ex­pelled 23 Rus­sian diplo­mats and the US ex­pelled 60 more in re­tal­i­a­tion for poi­son­ing of Sergei and Yu­lia Skri­pal in March last year. Dawn Sturgess, a Sal­is­bury woman, died af­ter com­ing into con­tact with the nerve agent in a dis­carded per­fume bot­tle, and Char­lie Row­ley, her boyfriend, and De­tec­tive Sergeant Nick Bai­ley, a Wilt­shire po­lice of­fi­cer, were left with se­ri­ous health prob­lems. Bri­tish of­fi­cials are now con­fi­dent that the 23 diplo­mats were al­most en­tirely GRU and SVR agents and that the process un­picked the Krem­lin’s spy­ing op­er­a­tions in the UK.

In Septem­ber, Theresa May vowed to “dis­man­tle” the GRU’s net­works when she an­nounced the or­gan­i­sa­tion was be­hind the Sal­is­bury at­tack.

Intelligen­ce of­fi­cials do not wish to ap­pear ar­ro­gant but ap­pear con­fi­dent they have helped to carry out the Prime Min­is­ter’s prom­ise for ret­ri­bu­tion. Counter-ter­ror po­lice work­ing with the intelligen­ce ser­vices were able to piece to­gether the plot to mur­der Colonel Skri­pal, a former GRU of­fi­cer who had sold se­crets to MI6, us­ing CCTV, in­clud­ing footage from the streets close to the Col Skri­pal’s home in Sal­is­bury, and from pas­sen­ger flight man­i­fests and im­mi­gra­tion data at the time of the at­tempted hit. The GRU agents trav­elled un­der the names Alexan­der Petrov and Rus­lan Boshi­rov but were later hu­mil­i­at­ingly un­masked as Alexan­der Mishkin and Ana­toly Chep­iga, two se­nior GRU of­fi­cers, both of whom had been in re­ceipt of the Hero of the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion medal, the coun­try’s high­est hon­our, be­stowed by Mr Putin. It is thought they were given the awards for their ac­tions in Ukraine in 2014.

A fur­ther 40 sus­pected agents were iden­ti­fied by leaked passport data, which listed their ad­dresses as Khoro­shevskoye Shosse 76 B, the Moscow head­quar­ters of the GRU.

Fur­ther ex­ten­sive in­for­ma­tion on the GRU’s op­er­a­tions was gath­ered by the Bri­tish and part­ner intelligen­ce agen­cies af­ter the Krem­lin or­dered a sec­ond team to The Nether­lands to hack into a sep­a­rate in­quiry con­ducted by the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons into the use of Novi­chok. The GRU unit was ar­rested by Dutch intelligen­ce agents, iden­ti­fy­ing 300 sus­pected agents and ex­pos­ing the GRU’s in­ner work­ings.

Alexei Morenets, 41, one of the agents, had his Lada car reg­is­tered to a GRU base in Moscow, al­low­ing other cars reg­is­tered there to be traced. The gov­ern­ment source said: “It’s fair to say it’s been a bad year for the GRU.”

The intelligen­ce ser­vice failed to kill Skri­pal while un­mask­ing the iden­ti­ties of hun­dreds of its own agents. It al­lowed Bri­tish and al­lied intelligen­ce ser­vices to link the GRU to a se­ries of il­le­gal spy­ing op­er­a­tions in­clud­ing at­tempts to hack into in­ves­ti­ga­tions into Rus­sian dop­ing in sport and in­ter­fer­ence in the US elec­tion.

Vladimir Putin with Sergei Naryshkin, direc­tor of the SVR

Alexan­der Petrov and Rus­lan Boshi­rov, alias Alexan­der Mishkin and Ana­toly Chep­iga of the GRU, are sus­pects in the poi­son­ing of Sergei Skri­pal and his daugh­ter Yu­lia, left, in Sal­is­bury last March

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