Russian businessman connected with GRU working at the heart of Europe for Russian military industry – The Insider investigation

Brussel – Not far from the central office of EU Commission and NATO headquarter GRU officer helping the Kremlin evade sanctions.

Russian military intelligence (GRU) officer Viktor Labin has set up shop in Brussels, home to the European Commission and NATO headquarters. From his office in a nondescript seven-story building on the outskirts of the Belgian capital, Labin supplies Russian arms manufacturers with European-made coordinate-measuring machines, a high-tech machine tool critical in the production of the Kremlin’s hypersonic Kinzhal missile. 

The sanctions-evasion enterprise has evolved into a familial endeavor. Labin’s younger son manages the intermediary based in Moscow, facilitating the delivery of his father’s shipments to end users in Russia. Meanwhile, his elder son contributes by orchestrating pro-Kremlin protests throughout Europe. Despite the Labin family’s overt endeavors to support the Russian military-industrial complex, none of them have found themselves on the European Union’s sanctions list.

Critical machine tools play a pivotal role in supporting the Russian military-industrial complex

In October, The Insider revealed how gaps in the complex web of Western sanctions policies have allowed Russia to continue procuring many of the foreign-made tools and components necessary for the production of its hypersonic Kh-47M2 Kinzhal missile, one of the “wonder weapons” unveiled by Vladimir Putin during an infamous 2018 speech that included computer generated graphics showing Russian warheads flying towards the United States.  

The specific strategy to circumvent sanctions depended on exploiting loopholes and exceptions that permit European companies to sustain business ties with crucial entities in the Kremlin’s military-industrial complex. This allowed them to engage in such transactions without overtly violating any formal regulations. Nevertheless, not all tactics employed by Moscow to sustain its military operations adhere strictly to legal boundaries.

One of the firms mentioned in The Insider’s October report was the Moscow-based Sonatek LLC (ООО «Сонатек»), which imports high precision machine tools from a range of European companies hailing from Italy (Tomelleri Engineering), Germany (MESSTECHNIK GMBH) and the United Kingdom (Aberlink). Russia has yet to establish a suitable import substitution alternative for coordinate-measuring machines, making the Russian military-industrial complex heavily reliant on imported products sourced through Sonatek. Although Russian government defense contracts have been classified in recent years, The Insider has obtained information indicating that Sonatek provided supply and maintenance services to a minimum of 18 Russian defense companies in 2022.

Following the release of The Insider’s October report, numerous European shipping firms that were previously associated with Sonatek distanced themselves. Baltic Shipping Agency LTD, a Poland-based company, explicitly expressed its reluctance to engage in “illegal activities aimed at circumventing sanctions.” However, despite this stance, the Baltic Shipping Agency did exploit loopholes in sanctions legislation to facilitate the delivery of coordinate-measuring machines to a crucial component of the Russian military machinery.

Several months before the release of that report, Viktor Labin, a GRU officer, was actively operating in Brussels, orchestrating the flow of European technology to the Russian reseller through a shell company registered in Turkey. Interestingly, Viktor Labin happens to be the father of Ruslan Labin, the 35-year-old owner and CEO of Sonatek.

In his correspondence with The Insider, Ruslan Labin did not dispute the affiliation of Sonatek LLC with the mentioned “18 Russian defense companies.” Instead, he acknowledged, “These are our customers; we used to supply them with something, and maybe we’re supplying them now.”

When directly questioned about whether he and his family members are associated with Russia’s Defense Ministry, he clarified, “My father is a businessman, but my brother and I never served in the army” — followed by a smiling emoticon.

Our man in Brussels

Viktor Labin is the founder of the Belgian company Groupe d’Investissement Financier.

Viktor Labin

Labin’s sons, Roman Labin and the aforementioned Sonatek CEO Ruslan Labin, are listed as directors on Groupe d’Investissement Financier official documents.

Groupe d’Investissement Financier is situated at Avenue de la Ferme Rose, 7, just a brief drive south from the Brussels city center. It was at this location that The Insider convened with Viktor Labin, who asserted that, subsequent to the imposition of sanctions on Russian companies following the commencement of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the senior Labin stopped making deliveries to his son’s firm in Moscow.

This building houses the offices of Groupe d’Investissement Financier

However, documented records reveal that Groupe d’Investissement Financier engaged in extensive business transactions with Sonatek, dispatching machinery and equipment to the Moscow address of the Russian firm. Notably, it was only in April 2023 that Viktor Labin’s Belgian entity initiated the processing of its deliveries to Sonatek through a Turkish shell company bearing a strikingly similar name: GROUPE D’INVESTISSEMENT FINANCIER OSBORNE. (Turkey has emerged as a prevalent transshipment point for the illicit movement of sanctioned goods to Russian end users. As recently disclosed by The Insider, Taiwanese machine tools have also found their way to Russian arms manufacturers through this channel).

While GRU officers do not publicly advertise their professional affiliations, all of the available information regarding Viktor Labin’s background indicates a close connection with Russia’s military intelligence arm. According to address databases, Viktor Labin was formerly registered in Moscow at the renowned dormitory of the GRU academy on Narodnoe Opolchenie Street 52, Building 4.

Upon completing his academy training, he took up residence in Zelenograd at the designated military housing address, building 1818. While the precise timeline of his subsequent relocation to Europe remains uncertain, records suggest that by the year 2000, the senior Labin had already established a company in Belgium and was residing on Winston Churchill Avenue in Brussels. Additionally, documentation indicates that Labin’s son, Roman, obtained a pass from a hospital affiliated with the Russian Ministry of Defense during the COVID-19 lockdown in Moscow. During that period, permits indicating engagement in essential work were mandatory for unrestricted movement within the city.

Viktor Labin also operates another company in Belgium, Projet Plus. As per the company’s official registration, it shares the address of Viktor Labin’s private residence—a residential apartment block displaying the surname “Labin” on both the doorbell and mailbox.

Viktor Labin’s apartment block in Brussels

Unyielding Stance: Labin Family’s Uncompromising Fight Against the West

While Ruslan Labin assists his father in overseeing operations at Sonatek in Moscow, his brother Roman Labin resides in Brussels on Chaussee d’Alsemberg. Roman Labin earns his livelihood in Belgium as a sole proprietor, engaging in business transactions with his brother’s Russian company. In 2022, Sonatek disbursed 3.3 million roubles ($37,100 at the prevailing exchange rate) to Roman for what was documented as the supply of a Mitsubishi machine tool.

Ruslan Labin oversees the management of Sonatek in Moscow alongside his father, while his brother, Roman Labin, resides in Brussels on the Chaussee d’Alsemberg. Roman Labin, operating as a sole proprietor, conducts business with his brother’s Russian company. In 2022, Sonatek made a payment of 3.3 million roubles (equivalent to $37,100 at the current exchange rate) to Roman for what was described as the supply of a Mitsubishi machine tool.

Roman Labin

Despite his physical presence in Europe, Roman Labin is not shy about flaunting his political beliefs. A 2013 YouTube video shows Roman translating from Russian to French as part of an anti-American protest in Paris. Roman also featured prominently in a 2014 protest in Brussels, this time purporting to stand “against Ukrainian fascism.”

Roman Labin, in the center of Brussels, wearing a St. George’s ribbon — a symbol widely associated with Russian nationalism and militarism

Ruslan Labin has made his social media accounts private. However, the Sonatek CEO does not need Facebook, Instagram, or VK to make his pro-war stance known — his work to supply the Russian military-industrial with the tools it needs to continue producing modern weaponry speaks for itself.

When it comes to the family patriarch, Viktor Labin’s political views are evident in his choice of language. During a brief phone conversation, Labin labeled The Insider as a “Banderovite,” referring to Stepan Bandera, a controversial figure in Ukraine’s 20th-century history. Russian propaganda often points to Bandera’s popularity among Ukrainian nationalist movements as a basis for the Kremlin’s argument that Ukraine needs to be “denazified,” despite having elected a president of Jewish heritage in 2019 by a substantial margin of 73-26.

That conversation ended almost immediately after The Insider asked Viktor Labin if he has any relationship with the GRU. Labin’s response, a dismissive statement using a common Russian insult, suggested he had no intention of addressing the question. He essentially told The Insider to “f*** off” before ending the call. It’s worth noting that, as the call concluded abruptly, there is a possibility that the three unspecified letters mentioned by Labin could be interpreted as “G-R-U.”

With contributions from Anastasia Mikhailova
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