On May 19, 2022, Thomas Haldenwang, head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution of Germany (BfV), a counterintelligence service, said that the rise of spies in the country had reached the level of the Cold War. Let’s talk about it.
To begin with, modern spies do not drive Rolls-Royces and motorcycles, do not wear spy coats, and do not pass information through bundles of matches on the bench. If we talk about industrial and military espionage, most of the information is bought for money.
Today we will talk about Russia’s “agents of influence,” i.e. the public opinion influencers, organizers of rallies, etc., who promote Russia’s narratives. As for Germany, these are often immigrants from the Soviet Union or Germans recruited through their Russian business and political connections.
In another article where we described how Russian propaganda works, we mentioned one such agent of influence, the pro-Russian German journalist Alina Lipp. She has a Telegram channel with more than 100,000 subscribers, where in March 2022 she spread a fake about the murder of a Russian boy by a crowd of Ukrainians. Do not fall into believing that Alina just made an honest mistake. Her social media constantly promote Russia’s points on the prominence of Nazis in Ukraine and on how she approves of Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
We need to recognize here that some people really supported Russia ideologically, at least before the full-scale invasion, being trapped in the net of the sophisticated Russian propaganda. We believe that one such example is Vitaly Krush, Speaker of the Bonn-Kaliningrad Youth Parliament, a German-Russian friendship organization.
Until the Russian invasion on February 24, 2022, Vitaly Krush participated in conferences with German politicians and public figures repeatedly, where he disseminated pro-Russian narratives among the people of Germany and Russia, calling Ukraine and Russia “brotherly peoples,” thus denying the Kremlin’s 2014 aggression.
However, in February 2022, the organization led by Krush sharply condemned the actions of Moscow. This may indicate that, unlike Alina Lipp, Krush was a so-called useful idiot in the hands of the secret services, doing work for them in the blind. But this point begs the German counterintelligence to weigh in.
And it is not only Germany that harbors Russian agents of influence. We know of another case in Austria where Yaroslava Sydorenko (alternative spelling Sidorenko), a native of Ukraine, is active. Beginning in March 2022, Sydorenko held three anti-Ukrainian rallies in Vienna.
Most interestingly, using her documents of a Ukrainian citizen, Sydorenko, registers future events as rallies in support of Ukraine through the Committee for Peace in Ukraine. Participants in the rallies must carry Russian tricolors and Soviet flags.
This “peace” committee actually promotes the idea of supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which is then broadcast by the Kremlin propaganda. The committee was set up with the assistance of the Russian House in Europe and its leader Oleg Xenofontov (alternative spelling Ksenofontov).
It should be noted that Yaroslava Sydorenko applied for a rally permit in Vienna, Austria, on behalf of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft humanitäre Ukrainehilfe (Workers’ Association for Humanitarian Aid to Ukraine). By the way, many experts have noted that Russia’s intelligence services are working to establish contacts among labor movements and trade unions.
In fact, the Workers’ Association for Humanitarian Aid to Ukraine is run by Alfred Almeder who is officially the organization’s accountant. Almeder has twice visited the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic (the territory of Ukraine occupied by Russia since 2014), and Russian media even reported the opening of an embassy of the “Luhansk People’s Republic” in Vienna, headed by Alfred Almeder. However, Almeder himself later denied this.
In most cases, Russian agents of influence are small public organizations, where there are not so many members who could provide money and other resources for supporting events and keeping staff including the agents of influence themselves. It is clear that the NGOs act through donations from Moscow and the funding has a strict purpose of supporting Moscow’s actions and throwing into the media the Russian manipulative narratives and points. This is how Putin’s proxies do subversive business in the EU. In this coverage, we just scratched the surface by giving a few examples of the work of the agents of influence. But the list of the known agents of influence is longer and covers many more countries than Germany and Austria. We will have more of these stories later.