Several months ago one of my acquaintances, a French scientist who specializes in defense, invited me for coffee. He told me how at one of the conferences where he made a speech, a man who introduced himself as a Russian diplomat expressed interest in his work. My acquaintance told me his name and surname and asked whether I knew him. I spent some time looking, but came up with nothing. Later the scientist told me that they met several times, and some time later the diplomat started sending him presents.
My acquaintance became cautious, refused the gifts and continued the search of information on his mysterious friend. Later he informed me that the French intelligence has been watching the diplomat for quite some time and suspecting him of espionage. I forgot about this whole story for some time, until the French magazine Nouvel observateur published an article by Vincent Jauvert titled Russian spies in France. What I read was very reminiscent of the tale my acquaintance told me.
Russian new generation moles
The attention of the author is centered on someone whose name or nickname is Illiushin. He was interested in the personal life of one of the members of French President Francois Hollande’s inner circle, their friends and connections. He introduced himself as a diplomat, a military attaché in the Russian Embassy in Paris. In reality, Vincent Jauvert claims that Illiushin was working for the MIH, and his mission lay in implementing a “mole” into the heart of the French government. We may change the word order here: “A thirty-year old colonel from Putin’s Russia is an intelligence officer of the new generation: cold and efficient like the master of the Kremlin.”
The young colonel could be encountered at important events at the Military academy, the Weapons institute, the Fund for strategic investigation, where he tried to establish a connection to the servicemen, investigators, journalists. To catch his victims unawares, the colonel invited them over twice a month to dinners, during which he provided information to his guest about the Russian army, military cooperation between Paris and Moscow. He did not demand anything in exchange, instead he continued to give presents: an expensive pen or a bottle of whiskey. If the victim accepted the gifts, to Illiushin’s logic, they were ready for the second stage of work, in particular, recruitment,” writes Vincent Jauvert.
The author of the article talks about how one journalist was hooked by Illiushin. He suddenly provided him with information about the life of one of Francois Hollande’s close coworkers. However, when the reporter understood that he was being turned into a Russian agent, he informed the DCRI headquarters, which, at the time, already had important information on the agent. The “diplomat” was invited to the counter-intelligence and asked to stop his activity. A few months after the warnings, he packed his bags and returned to Moscow where, according to the author, he was given the rank of general.
Mass advances on Europe
This is only one of the examples of how Putin’s intelligence works in Europe. One of Vincent Jauvert’s sources noted that the mass advance of Russian spies on Europe, and France in particular, started after Vladimir Putin came to power. They are more aggressive and twice as active as the Soviet spies during the Cold War. They are interested in France’s intentions in NATO, the UN, the EU, industrial and economical espionage. They have been putting more effort into their work since the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis.
The author, citing an official source, states that the French intelligence, in particular the service dealing with Russia (codename H4), has been in a state of full readiness since the beginning of the year. The French special services warned the MFA workers and other potential victims of Russian spies about the threat. They were advised to refuse any invitations and gifts from those who introduced themselves as Russian embassy workers, and to notify their own employers about such things.
The French counterintelligence warns experts as well. “The DCRI regularly comes to question us,” the magazine cites Tomas Homar from the French International Relations Institute.
Big producers are not exempt from stories of espionage either. As such, Vincent Jauvert reminds how in the 60s the KGB stole the “Concorde” plans which were used to construct the “Tupolev.” Only thirty years later, in 1992, the French counterintelligence managed to discover a network of engineers who handed over these plans.
Today, according to the observations made by the French intelligence, the Chinese and Americans are better at industrial and economical espionage than the Russians. However, the latter managed to conduct a successful operation recently. As such, thanks to the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service having been informed about the offer made by the French company Areva, its Russian competitor Rosatom managed to sell a nuclear reactor to one of the European countries.
The activity of the Russian agents concerned the former President Nicolas Sárközy. Vincant Jauver cites a former co-worker of the ex-President of France who said that during a meeting with Vladimir Putin eye-to-eye in 2010, Sárközy jokingly told him: “Instead of spying on us, you better deal with the terrorists.”
This conversation happened after one of the ops that France had kept silent about for some reason then. The journalists tells how yet another Russian “military naval vice-attache” tried to bribe a French naval officer, looking for ultra-secret data about one of the orders made on a French submarine. The spy came to the officer’s home with a big sum of money, the Frenchman took it and gave the latter fake documents which were given to him by the French military intelligence beforehand. The Russian was declared a persona non-grata and sent to Moscow.
As the author reports, today in France there are about 50 intelligence officers who are working under diplomatic cover in Paris, Nice, Marseilles and Strasbourg. Another 40 are working for the Foreign Intelligence Service. Their boss introduces himself as advisor to the ambassador. About a dozen are working for the MIH. The patron of the latter introduces himself as an ITAR-TASS journalist. There is another group that is part of the FSB. Besides, there are “secret agents” working in France, just like in times of the Cold War. They are supported by the Foreign Intelligence Service. The H4 thinks that there are about twenty of those in France.
“Every time we detect a Russian spy, especially a ‘resident,’ we warn our friends in Berlin, London and Warsaw,” Vincent Jauvert cites an official source. “The European capitals are also on high alert.” The author of the article reminds how in April of the current year the director of the German counterintelligence Hans-Georg Maaßen claimed that one third of Russian diplomats in Berlin are spies. The director of British intelligence thinks that the activity of Russian agents surpasses that of the Cold War.
Despite all this, the French government does not express loud accusations. The last public case dates back to 1992, when CEA engineer Francis Temperville was arrested when handing over secret documents about nuclear experiments in France. In 1997 he was given up to 9 years in prison for treason.
Why are the espionage cases being hidden? “How do we explain to the French society that we are being threatened by Russian spies, however, at the same time we have to supply Russia with Mistral military ships?” The author cites an official source.
Vincent Jauvert also explains that the French intelligence works in close collaboration with the FSB to fight terrorism. “There are 17 000 Chechens living in France. We have good opportunities to help the Russian special services. As such, we were able to provide important data that dealt with the explosion in the Moscow metro in March 2010. In exchange, they inform us about other threats as well,” the journalist cites one of the French officials.
Some experts think that the French intelligence prefers spying on Russian agents instead of “ruining the anthill.” The author of the article cites the latest explanation of the French silence by one of the experts: “after the annex of Crimea, diplomatic relations between Russia and France have almost extinguished, therefore contacts between intelligence services are useful to preserve communication channels.”
According to the official, this channel may also suffer in the nearest future because of Western sanctions against Russia due to the Ukrainian crisis. In case of military invasion of Russia to Ukraine, the western capitals may make a coordinated decision to exile Russian spies working on their territories.
Operation “Cathedral” or a new axis of espionage
Meanwhile, the EU countries have difficulty coordinating their actions even regarding economical sanctions. Despite US data about attacks on Ukraine made from Russian territory, western mass media and politicians are not talking about Russian military invasion of Ukraine, there is only talk of Russia supporting the separatists. The majority of experts claim that Vladimir Putin will not resort to open intervention in Ukraine. So, logically, the Russian spies will probably not have to pack their bags, especially in France where, according to British historian Christopher Andrew, author of “Mitrokhin’s Archives,” there were more Russian spies during the Cold War than in any European state.
What is more, in the nearest future a powerful axis of espionage may emerge in Paris. In 2016 in the very center of the French capital, not far from the Eiffel Tower, a Russian Orthodox Church cathedral will appear, the first one since the times of the Russian Empire. When France put up the land lot for sale, Russia managed to win the tender against Saudi Arabia and Canada. The sale of the land lot to Russia for 70 million Euro evoked a lot of questions, as well as concern not only among the experts, but the French intelligence as well, as the territory where the cathedral is to be built, is located within several meters from the Alma Palace. Once it had been the home of Napoleon III, however, today it accommodates many of the Élysée Palace services, such as the President’s postal service, 16 official apartments of the workers of the apparatus of the head of state, as well as the High Magistrate council. In other words, the people working and living there have a lot of secret data at their disposal, and are therefore very interesting for foreign intelligence services.
Since the Soviet times it has been known that the Orthodox Church cooperated with the KGB, and it may be that it is cooperating with the special services now. Therefore the Central Headquarters of the French Foreign Intelligence Service insisted on relocating the church construction cite. The MFA also agreed with the intelligence service recommendation, however the French government did not heed them. This was reported by the French media several years ago. What kind of agreements stand behind “operation Cathedral,” is unclear, however it is notable that it was supervised personally by Vladimir Kozhin, who is Vladimir Putin’s assistant in military and technical issues at the moment. In November 2012 the Moscow Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Kirill awarded him with the highest church award of Sergey Radonizskiy, 1 class “for work for the good of the Russian church.”
Translated by Mariya Shcherbinina