Former Bellingcat’s investigative journalist Christo Grozev has helped expose a covert Russian military intelligence unit called 29155, a special forces team carrying out sabotage and assassinations across Europe, as he told The Insider. The emails obtained by investigators shed light on Russia’s overconfidence about a quick victory against Ukraine that never materialized.
29155 was created in 2007 or 2008 when Putin decided that “the world is an enemy.” The large unit’s subdivision consists of about 70 Russian short-term undercover agents specializing in assassinations. Grozev said they are behind high-profile attacks like the 2018 Novichok poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal in the UK.
Grozev has obtained insider emails about Russia’s failed plan to quickly assassinate President Zelenskyy and the people around him. The emails were sent by a Russian intel officer who was part of an advanced kill team deployed to Kyiv early in the full-scale invasion.
The investigator said the unencrypted emails showed the Russians expected a one-week war in Ukraine and were disappointed when it dragged on. But the officer was stuck for months as part of the unsuccessful mission targeting Zelenskyy.
With Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin now dead, Putin seemingly singled out 29155 commander General Andrey Averyanov as his successor, handling Russian security ties abroad.
Grozev also called Putin critic and chess Grandmaster Garry Kasparov to warn that a 29155 agent had infiltrated Russian exile groups to get close to him. “It was again a blood-curdling discovery to see this spy… trained in assassination, to be so close to Kasparov,” Grozev said.
He believes exposing the unit’s plots has “disabled a generation of killers.” But it also put Grozev on Russia’s kill list, which he learned from an intelligence insider.
Previously, Grozev and open-source intelligence project Bellingcat extensively covered Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, namely regarding Russia’s downing of the MH-17 flight in 2014.
Updated 26 January: an earlier version of this article said that Christo Grozev is part of the Bellingcat project; it has been changed to “former Bellingcat’s investigator”. We apologize for the confusion.