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HomeEstoniaISS says actions of Russian intelligence services have become more intense

ISS says actions of Russian intelligence services have become more intense

Intelligence activities by the intelligence and security services of the Russian Federation, which have become increasingly aggressive of late, continue to be the main intelligence threat to Estonia, Estonia’s Internal Security Service (ISS) says in is annual report published on Friday.

The response to the security threat emanating from Russia has been extensive in Europe — measures of pressure, such as mostly ending the issuance of visas to Russian citizens and the closure of border crossing points by countries bordering Russia, have changed the way in which  Russian intelligence and security services do their work. This is certainly true for their actions vis-a-vis Ukraine, but also other countries of Europe, the ISS said.

“The activities of Russian intelligence and security services have become significantly more aggressive than in the past. In some aspects, they operate more robustly, while in others, more covertly,” the ISS noted, adding that Russian intelligence services are adaptable, and the war certainly provides the best opportunity for that.

“Before the war, Russian intelligence had failures in Europe and perhaps not the best reputation, but the confrontation with Ukraine has given intelligence services a new direction and purpose — they are dangerous.”

Where at the political level, GU6, FSB7 and SVR8 and their leaderships can fight for power, at the operational level they are united. This makes Russian intelligence an even greater challenge for Western countries and their citizens. In summary, according to the ISS, it can be noted that the interest of Russian intelligence and security agencies in Estonia and other European countries has even intensified compared to the past.

Historically, Russia’s intelligence and security services have preferred to operate under what is known as diplomatic cover, placing intelligence officers as diplomats in Russian diplomatic missions around the world. Although around 700 Russian diplomats/intelligence officers have been expelled from Europe and other countries since the start of the war against Ukraine, Russia has managed to replace a significant number of them with new intelligence officers.

According to the ISS, significant diplomatic pressure is being exerted on foreign ministries to let spies into their country, of course without declaring them as such, and in many cases, these efforts have been successful. Without cooperation between Western foreign ministries and security agencies to counter this activity, Russian intelligence would replenish its pre-war officer numbers at embassies in a couple of years.

In addition to sending intelligence officers home and refusing accreditation, most European countries, as well as in more distant ones, have reduced personnel numbers at Russian embassies, and in several countries, like Estonia, this reduction has been put on a parity basis, for there to be equal numbers of diplomatic representatives on both sides. This, in turn, limits the opportunities for intelligence gathering under diplomatic cover and also hinders propaganda and influence activities by Russian embassies, which, alongside intelligence activities, pose the greatest security threat to countries, according to the ISS.

The Russian embassy in Tallinn is no exception. Since its establishment, the embassy has been used for intelligence activities, as well as influence and propaganda activities. To prevent this, 18 diplomats of the Russian embassy here have been declared personae non grata since the embassy was re-established in 1991.

“As intelligence activities from the Russian embassy have been significantly hampered in the past year, and Estonia has decided to stop issuing visas to citizens of the Russian Federation almost entirely, Russian intelligence and security services have been more active in using other methods that are more easily available to them — intelligence and recruitment activities from the territory of Russia and through social media,” the ISS noted.

Typical examples include criminal proceedings in Poland and Latvia in 2023, where individuals involved in intelligence activities targeting these
countries had been recruited through social media, using the Telegram app, which is popular among Russians. Often, recruitment efforts target young
and impressionable individuals who are driven by the minimal economic incentives offered rather than ideology. Various cryptocurrency platforms are used for compensation. These activities are known to extend far beyond the cases mentioned here and also encompass other countries. Agents recruited through social media serve as cheap labor for Russian intelligence services, and online activity allows intelligence to conceal its involvement.

“Targets for recruitment include foreign visitors to Russia. Often, these individuals have a permanent connection to Russia, either being native to the country or having relatives there. It is also not uncommon for individuals to hold a Russian passport as well as that of a foreign country. The risk of Russian citizens with dual citizenship being recruited or exploited by Russian intelligence has significantly increased in recent years. Russian intelligence services exclusively regard these individuals as citizens of the Russian Federation and, consequently, expect them to cooperate in full,” the ISS said.

In 2024, the ISS apprehended Viacheslav Morozov, a professor at the University of Tartu, suspected of engaging in and supporting intelligence
activities against Estonia. According to preliminary information, Morozov cooperated with Russian special services for years.

Russian special services are interested not only in state secrets but in any information they can gather. Human intelligence remains one of the most important intelligence methods and is likely to remain so in the future. Ukrainian citizens are actively targeted for recruitment. Ukrainians traveling to Europe are easy targets, as coercing them into cooperation is particularly straightforward for Russian intelligence. Russian citizens are also continuously exploited to perform various tasks for Russian intelligence services, the annual review says.

Source: BNS

(Reproduction of BNS information in mass media and other websites without written consent of BNS is prohibited.)


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