German police arrest suspected Russian spies over bombing plan

German police arrest suspected Russian spies over bombing plan

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Bavarian police have arrested and accused two men of being Russian secret agents planning to bomb industrial and military sites in Germany to disrupt the delivery of aid to Ukraine. 

The two German-Russian nationals were apprehended in raids on Wednesday morning by police special forces in the town of Bayreuth, south-east Germany, according to the federal prosecutor’s office.

Dieter S, 39, and Alexander J, 37, had been in communication with Russia’s military intelligence agency (GRU) to plan acts of sabotage on German soil, said the federal prosecutor. The Russian spy agency has been accused by western governments of the attempted assassination in 2018 of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England, and other murders across Europe in recent years, including a 2019 fatal attack in Berlin.

Russia has stepped up its undercover activities in Europe in recent months, but the possible use of agents to carry out violent acts in the EU is a sign of the Kremlin’s growing boldness and risk appetite, according to European security officials.

The arrested suspects are alleged to have scouted targets that included the US military base at Grafenwöhr, Bavaria, where Ukrainian soldiers are being trained to use M1 Abrams tanks. 

Industrial and transport facilities had also been identified for potential attacks by them. Photographs, videos and maps had been made of sites that might be suitable targets.

“Our security authorities have prevented possible explosive attacks that were intended to target and undermine our military assistance to Ukraine. It is a particularly serious case of alleged spy activity for Putin’s criminal regime,” said Germany’s interior minister Nancy Faeser. 

“We will continue to provide massive support for Ukraine and will not allow ourselves to be intimidated,” she said, adding that police were now working to identify the wider network of the two suspects. 

Dieter S has been on the radar of German security authorities for some time. Between 2014 and 2016 he was active in eastern Ukraine as a fighter for Russian-led separatists in Donetsk region, according to the German federal prosecutor.

Germany has emerged as a leading target for Russian clandestine operations in Europe. Berlin is the continent’s largest supplier of military aid to Ukraine, and under its current government has upended a decades-long policy of engagement with Russia following the Kremlin’s brutal full-scale invasion of its neighbour.

Russian intelligence agencies have tried to tap into still widespread German unease about supporting Ukraine and exploit gaps in the country’s domestic security, which is still relatively permissive compared with other Nato states owing to historical concerns over government surveillance and policing.

German security agencies say they are increasing their counter-intelligence efforts.

It is barely a month since authorities arrested a senior officer in the defence ministry who they said was passing secret equipment procurement plans to Russia.

The Kremlin’s subversive activities are multi-faceted. Alongside traditional political and technological espionage, Russian agents are also doubling down on efforts to spread disinformation online, one of Germany’s most senior diplomats told the Financial Times in an interview.

The country’s main opposition party, the conservative Christian Democratic Union, was also the target of a recent hacking attack directed by Moscow.

And earlier this month, a leading politician for the far-right Alternative for Germany party, which is in second place in the polls, was accused of taking money from a Kremlin-backed oligarch to spread pro-Russian propaganda.

Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, told reporters the Kremlin had no information about the arrests in Germany.