The capture of an alleged Russian spy in Germany’s intelligence agencies has been called a “wake-up call” by politicians who are concerned by the threat of hybrid warfare.
German politicians of various stripes lined up on Friday to warn against the dangers of Russia’s hybrid warfare strategy, after the arrest of an alleged Russian spy working inside Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the BND.
The man, a German national named only as Carsten L., is thought to have passed classified information to Russia while working for the BND. For security reasons, the intelligence agency has refused to release any further details about the suspect, the extent of the leaks, or about any further contacts he may have had. His home and offices have been searched by prosecutors.
“This is a wake-up call to everyone that Russia makes no exception to spying on us, too. To destabilize our system, the Federal Republic. And all the stops are being pulled out,” said Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, head of the parliament’s defense committee and member of the neoliberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), the smallest member of the three-party coalition government.
“This makes it clear, regardless of whether you are a top or middle or whoever agent, that Russia is trying to obtain information using all methods,” she told public broadcaster BR. “This second battlefield, as I call it, has existed for decades. Namely, the espionage, the cyber war, to influence us or to get information.”
Nils Schmid, a foreign policy spokesman for Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), struck a similar note. “This indicates that the temptation to spy is also present in Germany and that we have to be very attentive to the influence of Russia in Germany,” he said to DLF public broadcaster on Friday. “So it’s not just about the military threat, it’s about hybrid warfare.”
Schmid agreed with BND President Bruno Kahl, who said the case underlined the unscrupulous nature of Russia’s methods. “Russia has seen itself in a conflict, indeed in a war with the West for years and thinks that all means are permissible,” he said. “Murder of opposition members on German soil and, indeed, espionage.”
André Hahn, a Bundestag member for the opposition socialist Left Party, said that a parliamentary control committee would take up the issue in the New Year. “The fact that there are Russian espionage activities in Germany is well known and hardly surprising,” he told DW in an emailed statement. “But if now even in the ranks of the BND an employee is said to have spied for Russia, then this would be a completely new and frightening quality. Of course, this also raises the question of the effectiveness of the BND’s own security.”
Though the BND has refused to offer more details, Strack-Zimmermann was among those speculating that Carsten L. was likely to have been under surveillance for several months while the BND investigated him and attempted to identify his contacts. “The good news is that anyone who spies for Russia or other states in Germany must know that he must be wary of being discovered,” she said.
Other Russian spies exposed
A handful of Russian spies have been discovered around Europe in recent months amidst the war in Ukraine.
In late November, Swedish police launched a spectacular helicopter raid to arrest a Russian couple living in the Stockholm suburbs suspected of “aggravated illegal intelligence activities.”
Identified as Sergey Skvortsov and Elena Koulkova by the investigative website Bellingcat, the couple was arrested with help from the FBI.
In late October, a man posing as a Brazilian academic, and named by prosecutors as Mikhail Mikushin, was arrested in Norway and accused of endangering the security interests of Norway and other states. Bellingcat suggested that Mikushin, who was later charged with espionage, is a senior Russian military intelligence officer.
Another Russian posing as a Brazilian citizen, named as Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov, was exposed in the Netherlands in June after he was caught attempting to land an internship at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague.
Meanwhile, deputy parliamentary president Wolfgang Kubicki fears the impact of the most recent case: “If information from the German foreign intelligence service really could get to Russia, it will make the cooperation with our partners enormously difficult,” he told the Handelsblatt newspaper.