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Apr 19, 2024, 4:33pm EDT
Europe
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Semafor Signals

Spate of arrests shows how deeply Russia has infiltrated Europe

Insights from The Associated Press, CBS News, and The Economist

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Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with government members via a video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, on April 17, 2024.
Sputnik/Gavriil Grigorov/Pool via REUTERS
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The News

Two Polish men have been arrested in Poland on suspicion of having attacked a close ally of the late opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Warsaw officials said Friday. A Belarusian working for Russia who allegedly ordered the assassination attempt was also arrested.

Russian activist Leonid Volkov, a close aide of Navalny, was attacked by assailants wielding a hammer and pepper spray on March 12 near his home in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, where he lives in exile.

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The suspects in the attack carried out “the orders of the special services of an alien country,” a spokesperson for a Warsaw court said Friday. Volkov has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “henchmen” of bearing responsibility.

The arrests are the latest in a string of incidents that show how deeply Russian interests have penetrated Europe. On Thursday, German authorities said they had arrested two men on suspicion of spying for Russia to collect information about potential attack targets.

And another Polish citizen was also arrested this week for allegedly helping to plan an attempt to assassinate Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

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SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

Attack underscored how dissidents are unsafe wherever they go

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Sources:  
The Associated Press, CBS News

The attack on Volkov underscored the risks for dissidents of both Russia and Belarus who have sought safety in Lithuania, Poland, and elsewhere, The Associated Press reported. Pavel Latushka, a former Belarusian culture minister now in exile in Warsaw, told the outlet: “it is evident that all boundaries have been breached, and crimes can be committed within the territories of European Union member countries.”

“I think the aim of such attacks is to paralyze people, to paralyze democratic movements,” said Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who also lives in exile in Lithuania. And countries trying to shelter dissidents from both Russia and Belarus are struggling. “We spend considerable effort in making sure that dissidents are safe here and safer than they would be, in fact, in many other countries,” Lithuania’s former deputy foreign minister told CBS News.

Russian spy operations against the West are ‘mightier than ever’

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Sources:  
Voice of America, The Economist

Hundreds of Russian spies were identified and ejected from various countries across Europe after Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, but analysts warn that Russia has now “successfully relaunched its spy operations against the West,” Voice of America reported.

“The Europeans had a sense of security that the Russian spies are not there anymore…but the problem is they have not been. They are mightier than ever,” said Marina Miron, an analyst at King’s College London’s Department of War Studies.

Experts told The Economist that’s because the Kremlin’s intelligence agencies are “learning from their errors, adjusting their tradecraft and embarking on a new phase of political warfare against the West.”

Zelenskyy assassination plot underscores Russian threat to ‘entire free world’

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Sources:  
ABC News, Business Insider

“This case underscores the persistent threat Russia poses not only to Ukraine and Ukrainians but to the entire free world,” Ukrainian prosecutor general Andriy Kostin said of the plot to assassinate Zelenskyy that saw a Polish man arrested, as the “Kremlin’s criminal regime is constantly trying to undermine European and global security.”

As Business Insider put it: “Ukraine isn’t the only country Russia is trying to topple.” Experts say it’s one reason why the Kremlin is reestablishing its spy networks across Europe, Africa, and Central Asia. “Russia is using unconventional methods to expand its influence, evade containment, and destabilize and disrupt its adversaries — and is making progress in several directions,” a report by Britain’s Royal United Services Institute think tank warned.

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