Russian agents suspected of running far-right group that mailed bombs in Spain
U.S. officials say the operation could be a signal to Russia that the country and its proxies could carry out more terrorist attacks in Europe if countries continue to support Ukraine.
WASHINGTON – U.S. and European officials believe that Russian military intelligence officers directed members of a white supremacist group based in Russia to conduct a recent letter-writing campaign in Spain, with the prime minister, defense minister and foreign diplomats as the most important targets, according to U.S. officials.
Spanish and foreign investigators are looking into who sent the six letter bombs in late November and early December in Madrid, including the official residence of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, which also serves as his office, the American and Ukrainian embassies, and the Defense Ministry. No one was killed in the attacks, which the U.S. government considers terrorist. An employee of the Ukrainian embassy was injured when one of the packages exploded.
Investigators in recent weeks have focused on the Russian Imperial Movement, a radical group with members and supporters across Europe and military-style training centers in St. Petersburg, officials said. They added that the group, which has been designated a global terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department, likely has ties to Russian intelligence services. Important members of the group were in Spain, and police there traced its ties to far-right Spanish organizations.
U.S. officials claim that the Russian officers who ran the campaign intended to catch European governments off guard and may have been testing out front groups in case Moscow decided to escalate the conflict.
The apparent goal of the action was to show that Russia and its proxies could carry out terrorist attacks across Europe, including in the capitals of North Atlantic Treaty Organization member states that are helping to defend Ukraine from Russian invasion, said U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation. Spain is a member of the alliance and provides Ukraine with military and humanitarian aid, as well as diplomatic support.
WASHINGTON – U.S. and European officials believe that Russian military intelligence officers directed associates of a Russian-based white supremacist group to conduct a recent letter-writing campaign in Spain, with the most prominent targets being the prime minister, defense minister and foreign diplomats, according to U.S. officials.
Spanish and foreign investigators are looking into who sent six bomb letters in late November and early December in Madrid, including to the official residence of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.
Russian intelligence agents have attracted more attention from counterintelligence officials and police departments in recent years as they have carried out increasingly bold operations, particularly in Europe.
In 2018, they tried to kill Sergei V. Skripal, a former G.R.U. officer recruited by Britain as a spy, by poisoning him and his daughter at their residence in England; those two barely survived, but a British woman died. Russian agents have also carried out bombings and assassination attempts in the Czech Republic and Bulgaria, and tried to pull off a coup in Montenegro, according to European intelligence officials.
The same elite group active in Europe, Unit 29155, has operated in Afghanistan and offered bounties to reward Taliban-linked militants for killing American and coalition troops, according to a U.S. intelligence assessment first reported by The New York Times. American officials said in 2021 that they had no evidence showing the Kremlin had ordered the covert action.