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Intelligence And Counterintelligence News Review

GRU operation in Romania points to crisis in Russia’s Intel community


Russian intelligence in Europe is going through a deep crisis after the mass expulsion of their operatives who had been working under diplomatic cover (750 people).  Less frequent contacts with the assets lead to a lower efficiency of ongoing operations, the exposure of Russian agents, and the ultimate decamougldlaging of active influence efforts. Recently, the Russians have been lacking creativity, while their stunts are becoming more and more simplistic, being initiated by the HQ in Moscow rather than by the “rezidenturas” on the ground.

The analysis proves that most of the influence operations in Europe are currently run by Russia’s military intelligence, not by the SVR foreign intelligence service, whose presence has shrunk, likely due to the deterioration of the political weight of the latter’s chief, Mr Naryshkin.

At the same time, his latest public statements indicate that he is personally involved in the implementation of some influence operations, which suggests shortage of operational resources.

The latest operation by Russia’s military intelligence involves Romanian Senator Diana Iovanovici Șoșoacă, who tabled a bill on the annexation of part of the territory of Ukraine – Northern Bukovina, part of the Chernivtsi region, Bessarabia, and Snake Island.  She proposes calling off the 1997 Treaty on good neighborly relations and returning “historical lands” to Romania.

However, the mention of claims to the historical Maramures may indirectly suggest that the initiative was shaped up in Moscow, since it is Hungary who has claims to Mures as an integral part of the Szekely Land.

That the rhetoric by Soșoacă is Kremlin-inspired is on the surface, while the operation is laced with multiple inconsistencies, which is a consequence of the SVR functions being entrusted to military intelligence. Since 2014, the latter has been operating in Europe way too primitively, failing to properly conceal own involvement.

According to our assessment, the operation involving Șoșoacă is a mere copy of the media spin that the SVR chief launched regarding Poland’s alleged plans to annex part of Western Ukraine.

It is likely that the effort to employ Senator Șoșoacă is part of a multifaceted operation, the next step of which should be the justification of Russian aggression against Ukraine. Thus, according to Șoșoacă, her bill is based on the “natural and legitimate right to national unity”.  This thesis repeats the Kremlin’s narratives about the grounds for and legitimacy of claims to the territory of Ukraine.  However, the Șoșoacă initiative paves the way for Hungary’s territorial claims to the Székely Land, which Hungary sees as part of its cultural space.

Previously, Șoșoacă was repeatedly spotted taking part in disinfo psyops run by Russia’s military intelligence.  Thus, she claimed that President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine had asked NATO to get directly involved in the war, capitalizing on Moscow’s false statements about its readiness to attack neighbors in the West.

Șoșoacă was accused in Romania of links with the Sputnik platform, which is affiliated with Russian military intelligence and used to conduct undercover operations and meddling stunts in the countries of its correspondents’ residence.  This platform called her “politician of the year in Romania in 2021,” which may indicate the Kremlin’s interest in the senator’s political career.  In March 2022, Șoșoacă, along with three MPs, met with the Russian ambassador in Bucharest, discussing Romania’s position on the Russian invasion. There was no consent for the meeting on the part of the Romanian Parliament leadership.  One of the deputies, Dumitru Coarnă, was later expelled from the PSD party.

Șoșoacă is also known for her statements about the need for Romania to pull from the EU and the ban on the deployment of NATO forces in the country, as well as her fight against COVID-19 restrictions, as a result of which she has become one of the key figures of the anti-vaxx movement in Romania.  This fact further confirms Șoșoacă’s connection with the Russian military intelligence, which carried out the main work to discredit Western vaccines and government policies to contain the epidemic.

It is likely that Șoșoacă came to the attention of Russian intelligence as a former member of the far-right neo-Nazi anti-Semitic pro-Russian Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR) party, from which she was expelled over disagreeing with its strategy.  However, in further statements, Șoșoacă never contradicted positions expressed by the AUR so her withdrawal was likely the result of internal party contradictions and her search for a new career path.  Thus, it is likely that the Russians supported her during this period.