The Hague: A Russian agent wanted to spy on the court

Status: 06/17/2022 14:52

The Dutch secret service revealed a Russian agent who turned to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The man had apparently worked on a cover identity for years.

Silvia Stoeberová

Author: Silvia Stöber, tagesschau.de

A Russian military intelligence agent, the GRU, apparently tried to gain access to the International Criminal Court in The Hague (ICC). The court has been investigating Russia over alleged war crimes in Ukraine since March.

The Dutch secret service AIVD claims to have revealed a 36-year-old man who applied for a traineeship with a pseudo-identity as a Brazilian. According to the AIVD, if accepted, it could gather information, search for informants and gain access to ICC digital systems. He could also succeed in influencing criminal proceedings.

The criminal court is investigating alleged war crimes against Russia.

Image: AFP

Potential danger “very high”

The Secret Service classified the danger posed by the Secret Service agent as “potentially very high” and informed the Dutch Immigration Service in April. As a result, he was denied entry in April and, according to the AIVD, was sent back to Brazil the next flight.

Court spokeswoman Sonia Robla said the ICC was grateful to the Netherlands “for this important operation”. The Netherlands, as host of the court, played an important role in its protection. “The ICC takes these threats very seriously,” she added.

Careful camouflage

The Dutch secret service called the man “illegal”. These are agents who have undergone long and extensive training and extensively developed cover-up identities, which usually take years to create. As non-Russian citizens, they will have access to information that the Moscow leadership would not otherwise have access to.

According to the AIVD, he pretended to be a 33-year-old Brazilian citizen, Viktor Muller Ferreira, while his real name was Sergei Vladimirovich Cherkasov.

His resume, which is available online, shows that he earned a degree in political science from Trinity College Dublin from 2014 to 2018 and a master’s degree in foreign policy from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in 2020.

Eugene Finkel, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, remembered the student. He attended two courses and then asked him for a letter of recommendation. Finkel is known as a respected researcher of the Holocaust and Eastern Europe and has Russian roots himself. He tweeted about the former student’s revelation: “I used to have good reasons to hate the Russian security services. Now I’m exploding. I feel angry, I feel stupid, I feel naive, I feel tired. I was fooled.”

He never gets away with it, but he’s glad the man was exposed. Finkel commented on the atrocities in Ukraine and made arguments as to why they should be classified as genocide.

Finkel wrote that the man introduced himself as a Brazilian with Irish roots. He had a strange accent that, as a native Russian speaker, he could not recognize him as Russian. He seemed intelligent and capable in the classroom.

Tweet on GRU agent detection

Dutch intelligence has also published a documentary about Cherkasov’s life, which is believed to date from 2010, and which she called a cover story – a legend that agents use to disguise. According to this, Cherkasov came to Brazil in 2010 to “look for his father” and there he learned the Portuguese language again and regained his citizenship. The document contains many details about why he is not perceived as a typical Brazilian who has few friends. He was also “truly and sincerely in love” with his geography teacher at school.

Cherkasov also apparently created a legend on social networks. There is a Twitter account named Victor Muller F. assigned to him by the research organization Bellingcat. There, he posted a tweet about a text from Bellingcat to expose GRU agents of all things. In another tweet, he laughed at the fact that the Russian Ministry of Defense published screenshots of computer games, which were supposed to be proof of the cooperation between the USA and the terrorist group IS.

Tweet from an account named Victor Muller F. mocking the Russian Ministry of Defense.

The British “Guardian” wrote that Cherkasov’s Russian passport shows that he is registered in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. According to public data, he was registered in a newspaper at the age of 19 as a co-owner of a construction company in Kaliningrad.

Numerous activities of Russian agents in the EU

The activities of the Russian GRU Secret Service within the EU have often been the subject of investigation and detection. As early as 2018, the Dutch military intelligence service stated that it had thwarted a GRU hacker attack on the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague. He revealed the identity of four Russian agents who flew to Amsterdam from Moscow on April 10, 2018, and were escorted to Amsterdam Airport three days later and expelled from the ground after a cyber attack was thwarted. They also reportedly planned cyber attacks on the OPCW in Switzerland.

Bellingcat and a team from Russia’s The Insider investigative platform found that the assassination attempt on Sergei Skripal and his daughter was allegedly carried out by GRU agents. The British police are looking for her with an arrest warrant.

In April 2021, referring to “clear evidence”, the Czech government stated that there was a “reasonable suspicion” that GRU agents had been involved in an explosion at an ammunition dump in 2014 in Vrbetice. The government in Prague therefore expelled 18 Russians. The government said the GRU was linked to other activities, including destabilization attempts in Moldova and a coup attempt in Montenegro.

Russia’s domestic secret service, the FSB, appears to be using such travel agents to travel to various countries – according to the Tiergarten murder trial, in which a Russian was accused of murdering a Chechen-born Georgian in Berlin’s Kleiner Tiergarten. to life imprisonment. According to the court, the order to do so came from Russian state structures, from where he also received support for finding out his false identity with a fake passport.

Erik Akerboom, director general of Dutch intelligence, said: “It clearly shows us what the Russians want, that is, to try to gain access to information illegally within the ICC. We classify this as a high-level threat.”

“Serious threat to national security”

Agents who, over the years, have established themselves as “illegal” and are working undercover, are far more difficult to track down. It is a specialty of the Russian foreign intelligence service SWR. But it also worked in Germany: in 2010, a couple who had worked in Germany since the late 1980s were unmasked under the nicknames Andreas and Heidrun Stop. They were sentenced to several prison terms and deported to Russia.

According to the Netherlands, the “illegal” Cherkasov is to be tried in Brazil. According to the “Guardian”, the authorities in the South American country have not yet commented on this.

Dutch intelligence emphasizes that “illegals” pose an extremely serious threat to national security, Allied security, and in this particular case, the security and integrity of the ICC. Ukraine could be even more aggressive and ruthless in its foreign operations.

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