Dramatic arrest of Russian couple in Sweden shines light on Putin’s web of spies

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A dramatic arrest of a seemingly normal Russian couple living in a wealthy Swedish suburb could shine of light on Putin’s web of spies. Elite police abseiling from Black Hawk helicopters carried out a lightning-fast dawn raid on the Stockholm home of Sergey Skvortsov and Elena Koulkova earlier this week.

The 6am storming of the Russian couple’s villa on Tuesday in an affluent area on the island of Varmdo near the Swedish capital, left locals shocked.

To the outside world Skvortsov, 59, and Koulkova, 58, from Moscow, seemed “like everyone else”, one neighbour told the Times.

But underneath their outward “friendly manner” and apparent interest in “gardening” Swedish authorities suspect the couple led a double life as espionage agents working for the Kremlin.

Suspicions were high enough for the entire police operation to be timed to last under a minute to ensure the Russians did not have time to destroy evidence. 

Officers from an elite police unit entered the house through the windows to snare the couple before they could “flush anything in the toilet or destroy computers”, Stefan Hector, head of the national police authority said, reports The Times.

Skvortsov, who is in custody, is accused of carrying out “gross illegal espionage activities” over at least ten years. Koulkova, who was released on bail, is said to have assisted him. They have denied the charges.

Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet claimed Skvortsov, a succesful tech company boss, had links the GRU militarty intelligence unit and holds the rank of colonel. 

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The couple’s arrest on Tuesday is at a time of heightened Swedish-Russian tensions with the Nordic state hoping to join NATO by next year pending overturning objections from Turkey and Hungary.

In further spie-related developments on Friday two Iranian-born Swedish brothers began their trial charged with spying for Russia and its military intelligence service GRU for a decade.

Peyman Kia, 42, and Payam Kia, 35, appeared before the Stockholm District Court to face charges of having worked jointly to pass information to Russia between Sept. 28, 2011, and Sept. 20, 2021.

Between 2014 and 2015, Peyman Kia worked for Sweden’s domestic intelligence agency but also for the country’s armed forces. Swedish prosecutors allege that the data they gave the Russians originated from several authorities within the Swedish security and intelligence service, known by its acronym SAPO.

Swedish media reported that Peyman Kia worked for the armed forces’ foreign defense intelligence agency, known in Sweden by its acronym MUST, and worked with a top secret unit within the agency that dealt with Swedish spies abroad.

Intelligence expert Joakim von Braun told Swedish broadcaster SVT that even though many details remain unknown, it appeared to be one of most damaging cases of espionage in Sweden’s history because the men compiled a list of all the employees within SAPO.

He said: “That alone is a big problem because Russian intelligence focuses on human sources.”

“The material is the absolute most secret material available,” prosecutor Mats Ljungqvist told the court. “It is an unusual trial in that a similar case has not appeared in Sweden in over 20 years.”

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One of Sweden’s largest spy scandals took place during the Cold War when Stig Bergling, a Swedish security officer who worked for both SAPO and the armed forces, sold secrets to the Soviet Union.

He was sentenced in 1979 to life imprisonment on similar charges and later escaped while serving his time, returned voluntarily to Sweden in 1994. He died in his native country in January 2015.



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