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Germany arrests 2 alleged Russian spies accused of scouting U.S. military facilities for sabotage

Blinken urges Ukraine support in Italy
Blinken urges Ukraine support at G7 Italy meeting 03:17

Berlin — German authorities say they have arrested two people suspected of spying for Russia. The suspects, identified as German-Russian nationals, are accused of scouting targets for potential attacks, including U.S. military facilities in Germany, the Federal Public Prosecutor General for Karlsruhe said in a statement released Thursday.

The arrests, made by police in the Bavarian town of Bayreuth, come amid high tension between Russia and the West, more than two years after President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine

The alleged spies' stand accused by Germany of working to undermine the military support provided to Ukraine by Germany.

The individuals — identified by the German prosecutor as Dieter S. and Alexander J. — allegedly have ties to a Russian intelligence service and are accused of gathering information about potential targets for sabotage operations. 

Dieter S. is accused of being in contact with a person connected to a Russian secret service since October 2023, discussing plans for attacks on military infrastructure and industrial sites in Germany. He reportedly scouted out some of the targeted sites in person, gathering photos and videos. 

The detainees also scoped out potential targets for attacks, including facilities of the U.S. Army in Germany, the prosecutor said.

A 2022 file image shows U.S. and German flags in front of an armored fighting vehicle at the Grafenwoehr military training area in Bavaria, Germany, where U.S. troops have been training Ukrainian forces to use American weapons. Reuters

Dieter S. allegedly expressed readiness to carry out explosive and arson attacks on military and industrial sites in Germany. The preparation involved gathering information on potential targets, with Alexander J. assisting since March 2024, and sharing the information with his Russian contact.

Both suspects' homes and workplaces were searched. An additional arrest warrant was issued for Dieter S. on suspicion of affiliation with the foreign terrorist organization DPR — the Russian-backed de-facto authority in the occupied eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk, which calls itself the Donetsk People's Republic.

According to an investigation by German magazine Der Spiegel, the two suspects were spying on military sites that included U.S. military facilities in Grafenwoehr, Bavaria. Grabfenwoehr is an important training site, where U.S. forces have been helping to train Ukrainian soldiers to use U.S.-made Abrams tanks.

Germany summoned the Russian ambassador in Berlin to the Federal Foreign Office in response to the incident Thursday, a move the Russian Embassy called a provocation, as it dismissed the spying allegations as "absurd and ridiculous."  

"We consider this demarche as an outright provocation aimed at inciting the already rampant spy mania in Germany, increasing the degree of anti-Russian sentiment, further destroying Russian-German relations, justifying the course of the German authorities towards unbridled militarization and pumping Ukraine up with weapons and military equipment," the Russian embassy said in a statement shared on social media. "No evidence was presented indicating these plans of the detainees and their possible connections with representatives of Russian structures."

Suspected agents with links to Russia arrested
Nancy Faeser, Germany's Federal Minister of the Interior, gives a statement in Saarbraken about two suspected agents with links to Russia who have been arrested in Bavaria, April 18, 2024. Harald Tittel/picture alliance/Getty

The arrests fueled concern about the extent of Russian espionage activities in Germany. German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser condemned the suspected espionage as a "particularly serious case" and emphasized Germany's commitment to supporting Ukraine, despite intimidation attempts.

Politicians have called for a decisive response to the threat posed by Russian agents operating in Germany. Konstantin von Notz, the Green Party deputy leader and head of the intelligence control committee in the Bundestag, Germany's parliament, said a reaction would be necessary if the allegations are proven true.

The arrests in Bavaria echoed incidents in Poland in March 2023, where authorities said they had dismantled a Russian spy network that was aiming to sabotage Western arms deliveries to Ukraine.

Among the suspects were individuals with criminal backgrounds and refugees from eastern Ukraine. Polish officials said the Russian military intelligence service GRU had encouraged the individuals to install cameras along railway lines used to carry weapons and other supplies to Ukraine. Another plan appeared to involve acts of sabotage, including the derailment of trains by Russian agents.

Since the beginning of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the Bundeswehr has received regular reports of suspicious drone activity over barracks where Ukrainian soldiers undergo training in the country, and the number of these incidents has risen sharply. 

There were 172 reports of suspected drones flying around barracks during the whole of 2022, military officials said. In 2023, there were 446 reported sightings.

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