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Russia dismisses report of spy base in French Alps as "disinformation"

Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov
Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, who were formally accused of attempting to murder former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, are seen on CCTV at Salisbury Station, March 3, 2018 in an image handed out by the Metropolitan Police in London, Britain, September 5, 2018. Reuters

Moscow — Russia dismissed on Wednesday a French newspaper report claiming its spies had operated from a base in the French Alps, saying it was a conspiracy theory aimed at smearing Moscow. Le Monde reported this month that 15 Russian spies had passed through Haute-Savoie region, close to the Swiss and Italian borders.

The paper said they were members of the 29155 unit of Russia's GRU military spy agency — the unit accused of carrying out operations including the attempted poisoning of defector Sergei Skripal in Britain.

"We are compelled with regret to note that the total lack of any proof did not serve as an obstacle for publishing openly Russo-phobic material," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

"We consider the article as disinformation aimed at supporting the myth of the Russian threat in the minds of the European public."

Le Monde had published a list of 15 Russian members of the unit, which it said added five more names to those already published by online investigative outlets such as Bellingcat and The Insider.

It said Western intelligence services began an investigation retrospectively after the attempted poisoning of Skripal in the English town of Salisbury in March 2018.

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Britain and its allies accuse the Kremlin of seeking to assassinate Skripal, a charge vehemently denied by Russia.

Those who stayed in the Haute-Savoie included Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov — the cover names of the two GRU agents accused of carrying out the attack on Skripal, Le Monde reported.

Western intelligence services have not so far found any material left behind by the agents during their stays in France, Le Monde said.

But their presence has been confirmed by where they ate, stayed and also shopped in Haute-Savoie, it said.

But the Russian foreign ministry said the timing of the report — coming on the eve of a December 9 summit in Paris between President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky — was "not accidental".

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Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attend their summit on Ukraine at the Elysee Palace on December 9, 2019 in Paris, France. Christophe Petit Tesson/Getty

"It had the clear aim of damaging the reputation of Russia and discrediting the policy taken by French President Emmanuel Macron to normalise relations with Moscow," it added.

The ministry said: "Russia does not have, and never had, any intention of carrying out destabilizing operations in Europe."

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