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German police arrest 2 suspected of spying for Russia

April 18, 2024

German police have arrested two men on suspicion of spying for Russia. The German-Russian nationals have been accused of acting as agents for sabotage purposes.

Police in Bavaria, seen from the back
Police made the arrests on Wednesday and searched the suspects' homes and workplacesImage: Bjoern Trotzki/IMAGO

German prosecutors on Thursday said police in the Bavarian city of Bayreuth had arrested two men on suspicion of spying for Russia.

The two have been accused, among other things, of acting as agents for sabotage purposes and of preparing explosives, the German Federal Prosecutor's Office announced in Karlsruhe.

Germany also summoned Russia's ambassador in Berlin after the arrests were announced. 

"We will not allow Putin to bring his terror to Germany," Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock wrote on the social media platform X, formerly Twitter.

What are the allegations?

Federal police arrested Dieter S. and Alexander J. and, along with Bavarian state police, searched the defendants' homes and workplaces.

The men were said to have scouted out potential attack targets, including US military bases in Germany.

S., who prosecutors have said was in contact with a Russian secret service agent, is also charged with conspiring to cause an explosion and arson.

The accused is said to have been exchanging ideas with the agent since October 2023 about possible sabotage action.

The actions were intended, in particular, to undermine the military support provided by Germany and its allies to Ukraine.

Germany: 2 suspected Russian spies arrested in Bavaria

S. allegedly told the Russian operative that he was prepared to carry out attacks on infrastructure used by the military as well as industrial sites in Germany.

According to Der Spiegel newsmagazine, the facilities included the Grafenwöhr army base in Bavaria, where Ukrainian soldiers are trained in how to use US Abrams tanks.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the arrests underscored that countering the threat of Russian espionage must remain a high priority. "We can never accept that such espionage activities take place in Germany," he said.

Moscow said German officials had not provided evidence to support allegations the two men were Russian spies.

"No evidence was presented to prove the detainees' plans or their possible connection to representatives of Russian structures," the Russian Embassy in Berlin said in a post on X.

How far had the plot gone?

S. had collected information about potential attack targets. He had scouted out some of the targeted objects, taking photos and videos of, for example, military transports and goods.

He is then said to have passed the collected information to his handler. Suspect J. is accused of helping him from March 2024 at the latest.

He is also accused of membership of a foreign terrorist organization based on a "strong suspicion" that he was a fighter for an armed unit of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) in eastern Ukraine between December 2014 and September 2016.

The pro-Russian DPR claimed control over the Ukrainian administrative district of Donetsk in 2014, with the aim of secession from Ukraine, and started to engage in intensive clashes with the Ukrainian armed forces. The DPR is known to have repeatedly used violence against the civilian population.

Authorities have said Germany, which has become one of Kyiv's biggest suppliers of military aid, is a key target for Russian spying operations.

"Our security authorities have prevented possible explosive attacks that were intended to target and undermine our military assistance to Ukraine," Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said in response to the arrests.

"It is a particularly serious case of alleged spy activity for [President Vladimir] Putin's criminal regime," she added. "We will continue to provide Ukraine with massive support and will not allow ourselves to be intimidated." 

News of the arrests came as Germany's Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck made a surprise visit to Kyiv.

German Justice Minister Marco Buschmann hailed an "investigative success in the fight against Putin's sabotage and espionage network."

"We know that the Russian power apparatus is also targeting our country," he tweeted. "We must respond to this threat defensively and decisively."

How serious is this for Germany?

Oleksandr Danylyuk, an expert in Russian hybrid warfare, told DW it was unlikely any of the information that was shared could be significantly dangerous in the Kremlin's hands.

"The information itself is not a big deal but, at the same time, what is already reported is that people were involved also in the preparation of some sabotage activities on the territory of Germany," he said.

The concern for German national security, Danylyuk said, that both of the suspects are German citizens. Although they were born in Russia, they moved to Germany many years ago.

"It means that actually Russians have a huge network of people who live in Germany and have even legal grounds to live there — have citizenship and who can be used for any kind of activities."

Danylyuk said it was particularly disturbing that at least one of the two suspects had previously participated in Russian aggression against Ukraine, in Donetsk.

"This is disturbing," said Danylyuk, adding that an overhaul was needed to "how proactively law enforcement agencies as well as the intelligence community should be looking for people like like them."

rc/wd (AFP, dpa)

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