The dramatic arrest of a seemingly normal Russian couple living in a wealthy Swedish suburb could shed light on Putin’s spy ring. Elite police rappelling 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 6 a.m. storming of the Russian couple’s villa on Tuesday in an affluent neighborhood on the island of Varmdo, near the Swedish capital, shocked residents.
To the outside world, Skvortsov, 59, and Koulkova, 58, from Moscow seemed “like everyone else”, a neighbor told The Times.
But beneath their outward “friendly demeanor” and apparent interest in “gardening”, Swedish authorities suspect the couple are leading a double life as spy agents working for the Kremlin.
The suspicions were high enough that the entire police operation lasted less than a minute to ensure the Russians had no time to destroy the evidence.
Officers from an elite police unit entered the house through the windows to trap the couple before they could ‘flush anything down the toilet or destroy computers’, chief Stefan Hector said. of the national police, reports the Times.
Skvortsov, who is in police custody, is accused of carrying out “gross illegal espionage activities” for at least ten years. Koulkova, who was released on bail, allegedly helped him. They denied the charges.
Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet claimed Skvortsov, a successful tech entrepreneur, had ties to the GRU’s military intelligence unit and held the rank of colonel.
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The couple’s arrest on Tuesday comes at a time of heightened Swedish-Russian tensions with the Nordic state which hopes to join NATO next year pending the overturning of objections from Turkey and Hungary.
In other espionage-related developments, on Friday, two Swedish brothers of Iranian descent began their trial for spying for Russia and its decade-long GRU military intelligence service.
Peyman Kia, 42, and Payam Kia, 35, appeared in Stockholm District Court to face charges of working jointly to pass information to Russia between September 28, 2011 and September 20, 2021 .
Between 2014 and 2015, Peyman Kia worked for the Swedish internal intelligence agency but also for the country’s armed forces. Swedish prosecutors allege that the data they provided to the Russians came from multiple authorities within Sweden’s 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 TV channel SVT that although many details remain unknown, it appears to be one of the most damaging espionage cases in Swedish history because the men compiled a list of all SAPO employees.
He said: “That alone is a big problem because Russian intelligence is focused on human sources.”
“The material is the most secret material available,” prosecutor Mats Ljungqvist told the court. “This is an unusual trial in that a similar case has not arisen in Sweden for over 20 years.”
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One of Sweden’s biggest spy scandals took place during the Cold War when Stig Bergling, a Swedish security guard 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 sentence, voluntarily returned to Sweden in 1994. He died in his native country in January 2015.