A small unit of Russian spy-assassins has been operating in Europe since at least 2015. Their works stretch from Sofia to Salisbury, where ex-double agent Sergei Skripal was poisoned. One of his alleged “killers” was in a diplomatic post at the World Trade Organization, a media report reveals.
Russian diplomat wanted for attempted murder. Egor Gordienko, assigned for several years to the Russian delegation to the World Trade Organization in Geneva, is one of three Russians accused, at the end of January, by Bulgaria of having tried to assassinate a Bulgarian businessman in 2015. His true identity was revealed by a joint investigation by the investigative site Bellingcat, the Russian site The Insider and the Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger, published on Tuesday 25 February.
Targeted by an international search warrant, Egor Gordienko is even “the first Russian diplomat wanted for attempted murder by Interpol”, specifies The Insider. But this Bulgarian case is not an isolated case. The names of Egor Gordienko and that of other Russian agents will appear several times in the news section. It even appears to be linked to the poisoning attempt which survived the former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in the United Kingdom in March 2018. A scandal that had thrown a chill in diplomatic relations between London and Moscow.
From Sofia to Salisbury, the same men are in the driver’s seat, several media have noted, including the German magazine er Spiegel. Russian agents who all belong to “a small assassination unit under the control of the GRU [Russian military intelligence]” operating throughout Europe, says Bellingcat.
The assassination attempt against the boss of a Bulgarian arms factory, Emilian Gebrev, represents the oldest trace of the acts on European soil of these spy-assassins, found to date. The “mission” begins in February 2015, when Egor Gordienko, traveling under the false identity Georgy Gorshkov, travels to Sofia to test the ground and locate the target, according to the Bulgarian investigators, interviewed by The Insider. In April of the same year, a team of three members of this special GRU unit will take action. They will try to poison Emilian Gebrev by spraying the door of his car with poison. At least that’s what the video from a surveillance camera showing a gloved man activating near the victim’s car parked in a parking lot suggests.
Emilian Gebrev narrowly escapes death after being treated in an emergency in a military hospital in Sofia. Never mind, a month later, the same trio of murderers is once again trying to eliminate this entrepreneur, as confirmed by the telephone data and flight plans consulted by Bellingcat. But this time, Emilian Gebrev quickly recognizes the first signs of poisoning and can be treated without his days being really put in danger.
The fact remains that at the time, no doctor was able to identify the poison used and no one suspected an operation orchestrated by Russian spies. It was not until the Novichok poisoning attempt against Sergei Skripal in March 2018 that Emilian Gebrev noted the similarities between his misadventures and the Salisbury affair. He then obtained the reopening of his file by the Bulgarian police authorities in an attempt to unravel the mystery of his own poisoning.
In parallel to the official investigation, a series of articles devoted to his case in Der Spiegel or the British daily newspaper The Guardian confirms his fears. For example, the man filmed in the parking lot by the surveillance camera in April 2015 is identified, by the Bellingcat website, as being Denis Sergeev, a GRU officer, also suspected of having been the “third man ” of the team responsible for the assassination of Sergeï Skripal.
If the filiation between the two cases is confirmed, no one knows, however, what has earned Emilian Gebrev to be in the crosshairs of the Russian secret services. He did deliver weapons to Georgia during the 2008 conflict with Russia but told Bellingcat that it was only a small part of his business.
From Montenegro to Geneva
After the Bulgarian failure, this unit became interested in Montenegro. In 2016, two GRU officers are suspected of having attempted to organize a coup in this small Balkan country. The following year, the Montenegrin authorities indicted these two men, one of whom had also traveled to Bulgaria with Egor Gordienko at the time of the operation against the Bulgarian arms dealer.
New base for its murderers in lack of success: Switzerland. It is there that Egor Gordienko takes, this time under his real name, a post of a diplomat at the WTO in 2017. He does not appear officially on the Russian diplomatic lists, but the Swiss daily Tages Anzeiger found traces of the man who participated in a sports competition on behalf of the “Russian diplomatic mission” in Switzerland. The WTO also confirmed to The Insider that Egor Gordienko was working as the “third secretary” of the Russian delegation.
“We don’t know exactly what the purpose of his posting to the WTO was,” said Bellingcat. But during his stay in Geneva, all the fine team of these spy-assassins made passage by Switzerland, could note Bellingcat by studying the air movements of these men. Just over a month before the assassination attempt on Sergei Skripal, the two agents suspected of having transported the poison to the United Kingdom also made a Swiss stop. “This suggests that part of the Salisbury operation could have been organized from Geneva,” extrapolates Bellingcat.
Everything seems to stop for Egor Gordienko after the first media revelations on the identity of the suspects of the poisoning of the former Russian double agent in Salisbury. The diplomat flew, in fact, in October 2018 for Moscow and never returned to Geneva when his assignment lasted until 2020. Since this hasty departure, Egor Gordienko has disappeared from radar and “he could just as well be dead, ”concludes Bellingcat. The Bulgarian authorities, in any case, continue to search for him.