February 15, 2024

Putin's Agents in Sheep's Clothing


Putin's Agents in Sheep's Clothing
Training of a special force GRU unit.  Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation, Wikimedia Commons

Journalists from the independent investigative outlet The Insider have exposed covert operatives from the GRU (Russia's military intelligence agency) infiltrating Russian activist, human rights, and professional groups. They operate under the guise of human rights activists and filmmakers, seeking access to various international organizations.

In particular, The Insider's investigation discusses Ivan Zhigarev, a member of a highly secret unit of saboteurs from the 29155 GRU unit. This unit, among other activities, has been linked to the poisoning of the Russian former spy Sergei Skripal and the orchestration of explosions in the EU. Known to Russian human rights activists as Ivan Zhikharev, Zhigarev posed as an activist who dedicated his free time to human rights work. At the Moscow Open School of Human Rights, he is remembered as one of the most active volunteers, consistently participating in Forum Svobodnoy Rossii (Free Russia Forum) events, contributing to the working group on sanctions, and advocating for environmental protection and blood donation.

Zhigarev also participated in campaigns supporting imprisoned human rights defenders, attended international human rights forums, and was a member of the chat group for the working group on sanctions against Russia.

Another GRU spy-saboteur, Maxim Rodionov, posed as a "documentary director" for several years. He was a member of the Non-Fiction Film Guild and co-founder of the Tomiris video production studio. According to Insider journalists, the studio served as a cover for organizing events involving international delegations, such as round tables with DPRK representatives, conferences on nuclear nonproliferation in Kazakhstan, and discussions on Russian-Chinese cooperation.

Assuming false identities is not new for Russian special services and law enforcement agencies. For instance, journalists from Mozhem Obyasnit uncovered Alexander Pelevin, who, under the guise of a correspondent for independent media, monitored opposition activists, wrote denunciations, threatened journalists, and had connections with Center E, a unit of the Ministry of Internal Affairs aiming to combat extremism.

In a notable case in 2018, provocateurs working for the FSB infiltrated an opposition chat. Through their actions, they fabricated a criminal case about the creation of an "extremist community," with the alleged goal of violently overthrowing the government and the constitutional system of Russia.

You Might Also Like

Bashkiris Protest
  • January 23, 2024

Bashkiris Protest

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of the Republic of Bashkortostan to support a convicted activist.
Under the All-Seeing Eye
  • January 21, 2024

Under the All-Seeing Eye

The extent of Russia's surveillance may surprise you — and it's only getting more invasive.
Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

A book that dares to explore the humanity of priests and pilgrims, saints and sinners, Faith & Humor has been both a runaway bestseller in Russia and the focus of heated controversy – as often happens when a thoughtful writer takes on sacred cows. The stories, aphorisms, anecdotes, dialogues and adventures in this volume comprise an encyclopedia of modern Russian Orthodoxy, and thereby of Russian life.
Driving Down Russia's Spine

Driving Down Russia's Spine

The story of the epic Spine of Russia trip, intertwining fascinating subject profiles with digressions into historical and cultural themes relevant to understanding modern Russia. 
The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas

The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas

This exciting new trilogy by a Russian author – who has been compared to Orhan Pamuk and Umberto Eco – vividly recreates a lost world, yet its passions and characters are entirely relevant to the present day. Full of mystery, memorable characters, and non-stop adventure, The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas is a must read for lovers of historical fiction and international thrillers.  
Murder and the Muse

Murder and the Muse

KGB Chief Andropov has tapped Matyushkin to solve a brazen jewel heist from Picasso’s wife at the posh Metropole Hotel. But when the case bleeds over into murder, machinations, and international intrigue, not everyone is eager to see where the clues might lead.
Murder at the Dacha

Murder at the Dacha

Senior Lieutenant Pavel Matyushkin has a problem. Several, actually. Not the least of them is the fact that a powerful Soviet boss has been murdered, and Matyushkin's surly commander has given him an unreasonably short time frame to close the case.
Woe From Wit (bilingual)

Woe From Wit (bilingual)

One of the most famous works of Russian literature, the four-act comedy in verse Woe from Wit skewers staid, nineteenth century Russian society, and it positively teems with “winged phrases” that are essential colloquialisms for students of Russian and Russian culture.
Marooned in Moscow

Marooned in Moscow

This gripping autobiography plays out against the backdrop of Russia's bloody Civil War, and was one of the first Western eyewitness accounts of life in post-revolutionary Russia. Marooned in Moscow provides a fascinating account of one woman's entry into war-torn Russia in early 1920, first-person impressions of many in the top Soviet leadership, and accounts of the author's increasingly dangerous work as a journalist and spy, to say nothing of her work on behalf of prisoners, her two arrests, and her eventual ten-month-long imprisonment, including in the infamous Lubyanka prison. It is a veritable encyclopedia of life in Russia in the early 1920s.
Life Stories: Original Fiction By Russian Authors

Life Stories: Original Fiction By Russian Authors

The Life Stories collection is a nice introduction to contemporary Russian fiction: many of the 19 authors featured here have won major Russian literary prizes and/or become bestsellers. These are life-affirming stories of love, family, hope, rebirth, mystery and imagination, masterfully translated by some of the best Russian-English translators working today. The selections reassert the power of Russian literature to affect readers of all cultures in profound and lasting ways. Best of all, 100% of the profits from the sale of this book are going to benefit Russian hospice—not-for-profit care for fellow human beings who are nearing the end of their own life stories.
93 Untranslatable Russian Words

93 Untranslatable Russian Words

Every language has concepts, ideas, words and idioms that are nearly impossible to translate into another language. This book looks at nearly 100 such Russian words and offers paths to their understanding and translation by way of examples from literature and everyday life. Difficult to translate words and concepts are introduced with dictionary definitions, then elucidated with citations from literature, speech and prose, helping the student of Russian comprehend the word/concept in context.
Bears in the Caviar

Bears in the Caviar

Bears in the Caviar is a hilarious and insightful memoir by a diplomat who was “present at the creation” of US-Soviet relations. Charles Thayer headed off to Russia in 1933, calculating that if he could just learn Russian and be on the spot when the US and USSR established relations, he could make himself indispensable and start a career in the foreign service. Remarkably, he pulled it of.
A Taste of Chekhov

A Taste of Chekhov

This compact volume is an introduction to the works of Chekhov the master storyteller, via nine stories spanning the last twenty years of his life.

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
73 Main Street, Suite 402
Montpelier VT 05602

802-223-4955