The Insider has obtained official correspondence between members of the 1st (“European”) Directorate of the GRU, the Russian military intelligence service. The e-mails contained files with screenshots of dozens of foreign passports belonging to scientists, professors from the world's biggest universities, and public and religious figures, all of whom traveled to Russia at the invitation of the Russian Peace Foundation, headed by MP Leonid Slutsky. The same foundation has previously helped the Kremlin establish contacts with radical European political movements, such as the “yellow vests” (“gilets jaunes”) in France and the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).
UNESCO, Europe and Israel
RPF's guests from Asia and Africa
In November 2018, U.S. citizens Teresa Kennedy and Elizabeth Burson and Canadian Michele Stanton-Jean travelled to Moscow for UNESCO’s 10th International Conference of NGOs, hosted by the Russian Peace Foundation (RPF). The RPF describes itself as a public organisation that carries out “peacemaking and humanitarian activities to help the socially vulnerable, war veterans, orphans and the disabled,” and works with the Russian Orthodox Church to aid “the spiritual revival of Russia.” According to its website, the RPF is a member of the Council of Europe and has “established consultative relations with UNESCO.”
The event, entitled Science as a Common Good for Humankind, was attended by 300 Russian and foreign scientists from over 50 countries, with welcoming speeches by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and UNESCO Deputy Director-General Xing Qiu. Leonid Slutsky, who is under U.S. and EU sanctions, also gave interviews on the sidelines of the forum, saying: “Given the unprecedented pressure of sanctions, truly golden minds of humanity have gathered here.”
Professor Teresa Kennedy was a speaker on a panel discussion on the role of women in science. She teaches at major U.S. universities, is a renowned expert in oceanography and meteorology, and has previously worked with NASA and the French Space Agency.
Elizabeth Berson at the 2018 conference in Moscow
Her compatriot Elizabeth Burson works as a coordinator in the American sector of UNESCO's youth NGOs. Her social media accounts include photos taken in Moscow. Her Canadian neighbour Michele Stanton-Jean teaches at the University of Montreal and chaired UNESCO’s International Bioethics Committee from 2002 to 2005. Her speech at the conference was titled The Social Responsibility of Science.
Copies of Teresa Kennedy's and Michele Stanton-Jean's passports, found in the possession of the GRU
The GRU's 1st Directorate, which was found to have screenshots of foreigners' documents, usually spies in the European Union, but never misses an opportunity to recruit a valuable agent worldwide. The strongest illegal GRU bases in Europe are located in Austria, Switzerland, France, Italy, Germany and the Czech Republic. In these countries, the agency recruits political and military leaders, intelligence agents, scientists, defence engineers, diplomats, and journalists. The GRU spies on literally everything, from military and political secrets to the latest civilian technologies — and it does so on a massive scale.
The GRU spies on literally everything, from military and political secrets to cutting-edge civilian technology
In February 2023, for instance, 52-year-old counterintelligence agent Carsten Linke was arrested in Germany. According to information leaked to the media, the officer was a double agent working for the GRU. Linke was responsible for cybersecurity and the surveillance of electronic communications in Germany’s foreign intelligence service (BND), and had access to employees’ personal files.
In March 2023, Italy sentenced navy captain Walter Biot to 30 years in prison for providing data on Italian and NATO telecommunications systems to an undercover GRU agent posing as a Russian embassy employee.
A year ago, 60-year-old Swedish citizen Sergei Skvortsov was arrested in Stockholm. He was accused of carrying out “gross illegal intelligence activities against Sweden and against a foreign power” — the United States — causing significant damage to both countries’ security by collecting “information of a military nature.” He was eventually acquitted by the Stockholm District Court.
As an informed source told The Insider, most of the military secrets stolen in the West go directly to closed scientific institutes of the Russian Ministry of Defence, such as the 18th Central Research Institute (Military Unit No. 11135) or the former 6th Central Research Institute, renamed the Centre for the Study of Military Potential of Foreign Countries (Military Unit No. 54726).
“They decide what to do with these drawings and memory sticks, and which companies of the military-industrial complex should receive them for study and application. The only problem is that they're lagging behind in many respects,” the source said.
UNESCO, Europe and Israel
In addition to the data of North American women, the GRU was found to possess dozens of passport copies of citizens of France, Belgium, India, Brazil, Israel, and several African countries, who came to Russia at the invitation of the RPF. Most are famous scientists, mathematicians, biologists, university professors and religious figures. They travel extensively, attending all sorts of scientific conferences that are of operational interest for GRU agents.
For example, Brazilian-born Fernanda Arraes Hertelendy, a frequent speaker at various international forums, was invited to Moscow. Hertelendy used to work at the U.S. State Department and now works at UNESCO headquarters in Paris.
A copy of Fernanda Arraes Hertelendy's passport, found in the possession of the GRU
Armin Ibrisimovic is a member of the secretariat of UNESCO's Nominations Committee and travels constantly between Europe and Africa.
Sergi Maicas Prieto is a Spanish professor at the University of Valencia. He specialises in molecular, cellular and genetic biology research. As well as Russia, the biologist has also visited Belarus, where he spoke at a scientific symposium in 2016.
Sergi Maicas Prieto
Dafna Lifshitz, head of the Israeli non-profit Appleseeds, also travels extensively. According to the media, Lifshitz's unique social adaptation programmes have “impacted Israeli society including women, ultra-orthodox Jews, youth-at-risk, new immigrants, and members of the Israeli Arab, Bedouin, and Druze communities.” She supervises 350 centers across Israel and 90 centers in Africa that offer technological-educational programs.
Italian Francesco Maurelli and Slovenian Martin Krajnc sent their details to Russia to apply for visas. Maurelli lives in Germany and specialises in intelligent systems, robotics and remote sensing. Dr Krajnc works in thrombosis treatment and had come to Kazan to attend a scientific conference.
Bulgaria was “represented” by two people — advertising specialist Gaurov Angel Atanasov and Diana Iskreva-Idigo. The latter began her political career in the Bulgarian National Movement (BND), then worked for UNESCO before being appointed director of the regional inspectorate for the environment and water resources in Stara Zagora. The official was sacked in July 2023, allegedly for supporting the Brikel thermal power plant, which is opposed by local residents and environmentalists.
As can be seen from the GRU's secret correspondence of the GRU, French nationals account for the majority of leaked documents from Slutsky's foundation. The passports of Andre Jaegle, honorary president of the World Federation of Scientific Workers, Marc Tollier, a consultant in the field of restructuring, strategy, development and transformation of international business, Bruno Gallois, founder of several leasing and travel companies, lawyer Marie-Helene Isern, Thierry Vegorek, deputy mayor of Paris, Jacques Lienhardt, professor at the Higher School of Social Sciences (Paris), and multiple others, are all present in the leak.
French nationals account for the majority of leaked documents from Slutsky's foundation
Oleg Kurbatov was among the French nationals who came to Moscow at the invitation of the RPF. He graduated from the Faculty of Mathematics, Economics and Mechanics at the I.I. Mechnikov National University in Odesa and then attended the University of Sophia Antipolis in Nice. Kurbatov is now a member of the leadership of the International Association of University Professors and Lecturers, and was a speaker at the UNESCO forum in November 2018, together with the aforementioned Canadian Stanton-Jean.
Former French president Jacques Chirac and Oleg Kurbatov (right)
Slutsky's first deputy, Elena Sutormina, is directly in charge of the foundation's cooperation with France. She has attended meetings of the Council of Europe and UNESCO and is a member of the board of the Association of Friends of France. In addition to compiling lists of foreign guests, her duties include operational liaison with the Russian security services, according to a source in the foundation.
Slutsky's deputy Elena Sutormina
Slutsky himself, however, has extensive contacts in French political, scientific and social circles. When multiple journalists accused him of sexual harassment, singer Mireille Mathieu came to his defense, saying: “I protest against this false campaign.”
Leonid Slutsky and French singer Mireille Mathieu
Before Russian invaded Ukraine, Slutsky arranged flights to Moscow for Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally party, and paid for tours to Crimea and Syria for politicians from other European countries promoting a pro-Kremlin agenda.
In 2006, France awarded Slutsky the Legion of Honour, citing “the development of cultural ties between Russian and France.” He has often said that France will always remain a loyal friend of Russia. Now that Paris is supplying arms to Ukraine, Slutsky's rhetoric has changed dramatically: he has accused France of “bloody massacres” in its former colonies. For some reason, however, he didn’t hand back his foreign award — just like his good friend, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
RPF's guests from Asia and Africa
The GRU's files also contain copies of the documents of prominent Africans who have come to Moscow. Christina Gamal, for example, works at Benha University in Cairo and, together with the Egyptian military, publishes scientific articles on operating UAVs and unmanned NOMA satellite systems.
Senegal's Ousseynou Gueye leads a major project in the international Digital Africa programme. Gabriel Bissanga is head of the Applied Mathematics Laboratory at Marien Ngouabi University (Congo). He has co-authored numerous scientific publications and collaborates with the University of Shanghai. Richard Francis Apeh, a Nigerian, is a member of the Council of Europe's pool of experts on youth cooperation, while Marie Ella Kouakou, from Côte d'Ivoire, currently works for UNICEF as a communications officer.
The GRU’s “Asian” files were found to contain copies of documents belonging to Karma Yangzom, an employee of the Asian Development Bank's Principal Environment Specialist, who lives in France, Catherine Kanthar Thiounn, a board member of the Association of Friends of Master Chin Kung at UNESCO (PAHD) of The World Fellowship of Buddhists (WFB), and Swami Sarvasthananda, a monk from the Ramakrishna Vedanta Centre in the UK.
According to the Bhagavad Gita Foundation’s website, the monk has “toured all over the glove extensively preaching the universal message of Ramakrishna-Vivekananda, Vedanta, India’s Cultural and Spiritual Heritage and on other topics.” In 2017, he was appointed as one of the three official monastic representatives of the Ramakrishna Mission at UNESCO events. Sarvasthananda is a citizen of India, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia, but spends most of his time in London.
London, incidentally, was mentioned in another of The Insider's espionage investigations, which also featured Leonid Slutsky. It turns out that his close friend Maria Khodynskaya-Golenishcheva, who was involved in the UN negotiations for a peaceful settlement in Syria, sent her GRU handler operational maps showing the location of combat units of opponents of the Assad regime. Khodynskaya-Golenishcheva received this information from the mailbox of the office of the Syrian Ismaili-Nizarite Mission in London, headed by Dr Shafiq Sachedina, who has visited Moscow several times. The targets shown on the maps have been hit by Russian aviation with missile and bomb strikes, causing numerous casualties.
It seems that Slutsky's work is highly valued in Russia’s military intelligence community: in September this year, the command of the GRU’s 24th Separate Special Forces Brigade presented him with a commemorative plaque reading: “Thank you for everything you do for our Motherland, for being a true patriot.”
Slutsky's commemorative plaque from a GRU spetsnaz unit reading “Thank you for everything you do for our Motherland, for being a true patriot.”
The 24th Brigade fought in Syria — without a single casualty. In Ukraine, however, the unit lost 76 people, including 9 officers, and about 200 of its fighters were wounded (data from April 2023).
The Insider contacted several of the conference participants via social media. At the time of publication none of them had replied. The Russian Peace Foundation ignored The Insider’s questions.