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Research and espionage: An institute staffed by Russian intelligence officers is recruiting students and scientists abroad

Following a series of high-profile failures and mass expulsions of uniformed “diplomats,” Russian intelligence has turned to more subtle methods, including leveraging scientific organizations with international ties. One such espionage “front” is the National Research Institute for the Development of Communications (NIIRK), which is led by ex-SVR and FSB officers. In Europe and neighboring countries, the institute organizes numerous conferences and internships. Here, intelligence officers and pro-Kremlin propagandists, under the pretense of promoting good neighborly relations, spread the notion that the West is an enemy, and that prosperity lies in friendship with Russia. The main targets are promising students and young scientists, who are ultimately groomed for espionage activities.

  • Friends of the Kremlin

  • Patrushev's man in Transcaucasia

  • Spies as supervisors

  • Propagandists and publishers


On June 19, 2023, Moscow’s usually quiet Korobeinikov Lane was unexpectedly closed off. Athletic-looking men with radios were bustling around its perimeter. Soon, an honor guard and official cars with flashing lights appeared. People carrying carnations gathered in front of the building that houses the National Research Institute for the Development of Communications (NIIRK). The last to arrive for the festivities was SVR head Sergey Naryshkin, who presided over the installation of a memorial plaque for former SVR director Vyacheslav Trubnikov. Speeches followed: “Vyacheslav Ivanovich worked here for two years,” “an outstanding intelligence officer and diplomat,” “a legend of intelligence,” “a knight of the Cold War,” and so on.

NIIRK Director Vladislav Gasumyanov at the unveiling of the memorial plaque for Trubnikov
NIIRK Director Vladislav Gasumyanov at the unveiling of the memorial plaque for Trubnikov

Before the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the house was home to actors Alexander Lensky and Alexander Yuzhin-Sumbatov of the Maly Theatre. Later, it was occupied by the NKVD, MGB, and KGB; the mansion hosted clandestine meetings with agents. After 1993, several businesses were based there, but over time, the place fell into disrepair, and homeless people took over the vacant premises. In April 2020, the restored mansion became the new home of NIIRK. Cars belonging to the embassies of Central Asian and Transcaucasian republics began appearing outside.

What kind of institute is this? According to its website, NIIRK’s primary mission is “the development of multilateral dialogue among peoples, cultures, religions, states, international scientific and educational organizations, and civil society to strengthen peace and harmony.” The institute’s expert research and analysis are utilized by the Presidential Administration's Office for Interregional and Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, foreign aid and cultural exchange agency Rossotrudnichestvo, the FSB's 5th Service, and the SVR.

The institute’s first official director was Irina Zavesnitskaya, co-founder of the PoiskSidelki LLC. A year later, she was succeeded by her husband, former FSB general and overseer of the Transcaucasian region, Vladislav Gasumyanov.

Friends of the Kremlin

As per The Insider's findings, over the past eighteen months, NIIRK has organized a total of twelve off-site conferences, forums, and roundtable discussions across various countries including Armenia, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Transnistria, Tajikistan, and Slovakia. Moreover, NIIRK has welcomed several delegations from these nations to Moscow for internships, with plans to host approximately ten more this year.

The institute primarily targets young scientists — aged 20 to 40 employed in research or academia. As one Armenian student shared with The Insider, “Throughout the internship, we were constantly reminded that without Russia, we would be doomed to become slaves to the West. Once, they casually asked me if I had relatives in Europe. Upon hearing my negative response, they lost interest in me.”

Key speakers at these conferences include General Gasumyanov, former SVR Academy head Nikolay Gribin, and former Slovak Prime Minister Jan Černogurský, who chairs the “Friends of Crimea” association. Černogurský frequently appears on Russian propaganda TV shows, where he advocates a pro-Kremlin agenda for his country of citizenship while predicting the imminent collapse of the dollar and the subsequent disintegration in the United States.

Jan Černogurský (left)
Jan Černogurský (left)

The building on Korobeinikov Lane is a frequent host to presidents from the Russian-occupied Georgian “republics” of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, along with representatives from Moldova’s Russian-occupied Transnistria region. Last year, a delegation from Vietnam even paid a visit.

The institute’s leadership also makes the rounds, with Gasumyanov visiting Serbia to hold negotiations with leaders of the For Peace and Justice in Afghanistan movement (DMSA). Spearheaded by former Afghan intelligence chief Masum Stanikzai, DMSA was established by senior officials from the previous administration who fled from the Taliban regime. It appears that the Kremlin is playing a double game: on one hand, it welcomes the Taliban to Moscow, while on the other hand, it engages with their sworn enemies.

Among other partners, NIIRK is known to have connections with the Awami Party from Pakistan. Since its founding in 1986, the group has been aligned with Moscow and was the only political force in Pakistan to support the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which lasted from 1979-1989. A source from Russia’s Veterans of Foreign Intelligence Association, who requested anonymity, informed The Insider that General Trubnikov — the figure honored by the memorial plaque on the NIIRK building — was well acquainted with the leadership of Awami during his tenure at the KGB residency in Islamabad.

In February 2024, NIIRK organized a conference titled “United Kingdom - EU - Russia - Middle East: Challenges and Perspectives.” Notably, the discussions took place not in Moscow, but in Bratislava, Slovakia. Among the speakers were Slovak Parliament Vice-Speaker Luboš Blaha, who accused the United States and NATO of provoking the conflict in Ukraine.

Another notable participant was former general Gustav Gustenau, who worked in the Directorate for Security Policy at the Austrian Defense Ministry, who in 2019 was dismissed due to serious suspicions of connections with Jan Marsalek, the fugitive COO of the payment company Wirecard. In 2020, Marsalek fled to Russia. The Insider recently published yet another article in a series of investigations concerning Marsalek’s ties to Russian intelligence.

Ex-General Gustav Gustenau
Ex-General Gustav Gustenau

Patrushev's man in Transcaucasia

NIIRK head Gasumyanov has long been referred to as “Patrushev's man” (a reference to longtime Security Council head Nikolai Patrushev, who was recently demoted to the role of “presidential aide”). Gasumyanov himself has had quite the career. In 1982, he worked as a Komsomol district committee instructor in Kyiv, and through the Komsomol recruitment, he was directed to the Higher Courses of the KGB of the USSR. The young intelligence officer was then dispatched to the KGB Office in Ivano-Frankivsk, in western Ukraine, where he was tasked with combating manifestations of nationalism. In 1988, he was transferred to Nagorno-Karabakh, where the first clashes between the local Armenian and Azerbaijani communities had already begun. He rose to the position of deputy head of the KGB Directorate in the region, but when combat operations there escalated, all Lubyanka officers were relieved of their duties and dispersed to various other directorates.

After a period of unknown activities, in 2000 Gasumyanov found himself in the FSB Office in the city of Sochi. Two years later, he moved to the position of State Secretary of the State Reserve, which at the time was led by Alexander Grigoryev — a friend of Putin’s from their youth and a colleague of the future president in the Leningrad KGB. In the 1980s, as part of his official duties as a lieutenant colonel, Grigoryev had worn the cassock of an Orthodox priest and, under the operational guise of “Father Alexander,” directly supervised the Estonian-born Alexey Rigidier, who from 1990-2008 became better known as Alexey II, Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus’.

Through Grigoryev, in the 2000s Gasumyanov got acquainted with Putin's circle, becoming particularly close to then-FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev.

Gasumyanov (center), Nikolai Patrushev (right), Sergei Ivanov (left)
Gasumyanov (center), Nikolai Patrushev (right), Sergei Ivanov (left)

After the war with Georgia in 2008, the Kremlin decided to strengthen its influence in Transcaucasia. Trusted intelligence personnel were needed. and the “Patrushev man” was appointed Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration's Department for Interregional and Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, a department staffed largely with former officers from the security services.

The core of the Presidential Administration's Department for Interregional and Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries consists of ex-security officers

At Moscow’s “Old Square” — where the Presidential Administration has its office — the “culturologist” Gasumyanov held oversight responsibilities for Georgia, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia. Reports even surfaced in the media suggesting that he had directly intervened in the 2011 presidential elections in South Ossetia, advocating for Moscow's favored candidate, Anatoly Bibilov. Allegedly, Gasumyanov intimidated opponents of Bibilov by promising that they would receive a visit from Jambulat Tedeev, the coach of the Russian national freestyle wrestling team.

Transitioning from the presidential administration, Gasumyanov assumed the role of Chief Security Officer at Norilsk Nickel. In this capacity, the FSB officer made visits to Europe and Africa and proposed the development of a Charter on Information Security for critical industrial facilities, a proposal met with skepticism by many foreign companies.

Concurrently, Gasumyanov chaired the Security Committee at the International Platinum Group Metals Association (IPGMA), affording him access to internal documents of major global companies within the industry. Notably, on the NIIRK website, Gasumyanov shared a photo gallery that included an image of himself alongside former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Gasumyanov and former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi
Gasumyanov and former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi

After opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan became Prime Minister of Armenia, the Kremlin once again required the services of the former overseer of Transcaucasia, and NIIRK offered the perfect instrument for Gasumyanov to restore Russia’s influence in the region. “We have always treated our neighboring countries with care, love, and attempted to help them, from promoting independence to providing financial assistance and establishing institutions,” the “Patrushev man” said in February 2023, as Russian rockets and bombs were destroying peaceful cities in Ukraine.

After opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan became Prime Minister of Armenia, the Kremlin once again required the services of the former overseer of Transcaucasia

Spies as supervisors

Alongside Gasumyanov, the Supervisory Board of NIIRK boasts other individuals with extensive intelligence backgrounds. One such figure is FSB General Anatoly Bolyukh, well-known to the Security Service of Ukraine and European counterintelligence agencies. After graduating from the Peoples’ Friendship University in Moscow in 1982, Bolyukh joined the KGB's Foreign Intelligence Service, operating undercover as a diplomat in Soviet embassies. Later, he was seconded to the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), where he served as an assistant to the rector for security matters and played a role in recruiting promising students. After MGIMO, Bolyukh was assigned to the International Academy of Fuel and Energy before finding himself back in Europe — this time with a press pass from the Izvestia newspaper.

In 2009, Bolyukh took charge of the Department of Operational Information (DOI) within the 5th Service of the FSB (Unit 26047), which is responsible for espionage internationally. The DOI's structure includes departments covering Europe, Moldova, Transcaucasia, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Ukraine, where intelligence reports from residencies are consolidated. Additionally, the DOI has achieved success in recruiting European politicians, as was recently reported by The Insider.

The Department of Operational Information has achieved success in recruiting European politicians

During the 2014 Maidan protests in Ukraine, Bolyukh flew to Kyiv with a group of FSB, GRU, and SVR generals in order to aid Viktor Yanukovych. However, by the time they arrived, the situation had already turned in favor of the protesters, and on February 22 of that year, Yanukovych fled the capital, ultimately ending up in Russia. In response to Putin's dissatisfaction with the outcome, Bolyukh was removed from his position and transferred to Rosgeology, an organization historically utilized by the KGB for espionage purposes.

Anatoly Bolyukh
Anatoly Bolyukh

In 2019, there was a change in leadership at Rosgeology, with Sergei Gorkov, a graduate of the FSB Academy, assuming control of the state corporation. Gorkov brought in his own team, prompting Bolyukh’s departure. At NIIRK, the former student recruiter now oversees educational processes and enjoys discussing the concept of good neighborliness: “Tactics are essential here. It is also important to consider the level at which good neighborliness is based — the state, the people, or the elite. So, creativity and unconventional solutions are essential in this matter. Cliches and copying won't suffice.”

The Insider has obtained a list of phone contacts of the current head of the DOI, Lieutenant General Georgy Grishaev. In addition to Grishaev's current colleagues, Bolyukh's phone number is also included in the list. While it could not be determined precisely which topics the generals discuss amongst themselves, it is unlikely that “neighborly relations” is among them.

Boris Miroshnikov, an Honorary Security Service Worker, joined the Supervisory Board alongside Bolyukh. Miroshnikov commenced his service in the Counterintelligence Operations Department (UKRO) of the FSK-FSB, focusing on developing and implementing novel methods for operational and investigative activities. Miroshnikov personally established the Computer and Information Security Directorate within the FSB, now known as the 11th Center (Unit 68240). In 2002, he was assigned to the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), where he assumed leadership of the Bureau of Special Technical Measures (BSTM).

The Bureau, overseen by the FSB, is responsible for tasks such as phone tapping, email hacking, and monitoring electronic payments of criminal suspects. Evgeny Chichvarkin, the founder of mobile phone retailer Euroset, accused Miroshnikov of instigating the round of persecution that led the independent entrepreneur to flee Russia in 2009. In a 2011 video address to Russia’s then-president Dmitry Medvedev, Chichvarkin labeled the BSTM leadership as a “gang of crime bosses” — with Miroshnikov chief among them.

The Bureau, overseen by the FSB, is responsible for tasks such as phone tapping, email hacking, and monitoring electronic payments of criminal suspects

Also in 2011, the “crime boss general” became the vice president of a company called Citadel. Citadel's primary focus lies in developing software for information security and manufacturing SORM (telephone tapping) equipment for law enforcement agencies. Moreover, telecommunications operators in Russia are obligated to install SORM on their networks.

One can only speculate as to what role the wiretapping specialist has in the Korobeinikov Lane headquarters. Whatever activities it is that his official duties require, Miroshnikov’s hobbies appear to include waxing philosophically on the importance of culture: “It's a very delicate matter! It's necessary to cultivate culture in the highest sense of the word, where my life-cultural space wouldn't suppress the same space of my neighbor. It's an extremely challenging task! Any misstep is nationalism transitioning into Nazism-fascism.”

Boris Miroshnikov
Boris Miroshnikov

Among the other members of the Supervisory Board, notable figures include former head of the SVR Academy, Nikolay Gribin, and former deputy director of the FSB, Valentin Sobolev. Gribin, who served in the political intelligence department of the KGB's First Main Directorate in the 1980s, worked undercover as a diplomat in Denmark and Norway before transitioning to the KGB-SVR central apparatus. Judging from his speeches, Gribin is concerned about Article 13 of the Russian Constitution, which explicitly states that “ideological diversity is recognized in the Russian Federation,” and “no ideology can be established as state or mandatory.”

Another “supervisor,” General Sobolev, began his career in the Tomsk Directorate of the KGB and rose to the position of the secretary of the Directorate's Communist Party committee. After relocating to Moscow, his career took off. Sobolev has served as the first deputy director of the FSB, and later moved to the Security Council.

Following his retirement in 2012 as a Lieutenant General in the FSB, Sobolev has been a frequent speaker at events targeting young audiences. He has also spent leisure time in the affluent Gorki-2 community in the Odintsovo District, where he owns a mansion valued at around 120 million rubles ($1.32 million).

Propagandists and publishers

NIIRK owns the conference organizing company Project LLC, along with the Eurasia Daily news agency, which employs well-known pro-Kremlin political analysts and conspiracy theorists. The institute publishes three journals: “Man and the World: Dialogue,” “Perspective: Generation of Search,” and “Russia and the World: Scientific Dialogue,” all of which are distributed free of charge in CIS countries. Regular trips abroad, conferences, presentations, and publishing activities incur considerable costs. In 2022, the total assets of NIIRK amounted to 467 million rubles ($5.2 million), even if that figure fell to 273 million in 2023. Of course, “Patrushev's man” can always ask his business partners for financial assistance, and they are unlikely to refuse him. For example, the head of the Pangeo Capital fund, Yuri Kudimov, who manages investments worth $1 billion, is a known associate.

In fact, Kudimov and Gasumyanov are co-founders of Moskovskoe More Management Company LLC (ООО «УК Московское море»), which built an elite cottage settlement in Zavidovo just under 100 miles northwest of the capital. Kudimov also boasts an extensive espionage background: following his graduation from the journalism faculty of Moscow State University, he joined the KGB's First Main Directorate and completed an internship under the direction of Kim Philby, a former MI-6 officer who defected to the USSR in 1963.

Yuri Kudimov (fourth from the left) with Kim Philby's widow and former apprentices
Yuri Kudimov (fourth from the left) with Kim Philby's widow and former apprentices

Under the guise of a correspondent for Komsomolskaya Pravda, Kudimov conducted espionage activities in London until his expulsion from the country in 1985. Later, holding a Novoye Vremya press card, he operated from a KGB station in Mexico. Upon returning to his homeland, he transitioned into banking as a reserve SVR officer, bringing in a decent income by servicing Soviet debts.

In addition to his activities at Pangeo Capital, Kudimov became one of the founders of the Kim Philby Memorial Fund. European media outlets alleged that Pangeo Capital was involved in providing clandestine financing for “friends of the Kremlin,” but Kudimov successfully contested these claims in court. Nonetheless, last March, Lithuanian authorities revoked his citizenship after the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs determined that the activities of the “former KGB employee” were “incompatible with the national interests of Lithuania.”

The Insider sent a series of questions to General Gasumyanov’s email address, but as of the time of this writing, the NIIRK head has not responded.

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