• On Vladimir Putin’s secret service

    Zhdanok campaigning on the Soviet Union’s Victory Day event in Daugavpils, Latvia in 2014. Photo: Re:Baltica / Mistruss Media.

    “James Bond is romanticised. Real life is much tougher. There is no happy end,” Alexey Vasilev told me.

    It was late summer six years ago and we were talking between a glass wall in a prison in north-east Estonia, where Vasilev was serving a four year sentence for spying against Estonia on behalf of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB).

    He wasn’t a master spy. In fact, he was caught trying to conduct the first task his coordinators had given him. He had lost his income, his mother had been forced out of her apartment in St Petersburg, and he had legal bills to cover. Only 21 years old, he had lost his perspective in life.

    I have interviewed people like Vasilev before and since, but this was the only time I actually felt sad about a Russian intelligence agent.

    I remembered about Vasilev when we broke the news last week about how Latvia’s MEP Tatyana Zhdanok worked on behalf of the FSB’s Fifth Service. The contrast between Zhdanok and Vasilev couldn’t be larger.

    Whereas Vasilev was a naive student hoping to become James Bond, Zhdanok has been blatantly pushing and promoting Kremlin ideology in the heart of the European Union for decades. She was not motivated by money, but by ideology. Throughout that time, the European Parliament’s impunity and Latvia’s inadequate legal system have protected her from prosecution.

    Luckily, the outcry from fellow MEPs and the president of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, has been vocal (unlike when we revealed a few months ago that Russia’s top diplomat at the EU is suspected of carrying out Russian intelligence functions in Brussels).

    Still, Zhdanok will probably come out of this scandal with barely any condemnation. Hopefully, being outed as an FSB agent will at least deter someone else from chasing  Bond-like dreams that never come true.

    This article is part of the "Europe roots out Russian spies" edition
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