Covert Russian intelligence operations funded by smuggling cigarettes and heroin, – media
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The scale of drug trafficking and other smuggling supported by Putin is compared to a tsunami. According to journalists, there is a shortage of cash in Russia for conducting secret intelligence operations, which were previously paid for by the oligarchs at the direction of Moscow.
As part of a joint operation by the Polish border guards, Belgian customs and police, in early September, a group of smugglers based in Belarus was identified, which smuggled 57 million cigarettes and 48 tons of tobacco worth over 32 million euros to illegal factories in Belgium. This was reported by Vice.
Representatives of NATO and the European Union believe that such a large-scale operation was carried out under the state control of the Belarusian and Russian intelligence and this was done in order to make up for the revenues lost due to sanctions.
< p>This operation was carried out after raids on two factories producing counterfeit cigarettes in Lithuania. It is believed that such enterprises were directly controlled by criminal groups associated with the FSB. These factories produced counterfeit products under the brand name of popular brands in the UK. The total amount of seized products is estimated at 73 million euros.
According to a representative of the Belgian police, it is easier to establish the production of tobacco products than to organize a drug laboratory, and the risks are not so high.
Smuggling funds espionage in the Baltics
“Since the sanctions imposed due to the war in Ukraine, we are seeing more open support for these operations from the state departments of Belarus and Russia. Previously, the mafia paid governments to provide protection, now, apparently, it has become a way to get hard currency to make up for lost income due to sanctions,” a police spokesman said.
Initially, illegal factories in Lithuania were considered as an ordinary case, but later Belgian intelligence found out that these operations were, in fact, led by intelligence services from Moscow. This was done in order to raise funds to support espionage activities in the Baltic countries.
In 2022, five illegal tobacco production facilities and 15 warehouses were discovered in Belgium, which stored over 274 million cigarettes, 88 tons cut tobacco, 65 tons of hookah tobacco and 40 tons of raw materials. The seized products are estimated at 139 million euros.
“We are seeing a significant increase in activity to raise money for government operations designed to destabilize Western Europe. There have been similar cases before, but in terms of scale this is some kind of tsunami of illegal activities supported by figures like Putin,” the NATO spokesman said.
Law enforcement officers managed to trace that the increase in the scale of drug trafficking, human trafficking, counterfeit goods and others is directly supported by Moscow.
Russia's intelligence operations used to be paid for by oligarchs
After the large-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops and the imposition of restrictions that affect the Russian economy and prevent oligarchs linked to the Kremlin regime from openly operating in Europe. In the Russian Federation, the focus has shifted towards the criminal environment. Said criminal activity has become more open and is believed to be funding Russian intelligence operations.
“They need hard currency to operate in Western and Central Europe, we have evidence that Russia is short of cash for covert intelligence operations, which were previously funded by Russian oligarchs at the behest of Moscow,” said a police spokesman from Central Europe. “And we are seeing transition to completely illegal activities – be it drugs, counterfeit products, the illegal sale of oil and gas, and even the illegal production of pharmaceutical products, in particular in Belarus.”
Taliban links< /h2>
By some estimates, Russia-linked groups control at least a third of the heroin shipments that come from Central Asia.
“Putin needs cash, and the Taliban needs cash,” the NATO official explained. — Afghans and Russians have a long history of drug trafficking relationships and we are already seeing an increase in smuggling along northern European routes. kov from east to west from the direction of Putin, then with the imposition of sanctions, they disappeared.