Hundreds of spies, antennas, and the Russian Orthodox Church: how Russia сreated a network of agents in Brussels for years

Brussels is the capital of the European Union, home to the main EU institutions, the headquarters of NATO, and over 100 international organizations that play a crucial role in making political decisions. Meanwhile, for decades, Russians have been creating a network that actively promotes the “Russian world” in Brussels and likely spies on Western partners of Ukraine.

Correspondent of 24 Kanal in Brussels, Sofia Nazarenko, learned how FSB agents operate under diplomatic cover, how they are assisted by local “useful idiots”, and also how pro-Russian lobbying occurs among Members of the European Parliament in the European Parliament. 24 Kanal spoke with high-ranking sources in EU diplomatic circles, Members of the European Parliament, the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and also decided to explore the places related to the “Russian trace” in the capital of the European Union.

Over 200 diplomats and spy antennas: What is the Russian Embassy in Belgium hiding?

The Russian Embassy in Belgium is located in one of the greenest and most prestigious areas of Brussels — Uccle. The territory of the diplomatic representation is guarded by Belgian police and a wire-fenced perimeter equipped with surveillance cameras.

Law enforcement agencies began to intensify the security of the embassy after a full-scale intrusion, as the level of danger for those working for the Kremlin had significantly increased.

Trees have been planted near the perimeter of the diplomatic establishment to prevent onlookers from being able to see what is located inside. At first glance, the Russian Embassy resembles a sanatorium — lush greenery, a pond, and even live ducks (not the same as those at the Medvedev estate).

See also: Orban’s 11 hostages: how Russian Orthodox Church and Russian authorities “trade” Ukrainians with the Hungarian government

For example, the Embassy of Ukraine in Belgium lacks such security measures and such a vast territory.

In a conversation with 24 Kanal, a high-ranking source in diplomatic circles explains that Russia acquired this luxurious estate in Belgium through the unlawful appropriation of the former Soviet Union’s embassy.

All the other states that were part of the USSR did not have access to the building and were therefore obliged to independently purchase real estate for their embassies using state funds.

Clearly, along with their imperial ambitions, Russians want to showcase their grandeur, even through the size of their embassy, which covers an area of no less than 46,000 square meters. But what is the Kremlin diverting the attention of Belgians from by planting so many trees near the perimeter of their embassy?

As it has been revealed according to data from the Dossier Center, other facilities are also located on the territory of the Russian Embassy in Belgium — a grand castle, a sports field, greenhouses, parking lots, and a building with classrooms. However, this is not the most significant “secret” of Russians.

On the roofs of two buildings, a total of 17 satellite antennas are positioned, and this is the highest number of antennas that Russians have placed on the territory of a diplomatic complex in Europe.

Typically, antennas are used for secure communication, but in Belgium, the number of devices significantly exceeds the actual needs of Russians.

In a comment to De Tijd, Belgium’s Minister of Justice, Vincent Van Quickenborne, stated that operations involving information interception are not new and have been ongoing since the Cold War. However, he acknowledged that the amount of equipment on the roofs of the Russian Embassy is substantial.

Determining the exact equipment Russians have installed is quite difficult, as this is prohibited by the Vienna Convention. Preliminary data suggests that Russians could use a Thuraya parabolic antenna in Brussels to intercept phone conversations. Such a system allows for eavesdropping on communications of Western European countries.

It should be noted that the territory of any embassy is considered the territory of that state, and therefore the relevant laws apply there. In addition to the embassy itself, the specified address also houses Russia’s trade representation in Belgium and the representation of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

However, this is not the only place where Russians attempt to conduct diplomatic affairs in Brussels. For direct interaction with the European Union, Russians have another office — the Mission of Russia to the EU, located in the center of Brussels. Interestingly, their neighbors are the Americans. Only a local supermarket separates their offices.

The Mission of Russia to the EU is also intensively guarded by the police.

Russians didn’t limit themselves to Brussels. Before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russian diplomats were operating at the Consulate General of Russia in another Belgian city — Antwerp.

However, after the exposure of the Russian spy network, the consulate in Antwerp ceased to exist. The Belgian publication EUobserver, together with the Dossier Center, identified the identities of the “diplomats” who were expelled due to suspicion of espionage.

Notably, among them was the Consul General of Russia in Antwerp — Georgy Kuznetsov. Interestingly, Kuznetsov’s home address coincides with the address of the FSB polyclinic in Moscow — Building No. 5 on Varsonofievsky Lane. They also expelled Vice Consul Sergei Spirin from Antwerp, who also had ties to the FSB.

In our time, families of especially secretive intelligence agents from the “five” are registered there to avoid exposing their true home addresses, according to investigators.

The logical question is, why does Russia have so many representations in Belgium, which is smaller in size than the Dnipropetrovsk region?

If Brussels is the center of political decision-making on the European continent, then Antwerp is a port city known for trading in precious stones since the 15th century. It is in Antwerp that Russians earn over 4 billion dollars annually from the export of raw diamonds.

The official number of Russian diplomats working in Belgium is unknown. In response to a request from 24 Kanal, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not provide data on the number of Russian diplomats.

The Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs does not disclose the specific number of diplomats in the diplomatic mission, said Nicolas Fierens Gevaert, the spokesperson of the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a comment to 24 Kanal.

A high-ranking diplomatic source within diplomatic circles told 24 Kanal that there are over 200 Russian diplomats in Belgium, with 150 of them working at the embassy. According to the interlocutor, a significant number of administrative and technical staff are registered under Russians. However, nobody truly knows their exact tasks.

Meanwhile, a member of the board of directors of the public organization Promote Ukraine, Vasyl Kushmuns, asserts that there are approximately 150 Russian diplomats working in Belgium overall.

According to the activist, Russians in Belgium hold both economic and political influence, as well as a significant covert network. The operational agents of the FSB work through this network.

The representation of the so-called DNR in Belgium, the Belgian federation of Russian-speaking organizations that has been promoting the idea of the “Russian world” since 2014, is only a visible part of the Kremlin’s actions. However, the use of FSB proxy forces is not evident to ordinary citizens.

“At the beginning of the full-scale invasion, they [the FSB – ed.] were stirring up the issue of Palestine, bringing Palestinians and trying to involve them in our demonstrations. They were provoking from their side, but we quickly put a stop to it,” Vasyl Kushmuns explained.

Expulsion of Russian diplomats due to espionage

It’s no secret that the walls of Brussels have ears, and discussing classified matters is not recommended in establishments within the European quarter. The main buildings of the EU and NATO have their own security systems in place to prevent spy infiltration.

However, the responsibility for hunting down spies falls on Belgium’s State Security Service and its military counterparts at the General Intelligence and Security Service. Last year, following the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, it was Belgium’s State Security Service intelligence agency that uncovered 21 Russian spies operating under diplomatic cover. Belgian law enforcement authorities consider the operation to deport Kremlin agents as one of the most significant in recent decades.

A high-ranking diplomatic source within diplomatic circles shared an interesting detail with 24 Kanal: after a thorough investigation, 21 diplomats dealing with bilateral relations with Russia and 19 diplomats working at the Mission of Russia to the EU left Belgium. It’s worth noting that this is far from the first instance of the deportation of Russian diplomats from Brussels.

Despite its anti-NATO policy, Russia itself had its own office within NATO for contacts with the North Atlantic Alliance until 2021.

In October 2021, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated that 8 Russian diplomats were stripped of their accreditation due to suspicion of espionage. In response to the deportations, Moscow closed the Russian mission to NATO and also withdrew accreditation from diplomats working at the NATO office in Moscow.

According to Ken McCallum, the head of the British intelligence agency MI5, since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, more than 400 spies operating under the cover of diplomatic tasks have been deported from Europe altogether.

In an interview with Politico, Darius Jauniškis, the director of the Lithuanian State Security Department, revealed that Europe’s infrastructure is currently a target for Russian intelligence agents. Russian intelligence agencies are actively gathering information about the production and supply of Western weapons to Ukraine.

As reported by EUobserver, citing sources in intelligence services, over 200 Russian spies remain in Brussels.

Approximately 100 individuals working under diplomatic cover are linked to intelligence agencies.

Over 100 more agents operate under “civilian” cover — they work on behalf of commercial and non-commercial organizations.

“Russian House” and the Moscow Patriarchate in Belgium

Russians promote the narratives of the “Russian world” not only through diplomats but also traditionally by employing soft power. The Russian cultural network in Europe has been built over decades. In Brussels, there exists a center for Russian science and culture that still maintains an office in the heart of the European capital.

The “Russian House” operates under the auspices of the Russian Embassy and officially transmits all Kremlin narratives concerning culture, politics, and the war in Ukraine. The representatives of this organization write on their own website that their goal is to facilitate cooperation and dialogue between Russia and Belgium, as well as Europe as a whole.

See also: How “Russian peace” is being built in Turkey and how it threatens Ukraine’s partner

Despite the full-scale war in Ukraine, this club continues to popularize Russian culture, offering courses for learning the Russian language, hosting a film club that screens Russian films, and featuring exhibition halls that showcase works by Russian artists.

One might assume that the main consumers of this “cultural heritage” are Russians themselves, but that is not the goal of the “Russian House.” The website of the cultural center is available not only in Russian but also in English, French, and Dutch. Event posters are also distributed in foreign languages.

However, it’s not only the cultural center and science that promote Russian narratives and unite supporters of the “Russian world” in Belgium. The Russian Orthodox Church in Belgium is also actively involved in this. It should be noted that the Russian Orthodox Church actively supported Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

This church assists in deporting Ukrainians from the occupied territories and raises funds to aid Russian soldiers who are going to kill Ukrainians. The Russian Church in Belgium has not condemned Russia’s war against Ukraine; on the contrary, it actively collaborates with diplomats from the Russian embassy.

This was confirmed by Archbishop Simon’s visit to the embassy on Russia’s national day in the summer of 2022.

Representation of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in Belgium

In addition to funding a massive embassy, cultural center, and Russian church, funds were found in Moscow to establish a representation of the so-called DPR in Belgium. The opening of this representation took place in 2019 in the small city of Dendermonde.

The head of this organization is a Belgian supporter of the “Russian world,” Chris Roman. Although Russia “annexed” the temporarily occupied territory of the Donetsk region after unrecognized “referendums,” the representation of the DPR, or as Roman himself calls it, the “Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the DPR,” has not disappeared.

By the way, how is it even possible to have an official representation of a self-proclaimed republic abroad when, besides Russia, only Syria and North Korea recognize the existence of this pseudo-entity?

According to Vasyl Kushmuns, a member of the board of Promote Ukraine NGO, Russians have established this institution under the guise of a non-profit organization. Because of this, Belgian law enforcement authorities cannot prohibit the activities of the Russian civil organization, as it does not pose a threat to Belgium’s security and does not engage in external activities. The Ukrainian Embassy in Belgium has also lodged complaints about the activities, but there has been no response.

Vasyl Kushmuns states that after the complaints and appeals, the activities of the DPR representation in Belgium have suffered, but have not completely ceased.

Russians still have the right to showcase “activists,” wave the tricolor flag, and wear t-shirts with Z-symbols. The activities in Belgium are aimed at the domestic audience — the Kremlin shows Russians that they are recognized in Europe and that their voice carries some weight.

How “useful idiots” in Europe play into the hands of the Kremlin

“Useful idiots” in politics are those who support certain ideas without a full understanding of the overall agenda, and political leaders simply take advantage of such individuals. In the case of Russia’s war against Ukraine, in the Western context, supporters of left-wing movements who advocate for “world peace” and oppose “imperialism under US patronage” can rightly be considered as “useful idiots.”

Furthermore, leftists also advocate for disarming Ukraine to prevent the escalation of hostilities. Protests in Brussels on the anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion served as an example of how leftist movements can align with the Kremlin’s interests. Interestingly, during this period, there was a split within the left-wing camp in Belgium.

Vasyl Kushmuns, who organized a demonstration in support of Ukraine through Promote Ukraine, revealed that two dates for protests — February 25 and 26 — had been reserved within a two-month timeframe.

“After we held two powerful demonstrations near NATO in November, representatives from the Belgian organization Solidarity with Ukraine approached us in December. They informed us that they had already booked February 25 with the police for a demonstration. They suggested doing it together on February 26, but there were already very leftist views present there,” shared Vasyl.

During the joint demonstration, Ukrainian activists’ hands were tied in spreading slogans about the need to provide weapons to Ukraine, continue sanctions, and recognize Russia as a terrorist country. Kushmuns says that proving the Kremlin’s funding of these movements is quite challenging, although he doesn’t rule out that leaders might receive rewards for promoting such ideas.

It’s worth noting that the organizers of the demonstration that took place on February 26 called for the cessation of the escalation of the war in Ukraine and the utilization of all diplomatic means to end the conflict.

How pro-Russian lobby works in the European Parliament

While the European Union is aiding Ukraine in countering the Russian onslaught and imposing sanctions against Russians, active pro-Russian lobbying still persists within Euro-institutions. Russian lobbyists themselves, especially those representing companies like Gazprom, Lukoil, and Rusal, no longer have access to the European Parliament; their passes were revoked after the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

“The European Parliament took measures to restrict access for Russian representatives immediately after the war. I don’t have a comprehensive view of the Russian lobby and meetings within the European Parliament simply because I have never been a target, and they are aimed at weaker links. Any initiatives from the pro-Russian lobby have suffered defeat as the vast majority of MEPs fully support Ukraine,” shared Romanian MEP Siegfried Mureșan in a comment to 24 Kanal.

However, pro-Russian politicians remain, and they assist Russia during voting in the European Parliament. MEP from Lithuania Petras Auštrevičius told 24 Kanal that there are definitely supporters of Russia among the European Parliament members, but they are waiting for the right moment to speak up.

According to him, anti-Ukrainian ideas are currently highly unpopular. The presence of MEPs who still support the Kremlin’s position became evident during the voting on the resolution recognizing Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism in November 2022: 58 MEPs did not support the decision, and 44 abstained from voting.

As Euractiv notes, citing the Votewatch analytical center, French, Greek, and Cypriot MEPs have a more favorable position towards Russia. Specifically, these MEPs traditionally come from the far-left and far-right political spectrum.

Research from Novaya Gazeta Europa confirms that populist and radical parties within the European Union most often vote against anti-Kremlin resolutions. These parties include the French National Rally, the German Alternative for Germany, the Austrian Freedom Party, and others.

It’s worth noting that MEPs with a pro-Putin stance not only vote against anti-Kremlin resolutions but also promote narratives aligned with the Kremlin:

  • For instance, French MEP Mathilde Androuët refers to the war in Ukraine as NATO’s war against Russia.
  • German MEP Bernhard Zimniok suggests that Ukraine should remain a neutral state and not join the North Atlantic Alliance.
  • Bulgarian MEP Elena Yoncheva calls for not providing weapons to Ukraine, as she believes it would prolong the war and lead to more casualties.

And there are many such examples. There are also MEPs who are under sanctions in Ukraine. In particular, representatives of the far-right political group Identity and Democracy, including Virginie Joron, Philippe Olivier, and Jean-Lin Lacapelle, have been sanctioned for their illegal visits to occupied Crimea.

However, according to the representative of Romania in the European Parliament, deputy of the largest group in the EP, the European People’s Party, Siegfried Mureșan, the actions of the aforementioned political groups do not influence decisions regarding support for Ukraine.

“A limited number of Members of the European Parliament from the far-left and far-right groups indeed adhere to a narrative that closely aligns with the narrative of the Russian Federation and do not support decisions in favor of Ukraine. However, this number is very small and does not significantly impact the policies and directions of the European Parliament,” said the MEP in a comment to 24 Kanal.

Therefore, over the course of decades, Russia has invested in its diplomatic efforts in Belgium with a clear understanding of the special significance of Brussels’ policies regarding Russia.

Through their agent network and pro-Russian lobby, Moscow continues to attempt to present signals of viability to the world. However, their true face has been exposed, and the struggle persists both in the West and in Ukraine.

Originally posted by Sofia Nazarenko and Emal Nabi on 24 Kanal. Translated and edited by the UaPosition – Ukrainian news and analytics website

See also: War for the Arctic or energy sabotage: why Russian spies have become more active in Norway

Avatar photo


An independent media focused on Ukraine.
Follow us on social media:

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Share This

Share this post with your friends!