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The Swedes: Russian couple arrested in Stockholm has ties to GRU and Swedish military intelligence, lives next door to Skripals' poisoner

This week, a Russian married couple was arrested in Stockholm. Sergey Skvortsov and Elena Kulkova had lived in Sweden for many years without arousing any suspicion from their neighbors or acquaintances. As The Insider and Bellingcat found out, Skvortsov pursued lucrative business activities with a well-known GRU officer, once deported from France for espionage, and a Belgian entrepreneur, who was under sanctions for selling American military technology to China. Also, according to The Insider and Bellingcat, shortly before leaving for Sweden, Skvortsov and Kulkova received an apartment on Zorge Street, the same address where Denis Sergeev, one of the Skripals' poisoners, lived. Other high-ranking GRU officers frequented the building too. Meanwhile, Kulkova's daughter turned out to have moved in with the former head of the Swedish Military Intelligence Department.

ALL CARDS
  • A seedy apartment

  • Agent Counterparty

  • Agent Daughter and an asset in the Swedish military intelligence

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On the morning of Tuesday, November 22, Swedish special forces arrested a Russian couple, Sergey Nikolaevich Skvortsov (born July 28, 1963) and Elena Mikhailovna Kulkova (born May 22, 1964), on charges of espionage in a Stockholm suburb; their home was searched. Kulkova was released from custody on Thursday (although she is still suspected of complicity). The «spouses» moved to Sweden in 1999 and, according to local authorities, Skvortsov had been spying against the United States since 2013 and against Sweden since 2014.

A seedy apartment

As The Insider and Bellingcat learned, in Moscow Skvortsov and Kulkova lived at 36 Zorge Street, next door to one of the three Skripals poisoners, GRU officer Denis Sergeev (also known as Sergey Fedotov). Sergeev’s apartment number was 288, while Skvortsov and Kulkova lived two floors below in apartment 282. According to The Insider, they received the apartment in October 1999 – just before leaving for Sweden.

According to the billing records available to The Insider and Bellingcat, General Averyanov (head of GRU Military Unit 29155, which included the poisoners Mishkin and Chepiga, known as Petrov and Boshirov) and General Ilchenko, who was responsible, among other things, for disinformation operations, including the Bonanza project aimed at spreading fake information about the downed Malaysian Airlines flight MH17.

Agent Counterparty

For several years, the only counterparty to Skvortsov's Building and Data Technologies was a firm called European Technical Trading, and Skvortsov regularly received payments of exactly the same size from it, although the nature of these transactions was unclear. The Swedish authorities suspect that the transactions were fictitious and were used to siphon money from the Netherlands to Sweden. The Dutch entity was run by a Belgian, Hans de Geetere, whose companies had been previously sanctioned by the US for trying to resell American technology used in missiles and aircraft to China.

But there’s more to it: both Hans de Geetere and Skvortsov had close ties with Vladimir Kulemekov, who openly admits his GRU past and even takes pride in it. Here is an excerpt about his glory days in military intelligence:

From GRU Strategic Intelligence by Mikhail Boltunov:
Retired colonel Vladimir Kulemekov recalls:
“We learned a lot from Nil Ivanovich [Lensky]. For instance, how to handle a particular situation. He especially emphasized the first steps, when you are young and inexperienced.

During my service, I often recalled his advice. In the early stages, I was not blessed with superiors, who could have shown me the right way, could have pointed me toward it, but did not. Youth, however, and the hot temper that goes with it result in hastiness, a desire to achieve results as soon as possible.

Nil Ivanovich spared no time, often invited us for one-on-one conversations, and taught us to respect our adversary. He would always say: you need to understand that people on the other side are just as loyal to their cause.

He had great communication skills and believed that an intelligence officer had to be an engaging conversation partner. He often made references to the agents he’d worked with in Paris. He’d say jokingly: 'Oh, such daredevils they were! We could have captured the Élysée Palace with them.'

Lensky was always creative about our training, inventing the most incredible tests. We once had training on mail drops. One of our guys picked a lamppost in a park as his drop. It had a door just above the ground where you could place intelligence. The training took place in winter, but the student was positive he had chosen a good spot.

Nil Ivanovich tasked another student with going to the park and pouring water on the lamppost. Naturally, the water froze. And when the 'creator of the drop' approached the lamppost with trepidation… he was lost for words. A brilliant lesson. One must always consider the weather when choosing a drop location.

Lensky has walked alongside me, invisible, for all my life. I sill recall him often.”

And here is Kulemekov's comment under the photo of Hans de Geetere, which demonstrates they have known each other well for a long time.

But most importantly, Skvortsov occupied the post of the executive director at Kulemekov’s company, InstrumentElectronics i Stockholm AB:

Kulemekov has also had an experience of espionage in Europe. During a Senate hearing in 1983, a senator asked for a list of all Soviet diplomats who had been expelled for espionage from every country in the world between 1974 and 1983. Kulemekov’s name is also on the list.

Agent Daughter and an asset in the Swedish military intelligence

Elena Kulkova's daughter, Anna Vladimirovna Run, lived in the same apartment on Zorge Street (besides, her patronymic raises the question of whether Skvortsov and Kulkova were a real couple or their marriage was a cover). In 2015, this apartment was registered in Anna's name, although she’d already been living permanently in Sweden for a long time, and most of her acquaintances had no idea of her Russian origins.

Anna Run is second from the right
Anna Run is second from the right

In 2013, Anna started a relationship with a former department head from Must, the Swedish military intelligence (his name is known to The Insider and Bellingcat), moving in with him in 2015. Interestingly, Anna was not detained, despite being the best-positioned of all three to gain access to classified information.

Anna Run
Anna Run

We have not been able to find Anna in Russian databases, with the only exception of Rosreestr (the Russian real estate register), where she is listed as a co-owner of the apartment. This may have to do with her leaving for Sweden as a child and never applying for a Russian domestic ID.

Notably, just a week before arresting Skvortsov and Kulkova, Sweden also arrested two Iranian-born Swedish citizens: Peyman Kia, 42, and Payam Kia, 35. . The brothers were charged with aggravated espionage, and one of them was additionally charged with gross unauthorized handling of classified information and faces life in prison.

Peyman Kia and Payam Kia
Peyman Kia and Payam Kia

According to the indictment, the brothers «jointly» transmitted information to the GRU between September 28, 2011, and September 20, 2021. Peyman had previously worked for Must before moving to the customs service. The evidence of espionage dates back to his time at Must, where, according to Swedish media, he was on the unit responsible for Swedish military intelligence overseas. The younger brother, Payam, worked for the Swedish Security Service, SAPO.

While the identity of the Kia brothers’ GRU liaison has not been revealed, the timeline of their arrests indicates the possible connection between their case and that of Skvortsov and Kulkova.

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