The Slovenia Times

Russian spy reportedly active in Slovenia for years

The Russian Embassy in Ljubljana. Photo: Bor Slana/STA

An alleged Russian spy who was recently expelled from Austria had worked unnoticed in Slovenia for several years posing as a journalist, according to a series of reports that comes a year and half after two Russian sleeper agents were arrested in Ljubljana.

The man in question went by the name Ivan Popov and first came to Slovenia during the snap general election in 2018 as a correspondent for the Russian news agency TASS, Dnevnik newspaper reported on 19 June.

In 2023, he reportedly went to work in Austria, where he was first anonymously exposed by the investigative magazine Falter as an agent of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR).

Despite that, he tried to get accredited for a press conference during the visit of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Vienna, as part of which the Austrian security authorities performed a security check and further exposed him.

The Austrian news agency APA recently reported that at the end of April 2024, his accreditation and residence permit were revoked and he was ordered to leave Austria within two weeks. He appears to have left in early June.

Life as a journalist

While in Slovenia, the man appears to have built up a sufficient reputation to have interviewed in 2019 Marjan Šarec, who was prime minister at the time and is now the minister of defence.

Šarec acknowledged at a news conference that he had been interviewed by the man, but said this had been nothing out of the ordinary given that he was about to travel to Moscow for a visit.

"As far as I recall this was an interview ahead of an official visit to Moscow, which is standard procedure actually," Šarec told the press.

"It was a routine interview, he was accredited as a journalist. You too are journalists and we do not check who you are, where you're from or what your ulterior motives may be," he said.

Šarec also noted that the geopolitical situation in Europe and relations with Russia at the time had been very different. "It is no secret that Slovenia used to have business and other relations with the Russian federation".

Deep cover in Slovenia

The revelations are yet another proof that Slovenia is an attractive destination for spycraft.

In December 2022, a husband and wife suspected of being Russian spies were apprehended by local law enforcement on a tip-off from a foreign intelligence agency.

They were what are known as "illegals", deep-cover spies that typically lay low in their host countries, raise families and lead unassuming lives - before they are activated for undercover activities.

The two detainees, who have two children, ran a real estate agency and an antiques business in Ljubljana as a cover. They lived in a house on the outskirts of Ljubljana with false identities and had forged Argentinian passports.

There have been reports that talks are under way to exchange them for US nationals held in Russia, but The Wall Street Journal recently reported, quoting Slovenian and foreign intelligence sources, that a court judgement against them was imminent.


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