When pushing an idea, one must evolve the narrative so that the audience does not become disinterested. True to this rule, the New York Times has come up with a wild bogeyman to satisfy Russia’s intention to take over the world – or, actually, to destabilize it.
In an article that poses more questions than answers, the Times’ Michael Schwirtz asserts that Russia’s dreaded ‘GRU’ military intelligence service has a fearsome and frightening super-elite unit made entirely of specialists, trained in “subversion, sabotage and assassination.”
According to Schwirtz, the assassin group is named “Unit 29155”. It has allegedly been in operation since at least 2009, but Western officials only recently learned of its existence. The group is so scary “it is impossible to know when and where its operatives will strike,” Schwirtz writes.
The operatives of Unit 29155 are, naturally, “decorated veterans of Russia’s bloodiest wars,” those according to Schwirtz, being “Afghanistan, Chechnya and Ukraine”.
“Its operations are so secret, according to assessments by Western intelligence services, that the unit’s existence is most likely unknown even to other GRU operatives,” claims Schwirtz.
Schwirtz cites photos shared by a "Russian blogger" in 2016. The photos show the alleged group’s former headquarters – now abandoned. In the photos, one can see the remains of a spartan interior and numerous gun racks, whose labels suggest that the group is familiar with a wide array of weapons, from AKs to US-made M-16s and European FN, G3 and HK rifles. According to publicly available databases, the military unit number 29155 actually exists and its current headquarters is supposedly located in eastern part of Moscow.
But this super-elite unit appears to be poor as the proverbial church mouse. According to the New York Times, officers must share the cheapest accommodations while on the road, live in downtrodden neighborhoods, and its commander, General Averyanov, drives a 1996 VAZ 2105 – a mid-20th century Soviet sedan which has not been produced since 2010.
Another strange thing, according to the report, is that this mysterious unit’s CV is made up of failures. According to Schwirtz, the unit was first identified after an alleged assassination attempt of the Prime Minister of Montenegro and an attempt to seize the Parliament building by only two unit officers.
In 2018, former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were allegedly poisoned by a deadly nerve agent – but survived. Naturally, this sloppy operation was the deed of Unit 29155, too, and so-called Petrov and Boshirov (aka Mishkin and Chepiga) are unit officers.
In 2015, the group allegedly tried to kill Bulgarian arms dealer, Emilian Gebrev – twice. Both times, the man survived.
In an attempt to bind together the legendary status of the apocryphal group and its almost hilarious sloppiness, Schwirtz speculates that only the failed operations are known to the public. He also cites Eerik-Niiles Kross, a former intelligence chief in Estonia, who speculates that these operations could have failed purposefully as a form of “psychological warfare.”
“They want to be felt. It’s part of the game,” Kross said.
“We assess there is a standing threat from the GRU and the other Russian intelligence services and that very little is off limits,” Alex Younger, the chief of MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence service, said at the Munich Security Conference in February.
According to the New York Times, Russian President Vladimir Putin needs this unit, because he, Putin, is at war with the entire western liberal order which the Kremlin allegedly views as an “existential threat.” Putin is actively fighting the West, Schwirtz writes, “with his brand of so-called hybrid warfare – a blend of propaganda, hacking attacks and disinformation – as well as open military confrontation.”
The New York Times article seems to fit nicely in a row of anti-Russian publications faithfully catalogued by the Russian Foreign Ministry. The Ministry has published an entire anthology of the spurious publications which can be found here.