A combined effort by British, Swiss, French, and US intelligence has recently procured a list of some 15 individuals who were allegedly Russian spies moving within Europe via France's Haute-Savoie region between 2014 and 2018, Le Monde reports.
The investigation claims that said individuals at some point passed through the region, including notably the towns of Chamonix, Evian and Annemasse, pinpointing the places where these people allegedly ate, stayed and shopped, though whether these activities were something only a spy would do wasn't immediately clear.
And while the newspaper noted that the investigators haven't found any material or arms left by the alleged agents, it apparently did not deter a senior French intelligence official from speculating that "the most likely hypothesis is to consider it (Haute-Savoie) as a rear base for all the clandestine operations carried out by unit 29155 in Europe".
This investigation, however, was far from the only instance of Western intelligence services hunting “Russian spies”, real or otherwise. Here's just a few examples of valiant attempts to ferret out the pesky Red from under the bed.
As Le Monde points out, the aforementioned investigation was launched retrospectively in the wake of the alleged poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury last year, which then-Prime Minister of the UK Theresa May claimed was “highly likely” masterminded by Russia.
The British authorities named two Russian men – Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, branded as the Chuckle brothers of International Espionage by some – as the alleged perpetrators of the attack whose names were supposedly aliases of two GRU operatives, despite the apparent lack of evidence to back up either of these claims.
The lengthy investigation, which was performed without Russia's involvement despite the fact that Moscow did offer its assistance, yielded plenty in terms of accusations but little in the form of concrete evidence, as neither of the suspects were actually seen interacting with Skripal or carrying out poisoning activities in Salisbury, while at the same time London adamantly refused to grant Russia access to Sergei and Yulia Skripal, victims of the alleged attack.
Last year, Dutch authorities announced that they arrested and deported a group of alleged Russian GRU agents who were apparently preparing to conduct a hacker attack on the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
The items in “agents'” possession allegedly included “taxi receipts from a GRU facility in Moscow,” though whether it was a sign of their incompetence or somebody else's wasn't clear.
Shortly after that incident, head of the Swiss NDB intelligence service Jean-Philippe Gaudin also claimed that Russian spying in his country is increasing, though he did not provide any names or specific examples.
“I cannot give a lot of details about the Russian activities in Switzerland but it is clear we have more activities than before,” he said. “I cannot say how many spies, but it is significant.”
And Russian national Maria Butina ended up spending a year in a US prison after being indicted on one count of conspiracy to act as a foreign agent without notifying the Attorney General, with a number of media outlets and many social media users branding her a spy despite an apparent lack of evidence to back up that claim.
And it seems that even being a marine animal can't protect one from becoming a suspect, as a beluga whale caught on camera while playing rugby with a group of South African sailors near the Arctic Circle was branded a ‘Russian spy’ after the discovery of an ‘Equipment St. Petersburg’ inscription, written in English, on one of its harness clips.