It sounds like something out a James Bond movie: a covert unit designed to take down a continent. But as reported by The New York Times, European security officials warn that it is a frightening reality and that Russia has created a secret elite squad, named Unit 29155, that seeks to destabilize its Western neighbors.
Officials point to several events that have happened as of late. There was a destabilization campaign in Moldova, the poisoning of a prominent arms dealer in Bulgaria, and an attempted coup in Montenegro. Even further west was an attempted poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter.
Though authorities all saw these events as unconnected, apart from the fact that all likely related to Russian intelligence, they now believe that it is actually an elite group that was behind all the events.
The group, named Unit 29155, are experts in subversion, sabotage, and assassination. Though officials still know little of the shadowy organization, they have emphasized that the group's existence highlights Russian President Vladimir Putin's desire to wage a type of war on the west, though this one is mired in disinformation and confusion rather than guns and armies.
The squad itself is believed to consist of a closely-knit group, including veterans of Russia's bloody wars in Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Ukraine. It is also believed to be so secret that its existence might not be known by many in the Russian military intelligence agency, known as the G.R.U.
The leader of Unit 29155 is believed to be Major General Andrei V. Averyanov. He has previously been pictured with Colonel Anatoly V. Chepiga, who was one of the men who was accused of poisoning British asset Sergei V. Skripal.
"This is a unit of the G.R.U. that has been active over the years across Europe," said one European security official, who remained anonymous in order to describe classified intelligence matters.
"It's been a surprise that the Russians, the G.R.U., this unit, have felt free to go ahead and carry out this extreme malign activity in friendly countries. That's been a shock.""I think we had forgotten how organically ruthless the Russians could be," echoed Peter Zwack, a retired military intelligence officer and former defense attaché at the United States Embassy in Moscow. Zwack said that he had not been previously aware of the unit's existence.
Officials have only been alerted to its existence because of its recent defeats. The assassination of Skirpal failed, as did the attempted poisoning the Bulgarian arms dealer and the defeated coup in Montenegro.
Though the losses should be heartening to authorities, it is not. It is unlikely that President Putin would entertain a group with a poor record, and thus European officials are left wondering about what successes they don't know about.
A retired G.R.U. officer with knowledge of Unit 29155 said that the group was created to create "diversionary" events, "in groups or individually — bombings, murders, anything."
"They were serious guys who served there," the retired officer said. "They were officers who worked undercover and as international agents."
The Russian Defense Ministry did not respond to requests for comment.
Meanwhile, President Putin reportedly has another destabilization plan coming up, as he has openly stated that he's "not close" to President Trump and aims to interfere in the 2020 elections, as reported by The Inquisitr.