‘Russia ordered Russian Imperial Movement to send letter bombs in Spain’
Russia ordered a white supremacist group to send letter bombs to high-profile targets in Spain as a warning over Europe’s support for Ukraine, according to United States officials.
Spanish and international intelligence officers have been investigating who sent six letter bombs in late November and early December to addresses mostly in Madrid, including the official residence and office of the prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, the defence ministry and the US and Ukrainian embassies.
A racist terrorist group, the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM), is alleged to have carried out the letter-bomb campaign to scare Ukraine’s allies, enlisting help from far-right activists in Spain, The New York Times has reported.
Letter bombs were also sent to Instalaza, a weapons maker in Zaragoza that manufactures the grenade launchers Spain is supplying to Ukraine, and the Torrejón de Ardoz air base, east of Madrid.
No one has been killed in the attacks but an employee of the Ukrainian embassy in Madrid was injured when one of the devices, comprising loose gunpowder in envelopes with a detonator, exploded.
US sources quoted by the newspaper said investigators soon suspected that the GRU, Russia’s foreign military intelligence agency, had coordinated the attacks, after US and British intelligence officials joined the Spanish national police and counter-intelligence working on the case.
“The RIM group has provided paramilitary-style training to white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Europe and actively works to rally these types of groups into a common front against their perceived enemies,” the US State Department said.
Commenting on the letter bombs in December, the Russian government condemned any “terrorist” activity, saying that such threats or acts were “totally reprehensible”. However, investigators now believe that Russian military intelligence officers directed the group to collaborate with far-right allies in Spain.
US officials said that the campaign’s apparent aim was to signal that Russia and its proxies could carry out terrorist strikes across Europe if support for Ukraine continued. “Russian officers who directed the campaign appeared intent on keeping European governments off guard and maybe testing out proxy groups in the event Moscow decides to escalate a conflict,” the newspaper quoted unnamed US intelligence sources as saying.
Spanish investigators have identified “persons of interest” who they believe were involved in the attacks, one senior US official reportedly said.
There is no evidence that Moscow is set on a path of widespread covert attacks on Ukraine’s western allies but US officials say its stance could change if Russia continues to suffer major battlefield setbacks in Ukraine.
Any attacks or sabotage linked with Russian intelligence could be met with a response from Nato under the articles of the defensive alliance, the officials suggested.
The RIM was founded in 2012 in St Petersburg and has ties to mercenary groups that sent soldiers to support Russia during the invasion of Crimea in 2014. The organisation also provides backing for pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine.
It is suspected of cultivating relationships with white supremacist groups across Europe, leading the US government to designate it a terrorist organisation.
The GRU is accused of staging previous attacks in western countries, including the poisoning of the Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in 2018. However, in the past year it has grown in power. After the initial invasion of Ukraine failed to take the country’s capital, Kyiv, President Putin is reported to have handed control of the Federal Security Service (FSB) to the GRU, after blaming the failure of the initial invasion on flawed FSB intelligence.