UPDATE: Briton accused of spying on Germany for Russia remanded in custody

A British man suspected of spying for Russia in exchange for cash has been arrested in Germany, prosecutors said Wednesday, in a highly unusual case compared to a Cold War thriller.

UPDATE: Briton accused of spying on Germany for Russia remanded in custody
The alleged spy for Russia had been working at the British Embassy in Berlin and is accused of feeding information to the Kremlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Britta Pedersen

The suspect identified only as David S., who worked until the time of his arrest as local staff at the British embassy, “on at least one occasion passed on documents he acquired as part of his professional activities to a representative of Russian intelligence”.

“The accused received a cash payment in an unspecified amount in return,” the federal prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

It said David S., who was taken into custody Tuesday in the eastern city of Potsdam on an arrest warrant issued on August 4, was believed to have been spying since November 2020 “at the latest”.

The Metropolitan Police in London said the suspect was a 57-year-old British national and that the investigation was conducted by the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command and German counterparts.

It said his alleged offences were related to being engaged in “Intelligence Agent activity” under German law and that the German authorities would retain primacy over the probe.

READ ALSO: Sweden, Germany and Poland throw out Russian diplomats in row over Navalny protest

Germany has arrested a number of people in recent years accused of spying for Russia, but the capture of a suspect from a close ally is highly unusual.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Berlin was taking the case “extraordinarily seriously” as the “selection by an intelligence service of a close alliance partner is absolutely unacceptable”.

He added that “full solidarity” with Britain and would provide any assistance necessary to aid the prosecutors’ probe.

‘Like Le Carre’

Security specialist Edward Lucas likened the arrest to an early spy novel by the British writer John le Carre.

“The fact that the arrest has been made in Berlin suggests it’s a non-diplomatic member of the embassy, that’s why the German judicial system has been brought to bear on it,” he told Times Radio.

A scene from the film adaptation of John Le Carre’s espionage thriller, ‘A Most Wanted Man’. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/rbb/ARD | Kerry Brown

Lucas, who formerly covered eastern and central European affairs for The Economist, said the arrest was “a reminder of how much effort the Russians put in to trying to find out what Western alliances are up to”.

In June, German police arrested a Russian scientist at a German university accused of working for Russian secret service since October 2020 at the latest.

And German prosecutors in February filed espionage charges against a German man suspected of having passed the floor plans of parliament to Russian secret services in 2017.

Series of scandals 

Moscow is at loggerheads with a number of Western capitals after a Russian troop build-up on Ukraine’s borders and a series of espionage scandals that have resulted in diplomatic expulsions.

In June, Italy said it had created a national cybersecurity agency following warnings by Prime Minister Mario Draghi that Europe needs to protect itself from Russian “interference”.

Tensions between Europe and Moscow have been escalating in recent years. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AP | Vladimir Voronin

The move came after an Italian navy captain was caught red-handed by police selling confidential military documents from his computer to a Russian embassy official.

READ ALSO: UPDATE: Germany-Russia flights resume after tit-for-tat cancellations

The leaders of nine eastern European nations in May condemned what they termed Russian “aggressive acts”, citing operations in Ukraine and “sabotage” allegedly targeted at the Czech Republic.

Several central and eastern European countries expelled Russian diplomats in solidarity with Prague, but Russia has branded accusations of its involvement as “absurd” and responded with tit-for-tat expulsions.

Last month, Russian security forces said they had detained Estonia’s consul to Saint Petersburg for allegedly receiving classified documents.

A ‘low point’ in German-Russian relations

The latest espionage case also comes at a time of highly strained relations between Russia and Germany on a number of fronts, including the ongoing detention of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who received treatment in Berlin after a near-fatal poisoning

Relations between London and Moscow have been at a low point since the attempted poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal in British Salisbury in 2018.

Viktoria Skripal, the daughter of former spy Sergei Skripal, was poisoned in Salisbury in 2018 along with her father. Russia has been blamed for the attack. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Pavel Golovkin

The Kremlin has denied any involvement in either case.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has moreover worked to maintain a sanctions regime over Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula.

And Germany has repeatedly accused Russia of cyberattacks and cyberespionage on its soil.

Despite the frictions, Berlin has pressed ahead with plans to finish the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline, set to double natural gas supplies from Russia to Germany.

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German ex-chancellor Schröder says he won’t join Gazprom board

Germany's former chancellor Gerhard Schröder has said he will not be joining the supervisory board of Gazprom, after a row over his ties to Russian energy giants.

German ex-chancellor Schröder says he won't join Gazprom board

“I gave up on the nomination to the supervisory board of Gazprom some time ago. I have also communicated this to the company,” he wrote in a post on online network Linkedin on Tuesday. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to huge public pressure in Germany for Schröder to turn his back on President Vladimir Putin and to sever his ties with Russia’s biggest energy companies.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who like Schröder is from the Social Democratic Party, has also repeatedly and publicly urged the former leader to give up his Russian jobs.

Fed up with Schröder’s attitude, the German parliament last Thursday decided to strip him of perks, including an office and paid staff accorded to him as a former chancellor.

READ ALSO: Germany strips Schröder of official perks over links to Russia

That same day, EU lawmakers separately called in a non-binding resolution for sanctions to be slapped on him if he refused to give up on lucrative board seats at Russian companies.

A day later, Russian energy group Rosneft said Schröder will be leaving its board.

Schröder, 78, had been due to join Gazprom’s supervisory board in June – a job that he has now finally said he will not accept.

Schröder, Germany’s chancellor from 1998 to 2005, has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as unjustified, but said that dialogue must continue with Moscow.

Gazprom is behind the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia, which has been halted by Scholz in one of the West’s first responses to the war in Ukraine.

Schröder himself signed off on the first Nord Stream in his final weeks in office.