Swedes paid off Russian expert in secret intel deal

Two Swedish military agencies at the centre of a scandal over plans to help build a weapons factory in Saudi Arabia also secretly paid millions of kronor to a Russian arms expert for information relevant to the project, a new report has revealed.

Swedes paid off Russian expert in secret intel deal

In March, Sveriges Radio (SR) revealed that the Swedish Defence Research Agency (Totalförsvarets forskningsinstitut – FOI) had created a shell company to oversee construction of a factory in Saudi Arabia for the maintenance and upgrade of anti-tank missile systems.

The company was set up in order to avoid any direct ties between the project and the Swedish government and cash for starting the company was provided by the Swedish Military Intelligence and Security Service (Militära underrättelse- och säkerhetstjänsten – MUST).

While a probe into the legality of the controversial plan, known as Project Simoom, was dropped in September, a new SR report on Wednesday revealed that FOI and MUST secretly paid a Russian weapons expert for information FOI needed in order to complete a study related to the construction of the factory.

According to SR, experts at FOI needed help in their efforts to help provide Saudi Arabia with the information required for the country to develop a domestic arms industry.

Through informal channels, the agency identified a Russian expert with ties to the Russian state who could provide the information FOI needed.

In a secret operation carried out with MUST, FOI paid 500,000 kronor ($75,000) in cash in order to persuade the expert to hand over the vital weapons intelligence.

According to SR, MUST provided the cash and two officials from FOI were present for the handover, in a deal that was meant to be kept secret from Russian authorities.

Following the payment, which took place in late 2007, FOI was able to complete the report requested by the Saudis.

The operation was confirmed for SR by a centrally placed source in the Swedish government, although a spokesperson for MUST refused to comment on the matter.

“The contents of intelligence work, what people work with…that is by its very nature not something you reveal to the public,” MUST spokesperson Erik Lagersten told SR.

The Local/dl

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Sweden steps up Baltic defence in ‘signal’ to Russia

Sweden's defence minister has said his country is carrying out military exercises in the Baltic Sea to 'send a signal' to countries including Russia.

Sweden steps up Baltic defence in 'signal' to Russia
Swedish troops on the Baltic Sea island of Gotland. Photo: Joel Thungren/Försvarsmakten/TT

The so-called “high readiness action” means the Swedish army, navy and air force are currently more visible in the southeastern and southern Baltic Sea and on the island of Gotland.

No details have been disclosed about the number of troops involved in the action.

Sweden is “sending a signal both to our Western partners and to the Russian side that we are prepared to defend Sweden's sovereignty,” Hultqvist told news agency TT.

Ground troops on Gotland. Photo: Bezhav Mahmoud/Försvarsmakten/TT

“There is currently extensive military activity in the Baltic Sea, conducted by Russian as well as Western players, on a scale the likes of which have not been seen since the Cold War,” the Swedish Armed Forces' Commander of Joint Operations, Jan Thörnqvist, said in a statement.

“The exercise activities are more complex and have arisen more rapidly than before. In addition, the coronavirus pandemic has caused global anxiety and uncertainty. Over all, the situation is more unstable and more difficult to predict,” Thörnqvist said.

A Visby-class corvette and two Jas Gripen jets in the air. Photo: Antonia Sehlstedt/Försvarsmakten/TT

Hultqvist said Sweden was also monitoring developments in Belarus “very closely”.

Non-Nato member Sweden, which has not been to war in two centuries and which slashed military spending at the end of the Cold War, reopened a garrison on Gotland in January 2018 amid concerns about Russian intentions in Europe and the Baltic.