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Arson and attacks across Europe: Is Russia behind them?



Across Europe, security forces are watching closely for a potential escalation in Russia’s war – acts of arson and sabotage. This follows a series of suspicious fires and attacks on infrastructure in the Baltics, Germany, and the UK.

After a fire broke out in Ikea in Vilnius in Lithuania recently, the Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, suggested it could have been the work of a foreign saboteur.

European investigators believe Russia may be behind a series of incidents, including an arson attack in East London, a massive fire that destroyed Poland’s largest shopping mall, sabotage in Bavaria, Germany, and antisemitic graffiti discovered in Paris.

However there is no evidence that any of these incidents across the continent are coordinated. 

The security services believe they could be part of an attempt by Moscow to destabilise the west, which has backed Ukraine.

In the past, foreign intelligence relied on classic spies and their handlers. However, the rise of social media has created a new landscape. Now, attackers can be easily recruited online, acting as “pay-as-you-go saboteurs” for a few hundred Euros or even cryptocurrency. This makes it much harder to trace connections between them and any central organization.

These attacks could be the work of Russia  and the matter was raised at a summit of foreign and defence ministers in Brussels this week with Dutch, Estonian and Lithuanian security officials all warning of national vulnerabilities.

Last week, Tusk revealed Polish authorities had arrested nine people in connection with acts of sabotage allegedly committed on the orders of Russian services.

The crimes allegedly included “beatings, arson and attempted arson” and the investigators checking whether Russia was involved in the fire in a shopping centre in Warsaw.

Although the Russian embassy described it as as a conspiracy theory.

On Tuesday (May 28), the Estonian defence minister, Hanno Pevkur, said the country had already been the victim of Russian sabotage.

“They have conducted similar operations in Estonia. They hired 10 people to attack the car of the interior minister and a journalist’s car. This is normal behaviour of Russia,” he said in Brussels while addressing an EU defence summit.

German authorities arrested two individuals with dual German-Russian citizenship in April. They were suspected of planning sabotage attacks, including an explosion and arson at a military base in Bavaria. Prosecutors allege the main suspect communicated directly with Russian intelligence.

(With inputs from agencies)

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