US officials believe Russian intelligence officers directed a Russian white supremacist group to carry out a bombing campaign that rocked Madrid late last year, targeting the prime minister, US and Ukrainian embassies and the Spanish defense ministry , according to current and former US officials.
Spanish authorities have not yet made any arrests in connection with the attacks, which injured a Ukrainian embassy worker, but were widely suspected at the time to be related to Spain’s support for Kiev.
Some details about exactly how the campaign was conducted and conducted remain vague, two US officials said. It is not clear how much knowledge – if any – the Kremlin or Russian President Vladimir Putin himself had.
Yet US officials now believe the attack was likely a warning shot to European governments that have rallied around Ukraine since the Russian invasion last February.
The New York Times first reported on the alleged involvement of Russian intelligence in the attacks.
A State Department spokesperson declined to comment “on matters pertaining to leaked intelligence or active law enforcement investigations”, referring to the Spanish government “for information related to their ongoing investigation”.
“We condemn all attempts by entities to harm and intimidate government officials and foreign embassies,” the spokesperson added.
As the war continues – and especially as Russia’s position on the battlefield deteriorates – US officials expect Russia to look for proxy groups it can work with to ease fears of possible terrorist attacks by Russian-backed groups in Europe and the United States. revitalize the Middle East. , explained a US official.
The State Department labeled the white supremacist group, the Russian Imperial Movement, a global terror organization in 2020. The group is believed to have ties to Russian intelligence agencies and has been used as a proxy force before current and former officials familiar with US intelligence told CNN. But those connections are murky, these folks stressed, partly because the US doesn’t have good visibility within RIM.
But the possibility that an organ of the Russian government — the military intelligence agency, the GRU — appears to have been involved in the attacks is likely to pressure the Biden administration to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, according to a current and a former US official. The administration has so far resented taking such a step, despite pressure from key congressional officials, including former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
There are drawbacks to taking that step, one US official noted, notably that it limits the government’s ability to deal with Russia in areas where it would like to.
The white supremacist group, RIM, has associates across Europe and operates military-style training centers in Russia, but is not formally affiliated with the Russian government. But a former US official said: “There is no doubt that RIM operates in Russia because it is allowed to operate in Russia.”
Meanwhile, across Europe and beyond, the GRU has carried out increasingly daring operations, including assassination attempts. It is also believed to have offered bounties to Taliban-affiliated militants for killing US troops in Afghanistan, although in that case, too, intelligence reporting remained murky and Kremlin involvement unclear.