Disinfo: There is no evidence that the Russian diplomats expelled from Colombia were spies, it’s all a narrative created by Colombian media

Summary

Colombian mainstream media devoted disproportionate coverage to detail how Aleksandr Belousov and Aleksandr Paristov wanted to obtain information on Colombia’s energetic, technological and military infrastructure, nothing too surprising coming from officials of a country like Russia that makes and exports products of these fields. There is nothing unusual about officials from the Russian Embassy wanting to obtain this kind of information, and the activities shown by Colombian media are perfectly compatible with collecting information to serve the state they represent, something that all embassies around the world do. Even if they paid for the information, as the articles claim, it could be a questionable method and more concerning for Russian taxpayers than for the Colombian authorities, but this by no means qualifies as espionage. In contrast with the media enthusiasm for having an alleged episode of spying, Colombian authorities so far, including the president and the foreign minister, didn’t talk of espionage at any moment, but of “activities incompatible with the dispositions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations”. So everything points that the Colombian media, as usual, are being overzealous.

Disproof

Contrary to the claim, the Colombian authorities have no doubt about the role of the Russian diplomats expelled from the country on December 8, 2020. Colombian media based their reporting on investigations carried out by the intelligence services of their own country, who provided their results (in Spanish) to some of them, such as El Tiempo and Semana, and even granted them interviews (in Spanish).

According to a Colombian intelligence report reviewed by Colombian newspaper El Tiempo (in Spanish), Aleksandr Paristov was positively identified by the allied intelligence services of the US and UK as a member of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence (SVR). The same publication stated that Colombia’s National Direction of Intelligence (DNI) identified the other man, Aleksandr Nikolayevich Belousov, as a member of Russia’s Military Intelligence (GRU).

Colombian president Iván Duque refused to reveal more information at this point because it “would not correspond with the principle of continuing bilateral relations”. The formula used by Colombia’s Foreign Minister Claudia Blum stating that the Russians were carrying out “activities incompatible with the dispositions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations” is a well-established diplomatic euphemism to refer to espionage.

Colombian publication Semana also obtained a long dossier (in Spanish) prepared by the DNI on the so-called Operation Enigma, a two-year surveillance operation on both Russian citizens, which included hours of recordings and pictures of their movements and contacts. Their activities, according to Semana, included “military and intelligence tactics used by spies”, such as frequent changes of cars and clothes during their movements or long rides of 5 and 6 hours to avoid surveillance. They also tried to spy on Colombia’s military intelligence.

Colombian authorities are also preparing to prosecute their nationals that provided sensitive information to the Russians on grounds of treason, something that wouldn’t happen if, as the disinformation piece states, these activities “by no means qualify as espionage”.

See other examples of disinformation narratives about Russia being falsely accused, such as allegations that neither the US Intelligence Committee report nor the Mueller report found any evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 US elections, that there is no proof that Russia tried to influence in the Brexit referendum or about the role played by RT and Sputnik in these and other processes, that “absurd” accusations against Russia are an attempt to demonise it, or that the US and UK are indeed the ones who try to interfere in Europe.

publication/media

  • Reported in: Issue 225
  • DATE OF PUBLICATION: 28/12/2020
  • Language/target audience: Spanish, Castilian
  • Country: Colombia, Russia
  • Keywords: Diplomacy with Russia, Mainstream media, Anti-Russian, Intelligence services

Disclaimer

Cases in the EUvsDisinfo database focus on messages in the international information space that are identified as providing a partial, distorted, or false depiction of reality and spread key pro-Kremlin messages. This does not necessarily imply, however, that a given outlet is linked to the Kremlin or editorially pro-Kremlin, or that it has intentionally sought to disinform. EUvsDisinfo publications do not represent an official EU position, as the information and opinions expressed are based on media reporting and analysis of the East Stratcom Task Force.

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Disproof

A recurrent pro-Kremlin disinformation narrative, part of a disinformation campaign on the coronavirus pandemic.

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Disproof

Recurrent pro-Kremlin disinformation narrative about sanctions and Russia as an innocent victim of the West, in this case portraying it as being falsely presented as an enemy only because the US allegedly needs one. By promoting these narratives, Russia aims to divert attention away from its own misdeeds.

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Disproof

Disinformation about the Arab Spring presented with no evidence. This article’s message is consistent with pro-Kremlin disinformation narratives about popular protests around the world allegedly incited and funded by the US and other Western states, including colour revolutions in post-Soviet states, the Arab Spring revolts, Euromaidan in Ukraine, protests in Catalonia and others. This narrative claims that protests, disorders and civil uprisings are never manifestations of popular discontent but are "colour revolutions" directed and funded by Western intelligence services or other Western actors in order to destabilise targeted foreign states and bring about regime change.

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