The Insider: former Russian military officer and his wife organized sabotage in Europe

Former Russian military officer Nikolai Shaposhnikov and his wife Alena, originally from Kyiv, helped Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate organize sabotage in Europe, according to an investigation by the independent Russian publication The Insider

The Shaposhnikovs are Czech Republic citizens who moved there in the early 1990s. The publication states that Alyona Shaposhnikova possesses a passport bearing a number exclusive to Russian intelligence officers. The Czech authorities suspect the Shaposhnikovs of involvement in the 2014 explosions at the Vrbetice ammunition depots.

Nikolai Shaposhnikov graduated from the Baku Military Command School’s Engineering Department. He fought in Afghanistan for three years. They sent Shaposhnikov to Czechoslovakia in 1987, where he served as a motorized rifle company commander. Shortly after the Soviet troops left Czechoslovakia, Shaposhnikov returned to the country and applied for political asylum, presenting his expulsion from the Communist Party. He received political asylum in August 1991, and a few months later, his wife, Alena, who resided in Kyiv, and their two children also received the same status.

In 1999, after several refusals, Nikolai received Czech citizenship, and Alena received a Czech passport in 2004. In the early 2000s, Shaposhnikov got a job at Imex, an arms dealer. Its head was Petr Bernatik, a former “secret informant” of the Czechoslovakian State Security Service. The publication says that Shaposhnikov was looking for new clients for the company. Imex was a tenant of the warehouses in Vrbetice, where the explosions occurred in October 2014.

The Czech media outlet Respekt reported in May 2022 that Nikolai and Alena Shaposhnikov were facing a criminal espionage case. The Czech police gained access to the correspondence between the Shaposhnikovs and the head of the GRU military unit No. 29155, General Andrei Averyanov. “The content of the emails was confidential information about weapons depots, such as the movement of military equipment,” the source said. 

The Shaposhnikov family’s daughter confirmed to journalists that they had met with Averyanov. It happened in early October 2014 in Lisbon. An explosion at an ammunition depot in the village of Vrbetice in the Czech Republic occurred on October 16. 

The Insider writes that in 2009, the Shaposhnikovs bought a villa on the Halkidiki peninsula in Greece for 275 thousand euros. Alena Shaposhnikova told investigators that she financed the purchase of the villa with “her parents’ money.” The publication notes that Shaposhnikova’s parents are pensioners who live in Kyiv.

The Insider calls the villa in Greece a “safe house” for members of the GRU’s 29155 unit, who allegedly began to fly “regularly” to the city of Thessaloniki, an hour’s drive from the villa, as soon as the Shaposhnikovs settled there. In particular, Averyanov flew to Thessaloniki and stayed there from July 15 to 21, 2013. A year later, he was back in Thessaloniki on his way back from Amsterdam. According to The Insider, at least four other members of military unit 29155 flew to Thessaloniki between 2012 and 2018.

The publication also notes that on April 25, 2014, GRU officer Alexei Kapinos arrived in Thessaloniki on a diplomatic passport. Shaposhnikov called the Czech investigator a “family friend.” Three members of GRU military unit 29155 arrived in Bulgaria the day before, with the intention of poisoning local businessman Omelyan Gebrev. The businessman himself told The Insider that the Shaposhnikovs had met him back in 2012 and “actively enforced communication.”

Gebrev was considered a supplier of ammunition to the Ukrainian army when the poisoning occurred. Two sources who were involved in arms procurement in Ukraine at the time told the newspaper that after Gebrev’s poisoning, Nikolai Shaposhnikov offered “Ukrainian government buyers a reliable replacement” for Gebrev. Ukraine did not purchase ammunition from the proposed supplier because of the unsatisfactory quality of the goods.

According to the Czech police, Alena Shaposhnikova sent General Averyanov information about upcoming arms sales deals discovered by her husband while working at Imex via email. It is believed that the GRU used this information for sabotage operations in the event that these deliveries were detrimental to Russia’s military interests. Investigators believe that on at least three occasions, the Shaposhnikovs provided physical access to Imex-operated storage facilities so that GRU officers could install remote-controlled detonators.

According to the travel and border crossing data obtained by The Insider, Alena Shaposhnikova “secretly” received a Russian passport from a range of numbers reserved for members of Unit 29155. According to the publication, Shaposhnikova used this passport to travel to Russia twice: in December 2015 and in December 2017. The Insider asserts that she received the title of Hero of Russia during her first trip. There is no official confirmation of this information. Investigator Khristo Grozev previously reported that GRU officers Alexander Mishkin and Anatoly Chepiga received the title of Hero of Russia for their explosions at warehouses in the Czech Republic.

Alena and Nikolai Shaposhnikov refused to come to the Czech Republic for interrogation, so representatives of the Greek and Bulgarian authorities talked to them. They claimed that all their ties with GRU members were “personal” or due to Imex’s business interests. They didn’t know that Kapino and Averyanov were Russian intelligence officers, and they claimed that they did not knowingly assist the GRU in any of the sabotage operations.

In February 2024, Nikolai Shaposhnikov died. The cause of death is unknown, but The Insider claims that Shaposhnikov began abusing alcohol after becoming the subject of a Czech police investigation. Alena Shaposhnikova lives in Greece.

As The Insider has previously claimed, GRU unit 29155 has been organizing explosions in EU countries since 2011. According to the publication, the first sabotage took place at a warehouse in Bulgaria; ammunition was delivered there that could have been intended for sale to Georgia.

In 2021, the Czech Republic accused Russia of organizing an explosion that occurred on October 16, 2014, at an arms depot in the eastern part of the country, which led to numerous destructions and the deaths of two local residents. It was only six and a half years later that the Czech government officially accused Russia of organizing this sabotage.

In this regard, Prague expelled 18 Russian diplomats, and Russia responded by declaring 20 employees of the Czech Embassy in Moscow persona non grata. After that, the Czech Republic announced that it was expelling about 70 more Russian embassy staff. Several EU countries joined the expulsion of Russian diplomats in solidarity with the Czech Republic. Several EU countries expelled Russian diplomats. Several EU countries expelled Russian diplomats.

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