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Poland reforms espionage commission after Russia spy arrests

Poland announced on Tuesday the re-establishment of a commission to investigate Russian influence as the country battles what it says are attempts by Moscow at internal destabilization. 

“I issued an order on the establishment of a commission to investigate Russian and Belarusian influence on the internal security and interests of the Republic of Poland in the years 2004-2024,” Prime Minister Donald Tusk told a news conference.

The revival of the commission marks a U-turn for Tusk who, while in opposition, had slammed the body, which was set up by Poland’s previous nationalist government, as a vehicle for a political witch hunt against him.

Poland arrests nine people linked to Russian spy ring

The commission’s re-establishment under the head of the Military Counter-Intelligence Service, General Jaroslaw Strozyk, comes a day after Polish authorities arrested nine people on suspicion of carrying out or planning acts of sabotage ordered by Russian intelligence services,

“We currently have nine suspects arrested and charged with engaging in acts of sabotage in Poland directly on behalf of the Russian services,” Prime Minister Tusk told private broadcaster TVN24 on Monday night.

He said that the acts included “beatings, arson and attempted arson” and that those arrested are “Ukrainian, Belarusian and Polish citizens,” likely with criminal backgrounds, connected to a Russian spy ring.

Tusk said the group is suspected of involvement in attempted arson at a paint factory in Wroclaw, southwestern Poland, and an IKEA shopping center in Lithuania, with activities also targeting Latvia and possibly Sweden.

Warsaw says its position as a hub for Western supplies to Ukraine has made it a key target for Russian intelligence services.

Tusk indicated that Poland had foiled several acts of sabotage “thanks to the vigilance of our services and our allies.”

Poland boosts intelligence and defense spending

Earlier this month, the Polish government announced it was allocating an additional 100 million zlotys ($25.53 million) to its own intelligence services to combat the threat.

This is on top of the 10 billion zlotys ($2.5 billion), that Warsaw is pouring into physical military defenses on its eastern border with Belarus and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.

“We are starting a major project to build a secure border, including fortifications and reorganization of the terrain and the environment so that this border can no longer serve as a gateway for a potential enemy,” said Tusk, adding that work on “Protective Shield East” has already begun.

Increase in suspected Russian-backed incidents

Last month saw a notable rise in the number of incidents in Poland which authorities believe are linked to Russian espionage.

In April, two Polish citizens were detained on suspicion of attacking Leonid Volkov, an exiled top aide to late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, in Vilnius, Lithuania. A Belarusian national was also detained on suspicion of having ordered the attack.

Another Pole was arrested in April and charged with plans to cooperate with Russian foreign intelligence in preparation for a possible assassination attempt on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Neither the Russian embassy in Warsaw nor the Kremlin in Moscow have commented on the incidents.

Also last month, two German-Russian nationals were arrested in the Bavarian town of Bayreuth on suspicion of spying on German military premises and preparing explosives.

Shortly after that, a German army captain admitted spying for Moscow, saying his actions were driven by a fear of a nuclear escalation amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Back in February, Polish authorities carried out searches in connection with a suspected Russian spy network following intelligence provided by the Czech Republic.

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