“The investigation is still ongoing, there are two foreign citizens being investigated, who are accused of espionage, and this is a very serious matter that we are following very closely,” Foreign Minister Tanja Fajon commented on the affair, who, despite the seriousness of the matter, does not intend to call the Russian ambassador to a hearing, saying that she does not think it is appropriate to do so at the moment. She reacted in a similar manner (or, rather, did not react) when Iran imposed sanctions against the Slovenian MEP Milan Zver. “Fajon likes these countries,” an unnamed but reliable source told us. “This affair has become public because of the Slovenian government and Slovenian MEPs – Slovenia is seen as a pro-Russian country in the European Union and NATO,” our source added.
As we have already reported, the Slovene Intelligence and Security Service (Slovenska obveščevalno-varnostna služba – SOVA) has allegedly arrested two Russian spies, and the National Bureau of Investigation (Nacionalni preiskovalni urad – NPU) is also said to be involved in the prosecution. The arrests took place on the 5th of December, which makes it all the more interesting that the case has only now been so widely reported in the public or mainstream media. “This affair has become public because of the Slovenian government and Slovenian MEPs – Slovenia is considered a pro-Russian country in the European Union and NATO,” an unnamed but reliable source explained to our media outlet. To make the situation a bit less clear, it has now been made public that two Russian spies have been caught in Slovenia. Let’s not forget that Slovenian left-wing MEPs were among the few who did not support the resolution declaring Russia a state sponsor of terrorism.
One could speculate that this is a kind of PR campaign in favour of the Foreign Minister, Tanja Fajon, and the State Secretary for National and International Security, Andrej Benedejčič, who want to change their public profile, which has been rather pro-Russian up to now. “It is a national disgrace that Benedejčič is the State Secretary for National Security,” said our source, who recalled that Benedejčič has always defended pro-Russian positions. Tanja Fajon said that she would not call the Russian ambassador to a hearing, but would wait for the courts’ judgements – which is, to say the least, a bit unusual. Of course, this does not mean that the Russian ambassador is not informed about what is happening. What is more, in all likelihood, he knew beforehand that the two spies in question were in our country. Countries such as Russia, China and Iran are known to have their intelligence officers working undercover as diplomats in their embassies. “I doubt that the Russian ambassador did not know about these two, even though they are not embassy employees,” said our interlocutor, who also stressed that Fajon should, of course, have immediately called him to a discussion when the two spies were arrested in early December. But Fajon is sympathetic to these countries, which explains why she did not even call the Iranian ambassador to a hearing when Iran put Slovenian MEP Milan Zver on the so-called list of terrorists.
There is some speculation circulating in connection with the arrest of the two Russian spies, that the Ministry of Culture, under the leadership of Minister Asta Vrečko, was going to subsidise the Art Gallery of the Russian spies (Art Gallery 5’14). The procedure for granting the subsidy is reportedly still underway, and although the decision has not yet been issued, the Minister has reportedly already approved it. This was reported on Twitter by investigative journalist Bojan Požar, who added that this is why there is panic at the Ministry of Culture. Asked whether the Ministry of Culture could be linked to the two spies, he replied that he did not want to speculate, but Culture Minister Asta Vrečko has already denied the allegations. “This is a completely fabricated news story, published solely to discredit the Ministry,” she wrote. Whether she was telling the truth remains to be seen. “The story has come in fantastically handy for Prime Minister Robert Golob to effectively divert public attention from the internal political crisis to Russian spies,” Požar added.
Damage to national security
Of course, all this raises the question of whether the two currently detained spies might also have had access to politicians. Slovenia is a member of the EU and NATO and has certain positions, certain influences, and access to documents, so it would certainly be in the spies’ interest to gain access to all of this. In addition, there is also the question of whether they have been in contact with any journalists – this is how, for example, they could have influenced the reporting on the Russian aggression against Ukraine. There are only two ways in which the two spies could have been detected by the Slovene Intelligence and Security Agency – either they got their information from a particular foreign intelligence service, or they were monitoring Russian informants who are on their radar and, for some reason, became aware of the two spies. It is quite possible that they wanted to get them on their side, but without success. However, our source does not consider it optimal that the matter has become public, because now others who may be monitored by the Slovene Intelligence and Security Agency will be all the more vigilant or cautious. “A lot of things could have been made public in the past, but weren’t. The fact that the story of the arrest of two Russian spies has been leaked to the media is a major setback for national security and for all the counter-intelligence operations that the Slovene Intelligence and Security Agency is currently conducting. Whoever did this, acted to the detriment of Slovenia,” commented MP Žan Mahnič on Twitter, adding that when he first heard the news, he thought that Benedejčič was among those arrested. “No one in NATO would be surprised,” he added.
Slovenia is a country of interest for informants
According to unofficial information provided to the media outlet 24ur.com, the two Argentinian nationals who have been arrested are Maria Rosa Mayer Munos and Ludwig Gisch, who worked through the art gallery Art Gallery 5’14 and the IT company DSM & IT. Andrej Rupnik, former director of the Slovene Intelligence and Security Agency, told several media that the war in Ukraine is certainly what intensifies both intelligence and sub-intelligence activities on both sides. “The war is taking place right on the doorstep of these two organisations. All countries in these two associations have their own position on the war. So far, this position is relatively homogeneous. The desire of the Russian side would be to break this homogeneity,” he told the media outlet N1, explaining why Slovenia, as a member state of NATO and the European Union, is interesting for the Russian Federation. Slovenia is also located in a geographical area that is interesting because of several respects. According to Rupnik, the Russian Federation is also likely to be interested in the political climate in Slovenia in terms of support for one side or the other. However, Rupnik also finds it interesting that the arrest happened at all. “Very often in this intelligence world, things do not end with an arrest, but a variety of other ways are used to deal with such a situation,” he explained, adding that these are certainly not the only two spies in Slovenia.
“At the present time – not only on a European but also on a global scale – the Russian-Ukrainian war is an objective situation that indirectly generates an enormous potential of risks in all the priority areas mentioned above. In addition to physical war and hybrid warfare, the biggest confrontation of secret services in the post-Iron Curtain era is also underway,” Rupnik told the Delo newspaper, explaining that especially the big services (not only the Russian ones) have intensified all forms of so-called active measures, which, in addition to the classic espionage, include the dissemination of disinformation and propaganda, the creation of fifth columns, sabotage, diversions, black operations, the management of para-militaries, and other similar activities.
The two Russian spies lived as a couple in Črnuče, on Primožičeva Street, together with their two underaged children. It is not known whether the children are really theirs, nor where they are at the moment. According to some sources, they are well taken care of. A Slovenian citizen is also believed to have been working with the Russian spies but has not been arrested yet. Maria Rosa Mayer Munos and Ludwig Gisch are said to have arrived in Slovenia six years ago, and Maria Rosa was described by Croatian artist Mirjana Vajdić to the Siol media outlet as extremely likeable. “She told me that she is married, that she and her husband have a gallery and that they live in Ljubljana. She was alone at the fair, she was extremely gracious, and she made friends with the artists who were exhibiting near her. She was the first one to approach me, and we started talking,” she said, adding that she would never have dreamt about something like this.
The arrest in early December was reportedly cinematic, as if a gunfight with the Russian mafia was expected. However, according to certain sources, the one in the most trouble at the moment is Secretary of State Benedejčič, who is reportedly expected by the Russians to get the arrested couple out. Benedejčič, it should be pointed out, was the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Slovenia to NATO and, before that, Slovenia’s Ambassador to Russia. According to some media reports, Benedejčič, as Slovenia’s representative at NATO headquarters in Brussels, was accused of being a Russian agent and of spying for Russia – and his recall was demanded. Interestingly, Benedejčič described the arrest of the spies as the biggest success of the Slovenian intelligence agency so far. However, MEP and former State Secretary at the Ministry of Defence, Klemen Grošelj, disagreed with Benedejčič, pointing out that the greatest successes of intelligence agencies are usually those that are not known to the public. “Here, however, the news has probably been leaked to the public with deliberation and with a certain political objective,” he noted.