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News Top Russian officials are defecting.this person is helping them



CNN

Vladimir Osechkin said he was walking to his dining table, holding plates of pasta for his children, when he spotted red lasers flying on the wall.

He knows what to expect.

He turned off the lights and said he and his wife pulled the baby to the ground and hurried out of sight into another area of ​​the apartment. Minutes later, Osechkin said, a would-be assassin was fired, mistaking the rushing police for a Russian dissident.

For the next 30 minutes, Osechkin told CNN, his wife and children lay on the floor. During the Sept. 12 attack, his wife was closest to their children, protecting them from further bullets.

“I have done a lot over the past 10 years to protect human rights and other people. But at this moment, I understand that my mission to help others poses a very high risk to my family,” Osechkin told CNN in France , where he has lived since 2015, when he fled Russia and applied for asylum. He now has full-time police protection.

Emboldened and disaffected by a growing number of senior Russian officials defecting to the West, emboldened and disaffected by the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine, he has become a supporter. He said they included former generals and intelligence officers.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signaled his determination to go after the Kremlin’s enemies abroad. Osychkin has been arrested in absentia in Russia and is currently on the “most wanted list” of Russian authorities. France offered him asylum, but security was much harder to come by.

Osechkin’s work as an investigative reporter and anticorruption activist — meaning he made it his business to know the secrets of the Russian state — helped in part. Twice, tipsters beat the killer to his door, he told CNN.

“Vladimir, be careful,” a source in the Chechen diaspora texted him in February. “There’s already an advance offer to knock you out.”

Osechkin’s reaction was eerily calm. “Good evening. Wow. How much does my gray hair cost?”

Osechkin is now living under armed guard provided by French authorities, and his address and daily activities are kept secret.

An influential human rights activist and journalist, Osychkin has long been a thorn in the side of many powerful Russians. After founding Gulagu.net, a collaborative human rights organization targeting corruption and torture in Russia, in 2011, he oversaw a series of high-profile investigations accusing Russian agencies and ministries of crimes. There have been allegations of systematic rape of male prisoners in Russian prisons.

But it’s Gulagu.net’s work since Russian tanks crossed the Ukrainian border in February that has given the group new international clout.

Osechkin said the prison investigation inspired a group of officials from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the Soviet KGB, to become whistleblowers after they said they were “disgusted and surprised” by the Gulagu.net findings. What led to the #windofchange was a series of letters purportedly shared by FSB personnel with Osechkin’s organization. Posted online by Osechkin’s team, they elaborated on their objections to Russia’s direction and the war in Ukraine.

Putin’s so-called “special military operation” was not the only action the Russians took after 24 February. It also sparked a “massive wave” of Russian officials leaving their homes, Osechkin said, dwarfed only by the crowds fleeing the Kremlin’s “partial mobilization” order in September.Now, he told CNN, “every day people … ask [for] our help. ”

Many were low-ranking soldiers, but among them were bigger prizes: Osechkin said their number included a former government minister and a former three-star Russian general — CNN has identified a former FSB officer and Wagnerian mercenary.

In January, Osechkin helped a former Wagnerian commander flee Russia on foot to apply for asylum in neighboring Norway. The veteran feared for his life after refusing to renew his contract with the Mercenary Corps.

“When this person is at a very high level, they understand very well how the machinery of the Putin regime works, and they understand very well that if they turn on [up about it]the risk of committing an act of terrorism with Novichok or the killer is very high,” Osagechkin told CNN. The nerve agent used by Ripar in 1999. The British government assessed that the Russian government “almost certainly” approved the poisoning operation; Moscow denies any involvement.

Emran Navruzbekov, a former senior FSB lieutenant, was among those in Europe helped by Osechkin.

The implicit agreement for the officials to flee Russia through Osechkin’s network was to provide him with information about Moscow’s inner workings. Some of them ended up in the hands of European intelligence agencies, with which Osechkin was in regular contact, he said.

Emran Navruzbekov, a former FSB senior lieutenant whom Osechkin helped in Europe, said he prepared FSB directives on Russian espionage in Europe for Western intelligence agencies.

“Our FSB bosses asked their agents in Europe to know about ‘mercenaries’ who were going to Ukraine. Volunteers fighting for Ukraine were called terrorists by them. I kept such letters,” he told CNN network.

Some of the information Osechkin helped carry — even military secrets — he acknowledged was of limited interest to his human rights group. But Western intelligence agencies have very different priorities.

Michel Yakovleff, a former French army general and former deputy commander of NATO operations who reviewed several military files obtained by Osechkin at CNN’s request, said that while These files may not be important to military commanders, but “these are all intelligence. Even if they are interesting individually, they make up a picture. That’s what intelligence gathering is about.”

Photo by Michel Yakovleff, then NATO commander in northern Kosovo, December 2008.

According to Osechkin, a former Russian general brought military documents that included architectural plans of the building, along with legends detailing the meaning of symbols, listing utilities and dates of construction.

To win Europe’s favor, the general hopes Western authorities will see their value, Osechkin said. Intelligence sources have confirmed the authenticity of the documents to CNN, but have questioned their usefulness and exclusivity.

For Yakovleff, documents aren’t the only currency the defectors hold.

“The real question is, where are you in the hierarchy? How much do you trust? Who are the people around you who you trust? What kind of access do you have to what?” he said.

“We’re not interested in that file. We’re interested in your access rights. Usually things you know, but [which] You do not know [that you know] “There is a market for intelligence services,” Yakovleff added.

In addition to military documents, the former Russian general also provided information on corruption within the military and secret recordings showing the FSB even within military units, Osechkin said.

Maria Dmitrieva is seeking asylum in France after leaving Russia, where she says she works for the FSB.

Another defector, 32-year-old Maria Dmitrieva, escaped from FSB ranks, allegedly in secret. She told CNN that she has been working as a doctor for the FSB for a month. In preparation for her defection, she said she secretly recorded conversations with patients whose symptoms sometimes conceal state secrets.

An agent of the notorious GRU (or Russian military intelligence) contracted malaria after an undisclosed mission in Africa, she said. She claimed that other conversations showed Chechen officials enjoying impunity or that officials discussed the collapse of the Russian military.

CNN has been unable to independently verify this.

Dmitrieva, who is seeking asylum in the south of France, leaving behind her family and a boyfriend she says works for Russian intelligence, is unsure whether the information she has given authorities is enough to warrant her permanent asylum.

“You need a good reason to defect,” Yakovlev said. “It wasn’t sudden, [that] “I suddenly realized that democracy is better than tyranny, so here I am.”

“This is the first question [intelligence agencies] will have. ‘Why is this man defecting now? ‘” he added.

Former FSB official Navruzbekov claimed that desperation for Russia’s opportunities in Ukraine drove many of his colleagues to seek escape.

“In the FSB right now, everyone is looking out for themselves, everyone wants to flee Russia. Every FSB officer wants to flee,” he told CNN.

“They’ve understood that Russia will never win this war and they’ll just do everything they can to find a solution,” he said.

For Dmitrieva, the war in Ukraine was also a flashpoint. She said she wanted to inspire others in the establishment to undermine Putin’s regime.

“I am not afraid of anyone but the Almighty. Because it is important to me that through my actions I can set an example for my fellow citizens, fellow security officers and law enforcement,” she said.

She left more in Moscow than her family. Dmitrieva said her position afforded her unique privileges, including a limousine with state plates and an office with a view of the Ministry of Defense. She said she didn’t regret leaving.

“What inspires me the most is the conviction that I’m taking the right actions to stop what’s happening so fewer people die,” Dmitrieva said.

“Putin and his entourage and everyone who is in favor of this war – these people are murderers. Why is [you] Disturb this country that has been fine for 30 years? ”

Ossetchkin said the Ukrainian roots and family ties of many Russian officials played a key role in their defections, prompting them to join a years-long flight of journalists and human rights defenders from Russia.

“There is no truth to this war,” he said. “It’s a man’s war who wants to save his power, his control of Russia, and wants to put it in international history and school textbooks.”

Since he helped whistleblowers flee Russia, Osechkin has become a beacon for defectors who know he has ties to Western authorities and a public image to ensure the most effective handling of their smuggled secrets.

Osechkin says his colleagues verify the identities of everyone they help out of fear that Moscow is trying to infiltrate his organization and discredit his work.

Even so, Gulagu.net was embarrassed by a man posing as a defector whose apparent motive — not actually defecting — was only revealed after Osechkin aired four interviews with him on the group’s YouTube channel come out. In a video interview with another blogger, the imposter criticized how much Osechkin cared for him while he was in Europe. Osechkin acknowledged that this would make it harder for genuine whistleblowers to trust him.

Osechkin argued that “true secret agents of the Russian Federation” could get into Europe without his help.

European allies have taken an increasingly tough line against Russian espionage following a string of Russian attacks, including the 2014 seizure of Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine, the Skripal poisoning in Britain and a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February. position.

According to British intelligence, 600 Russians have been deported from European countries this year, 400 of them spies. Many served as diplomats.

Ossechkin also sees Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as a turning point for the Russian leader, destabilizing Russia for decades under his rule.

“He has a lot of enemies in his system because they work with him [for] For over 20 years, for stability, money and a better life for the next generation. And now, this year, Putin has removed that view of their life,” he said.

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