"Here in Petrozavodsk,
everyone and their dog ​​knows
that I was in the GRU."



How a journalist from Karelia found himself embroiled in an international scandal and became the object of an FSB investigation
Team 29 special project "Enforcement of Loyalty"
In November 2018, Swedish journalist Matthias Karlsson published a newspaper article in Dagens Nyheter about Alexey Vladimirov, his colleague from Karelia. According to Karlsson, 50-year-old Vladimirov (whose real surname is Alekseev), who works as the editor of the Chernika newspaper, went to a training seminar on investigative journalism hosted by SCOOP- Russia in Kalmar, Sweden back in the spring of 2017. He had allegedly been instructed to do so by the Karelian FSB department. Immediately after the article was published, Vladimirov rejected these accusations, saying that he himself became a person of interest for the FSB after this international scandal.   
Nothing to hide
According to Karlsson, in the 1990s, Vladimirov served in the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) special forces. After this, he and his colleagues founded "Nobility and Faith," a union for special service veterans. The Swedish journalist (and his sources in the Scandinavian secret services) argued that Vladimirov could be linked to the secret services through this veterans organisation. 

The publication also noted that Vladimirov did not provide any information about his past when filling out an application for the SCOOP programme. Also, he did not complete his ‘homework’ from the training - the task was to investigate and publish an investigation of your choosing. 

“I could not write this investigation because my hypothesis had not been confirmed when I’d started researching.” Vladimirov says he wanted to write about illegal quarrying. “I spent a lot of time on it, but unfortunately, it didn't work out. These things happen." 

Vladimirov makes no attempt to hide the fact that he worked for the GRU back in the 90s, serving in Tajikistan: “We were stationed on the Afghan border, intercepting drug traffickers... Here in Petrozavodsk, everyone and their dog ​​knows that I was in the GRU. I do not attempt to hide this fact. What could I even talk about? Certainly nothing interesting or noteworthy.”
As for being in the GRU, it’s nothing to hide. It’s just ordinary military service. It’s a job, we weren’t "super soldiers" or anything like that. I'll tell you what: the airborne troops also belong to the GRU. Did you see these GRU folk on August 2nd?" (Air Force Day).
Vladimirov says that he left the GRU at the end of the 90s, by which point he was a colonel. He subsequently became part of "Nobility and Faith," a union of special services veterans. 

“I was one of the co-founders and provided some of the ideological groundwork,” says Vladimirov. “This fund was created in Moscow. The situation was quite dire back then. Whenever someone was injured or, God forbid, died, their families were left without any state support. The fund’s founder was Alpha commander Robert Ivon. The fund was set up to support the families of those who were either killed or wounded in battle. This is also needed in Karelia as well. I did not receive any salary or rations for eight months. He helped the veterans, and at night, worked as a taxi driver. That’s just how it was. As far as I’m aware, the fund no longer exists." 
Communication with the FSB
According to Matthias Karlsson, before going abroad, Vladimirov met with FSB employees and could have been sent to the SCOOP project to collect information about its participants.

The journalist does not deny that he knows some FSB officers in Karelia, namely their former press secretary Sergey Bondarev: “We worked together when I was conducting a historical investigation. I contacted him because I needed some information from the archives."

There are also several current employees with whom he keeps in touch because, as he says, they are “good sources of information”:

“This is why I also keep in touch with the Emergency Situations Ministry and the prosecutor’s office,” says Alexey. “Why shouldn’t I? But unfortunately, they [the FSB] are a closed structure, so they’re difficult to communicate with. To be honest, there is nothing interesting there, anyway. The last thing they mentioned that really piqued my interest was back in 2017, when I last talked to them about migrants illegally crossing the border.”
“I wrote a publication opposing the construction of a mosque in Kukkovka, Petrozavodsk. I needed some data, about numbers of people and their routes ... so they gave me some confidential information, but it was just general data."

Artyom Kutlovsky
How can a journalist contact FSB sources? Team 29’s lawyer, Artyom Kutlovsky, explains.


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How can a journalist contact FSB sources?
First, be wary of your information security. There are legal and ethical rules for working with sources. One of the main recommendations is to have evidence from other, preferably open, sources. The FSB is, of course, a unique and occasionally unsafe source of information as it contains state secrets. Just because the information is communicated to a journalist, does not stop it from being a state secret. We proceed from the assumption that the source is anonymous: current and even former FSB officers are prohibited from communicating with journalists on professional topics. So it is only safe to obtain information about the FSB, from the FSB (i.e. from their website or press service). 

How should editorial offices respond to written requests from the FSB? 

The FSB may, for example, ask you to disclose details or sources. In general, law enforcement agencies have the right to request this. The media are rarely contacted, so usually, it is journalists who write requests. Get advice from a lawyer and consider the following:  
  • The request must be transmitted by the representative of the body, and not by any other employee; 
  • Check if the request is in accordance with the law. If it is unclear what documents are in question, you can ask for clarification upon answering.
  • Have they requested copies or originals of documents; 
  • The obligation to disclose a source can only be obtained by a court order. 

It is recommended that you always answer, however briefly. This can help to avoid searches, documents getting seized, as well as prosecution for non-compliance.
Occasionally, FSB officers try to get information from Vladimirov. This was the case in 2017 when he published a text about the failed resettlement program and emergency housing in the Karelian city of Kondopoga. 

“They had some questions: ‘Can you share some information with us?’ to which I said, ‘I can if you send over an official questionnaire.’ I can tell you this format is very convenient, but they are not used to it - I didn’t get anything from them in the end. Well, why would I tell them about it? Am I a goldfish or something? Why would I share my work with them? They can do it themselves! Whenever we ask them for a comment, they tell us to make an official request. Why should I treat them differently? As I said, I'm not going to do their job for them. Why should they get to poke around after everything has already been done for them?"

Vladimirov does not understand what is of interest to the FSB in Karelia. He says that he often sees news reports about preventing illegal border crossings, but that is about it: “I really don’t understand what they’re doing  -just going around collecting general information about everything and anything? Can you remember any terror cases being filed? ... I don't see the point of it all."    

In March 2018, Vladimirov submitted an application to the FSB, the prosecutor's office of Karelia and the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ anti-extremism centre, requesting to check photos of the priest of the Petrozavodsk Holy Cross Cathedral, Father Konstantin Savander, which were posted on VK. According to the journalist, he found several photographs on the priest's page depicting Hitler and SS soldiers with crosses. However, a case was not brought against the priest: the FSB said to Vladimirov that this was not their jurisdiction. The prosecutor's office forwarded the statement to the Petrozavodsk police department. The journalist points out that activist Alexey Trunov was fined 1,000 rubles back in 2015 after posting a photo of a coin on VK, which law enforcement officers subsequently decided was Nazi paraphernalia.
Looking for enemies
Vladimirov says these accusations of espionage are unfounded, adding that it is unpleasant for him to retell this story.

“Have you ever found yourself in a situation where the finger is being pointed at you?” He asks. “Naturally, it was very unpleasant. That's how it all came about, totally out of the blue … Each of our professions faced the FSB. I just don't see the point. What else is there [for FSB officers] to find out? ... I did not see any kind of huge investigation. The SCOOP project has existed since the early 2000s. Plus, you can just find everything out from social media."

The journalist's relations with some of his colleagues also deteriorated. Still, Vladimirov does not have any regrets: “I don’t think that my reputation has suffered, and those who have shown themselves up during all this, well thank God they did. Of course, it did make me reevaluate my life to an extent because some colleagues whom I trusted behaved very unpleasantly towards me."

The journalist says that the FSB in Karelia conducted an investigation against him after the scandal, but he declines to give many details.

“I can tell you that the investigation was related to all this,” he says. “It all lasted about six months, and I was checked on by some people who were not from Karelia. It was very unpleasant for my family and me. But I'm free of it now.”
“Of course, I have not seen a more dumb situation. Keeping track of your colleagues like this - why?
As I understand it, this Karlsson guy is just looking for enemies."
Vladimirov still works as editor of the online magazine Chernika. He says he continues to attend journalism seminars both in Russia and abroad. In 2020, Chernika published five investigations. 

The SCOOP- Russia Investigative Journalism programme did not recruit participants in 2019 or 2020. The project’s site is not available to users in Russia.