'Fantasy gone wild’ – Moscow sighs as Bellingcat claims FSB tried to influence UK visa process
Claims by “investigative” website Bellingcat that the FSB pressured a UK visa center to facilitate the issuance of travel permits to the alleged Skripal poisoners is a self-exposing joke, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
“Great! There are certainly no limits to the imagination of our partners,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova wrote on Facebook, commenting on another report by the controversial Bellingcat group claiming that Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) had tried to infiltrate the British visa center system in Moscow to organize entry papers for “a couple of guys who need to visit the UK.”
The authors hint that the “guys” were Aleksandr Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, who London accuses of being Russian Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) agents, responsible for the chemical poisoning of double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury in March. The two men denied the accusations and said they only visited the UK as tourists. The GRU stated that they have never employed them as agents.
The new report includes a story by a man claiming to be “a highly proficient Russian IT specialist,” who has applied for political asylum in the US.
Vadim, as he's called in the report, says that in 2016, when he was working at a firm that provided visa application processing services to British and other consulates, he was recruited as an “undercover collaborator” by the FSB in order to breach and compromise the British consulate visa issuance system. Of course, there were no mentioning of the names, but Vadim thought it was relevant to the Skripal affair and contacted Bellingcat.
It's unclear how the scheme could even work as the decision on granting visas is made in London.
“TLScontact has a purely administrative role, while all the visa and immigration issues are handled by the Home office,” a source in the Home Office told RBC.
Maria Zakharova called the UK-based Bellingcat’s investigation a “new joke” that simply includes all of the acronyms of Russian security agencies known to the authors in the same article.
“So the FSB agents helped the GRU agents get visas without checks by the British visa center… They should’ve added that the agents of the SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service) were on the lookout outside, much to the envy of the Russian National Guard,” she wrote.
Since being established by Eliot Higgins in 2014, Bellingcat has become a darling of the mainstream media, which rarely questions the authenticity of its research.
It’s not surprising as the website’s investigations, claimed to be based on open sources, are usually targeted against governments that don’t share the Western agenda, such as those in Russia, Syria, and Iran.
Many Bellingcat revelations have been refuted and the website has been repeatedly slammed for bias, questionable handling of facts, and reliance on fakes.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov previously said Higgins’ website was cooperating with Western intelligence agencies and releases its ‘investigations’ in order to influence public opinion.
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