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Senior French officer held on suspicion of spying for Russia

A senior French military officer stationed at a NATO base has been indicted and jailed on suspicion of spying for Russia, local media and sources said on Sunday.

Senior French officer held on suspicion of spying for Russia
A change of command ceremony at the base of NATO’s Alliance Ground Surveillance Force in Sigonella, Italy. It is not known at which Italian Nato base the officer was stationed. Photo: Falk Plankenhorn
The French army officer was stationed abroad, a judicial source said confirming details from Europe 1 radio. According to the report, the soldier was stationed on a NATO base in Italy and is suspected of espionage on behalf of Russia.
   
The French government confirmed it was investigating a senior military officer over a “security breach”.
   
“What I can confirm is that a senior officer is facing legal proceedings for a security breach,” Defence Minister Florence Parly told Europe 1 radio, CNews and Les Echos newspaper. She gave no further details.
   
The judicial source said the officer had been indicted and jailed on charges involving “intelligence with a foreign power that undermines the fundamental interests of the nation”.
   
He is being prosecuted for “delivering information to a foreign power”, “collecting information harming the fundamental interests of the nation with a view to delivering them to a foreign power” and “compromising the secrecy of national defence”, the source said.
 
   
Europe 1 said the officer was a lieutenant-colonel stationed with NATO in Italy and had been placed under investigation on suspicion of spying for Russia.
   
He speaks Russian and was seen in Italy with a man identified as an agent of the GRU, the Russian military intelligence
service, the report said. It said he is suspected of having supplied sensitive documents to Russian intelligence.
   
The man was arrested by DGSI intelligence service as he was about to leave for Italy at the end of his holidays in France, and is being held at a prison in Paris, Europe 1 said.

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NATO

EXPLAINED: Could Turkey block Sweden from Nato membership?

At the last minute, Turkey has thrown up objections to a future Swedish Nato membership. What's going on?

EXPLAINED: Could Turkey block Sweden from Nato membership?

What’s happened? 

On Friday, Turkey’s president surprised everyone in the Nato process by saying that it “would be a mistake” to admit Finland and Sweden, given the way the two countries have sheltered members of groups which Turkey views as terrorist, such as the Kurdish nationalist PKK and YPG, and members of the Gülenist movement. On Saturday, Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde met her counterpart Mevlüt Cavusoglu, but failed to make any headway. 

Why is Turkey unhappy? 

Turkey has long accused Sweden, and to a lesser extent Finland, of providing asylum to members of PKK, an armed group fighting for parts of northeastern Turkey to become a Kurdish homeland, which is designated a terrorist organisation by the US, EU and some other countries. 

There are no official statistics on the number of Kurds living in Sweden, but Kurdish groups estimate the number at as much as 100,000, including six MPs of Kurdish origin. 

Sweden has given significant support to the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, which is defended by the YPG militia, which Turkey views as a terrorist group. Sweden has given the administration some $50 million in aid. 

“The problem is that these two countries are openly supporting and engaging with PKK and YPG [People’s Protection Units],” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Saturday as he arrived at a Nato meeting in Berlin. “These are terrorist organisations that have been attacking our troops every day.” 

What does Turkey want? 

According to Reuters, Turkey has demanded that Sweden and Finland extradite a wish-list of 33 people it sees as linked to the PKK, YPG, or else to the Gülenist movement Turkey blames for a coup attempt in 2016. 

Çavuşoğlu has also called for Sweden and Finland to clamp down on “outlets, activities, organisations, individuals and other types of presence” linked to the PKK. 

He has also called for and end to what he called “arms aid” from Sweden to Kurdish organisations. 

What has Sweden done so far? 

Sweden’s foreign minister Ann Linde met with Cavusoglu on Saturday. After the meeting, she was categorical that Sweden viewed PKK as a terrorist group, but said that she did believe that the Kurdish government in northern Syria was part of the same organisation. 

Both Sweden and Finland have refused to extradite the individuals on Turkey’s wish-list. 

Sweden’s defence minister Peter Hultqvist told Swedish state broadcaster SVT on Monday that Sweden would now send a group of officials to Turkey to try to work out how to meet the country’s concerns. 

Might Turkey end up blocking Sweden’s membership? 

For a new member to be admitted to Nato requires the consensus of all existing members, so theoretically, yes, it could. 

But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, on Saturday expressed a willingness to compromise. 

“We are not closing the door. But we are basically raising this issue as a matter of national security for Turkey,” Kalin told Reuters in an interview. 

Hultqvist told Swedish television on Monday that Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had told him that Turkey had not raised any objections to Swedish and Finnish membership earlier in the process and that he expected that an agreement could be reached. 

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