The number of clubs is higher than previously reported and the “sleeper cells” could stage violent provocations ahead of the upcoming German elections, they said, EU Observer writes.
The warnings come amid concerns by enemies of the Russian state who live in the EU that they could be harmed for their work.
The martial arts clubs, which teach an offensive style called “systema”, all have “direct or indirect” links to the GRU military intelligence or FSB domestic intelligence services in Russia, according to Dmitrij Chmelnizki, a scholar of Russian espionage who lives in Berlin.
He said the GRU was using them to recruit agents in the West the same way that it used to when it had bases in the former East Germany in Cold War times.
His investigation found 63 systema clubs in Germany and dozens more in other EU states, in the Western Balkans, and in North America.
Read alsoFBI once warned Congressman Rohrabacher of recruitment attempt by Russian spies - NYTMany of the clubs publicly boasted that they had links to Russian special forces and used GRU or FSB insignia, such as images of bats or of St. George.
“None of this is a secret to the German authorities, I hope”, Chmelnizki said.
According to GRU doctrine, these agents could be used to attack targets such as military bases or civilian airports if war broke out with NATO, but they could also be ordered to create “general terror in the enemy’s rear” or “an atmosphere of suspicion, insecurity, and fear” in an enemy country’s population during peacetime.
“They are organising combat sleeper cells”, Chmelnizki said.
Read alsoUPDATE: Manchester Arena blast kills 22, injures 59 - BBCLooking ahead to the German elections in September, he said that Russian agents could try to start a cycle of racist violence ahead of the vote. “They could be used to destabilise the situation, for instance by instigating violence during anti-government demonstrations, or by throwing molotov cocktails at a mosque or a migrant shelter”, he said.
He said the Systema Wolf school was of “special interest” because it was “developing very fast” in Europe.
It has, in just seven years, opened branches in Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Serbia, and Switzerland and it has created a German chapter of the Night Wolves, a Russian biker gang whose leader is friends with Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Chmelnizki said the Systema RMA school was also interesting because it appeared to be targeting recruits from inside German security services.
He noted that five alumni from its club in Bonn were from Germany’s special police, for instance.
Read alsoMacron campaign was target of cyber attacks by GRU-linked hackers - Reuters“The GRU feels just as at home today in united Germany as it used to in the former USSR”, he said.
An earlier report by Focus, a German magazine, said there were GRU-linked systema clubs in 30 German cities and that the BfV, the country’s domestic intelligence service, saw them as a security threat.