The Russian spy in Strasbourg was “not James Bond”
“He was there sometimes, he smiled,” said Tiny Kox, a Dutch politician, speaking of a Russian spy he used to see in the corridors of the Council of Europe building in Strasbourg, in France.
“It wasn’t James Bond,” Kox added, referring to a British spy film icon.
“He was there, but he didn’t say or do anything. I don’t know if that’s part of spying behavior,” Kox said.
“I never speak with the secretaries but they always accompany their delegations,” he added.
Kox is currently President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).
The low-key Russian was Valery Levitsky, who previously served as general secretary of the 80-person Russian delegation in Strasbourg, as well as an officer in Russia’s GRU military intelligence service.
France expelled him in 2018 for espionage.
Levitsky described Kox as a friend of Russia internally Russian documents revealed in September this year by Dossier Center, a London-based NGO, arousing suspicion.
But Kox denied knowing him or ever having had any pro-Russian leanings.
“There was no relationship between me and the spy Russia might have sent to the Council of Europe,” Kox said.
“I’ve been involved in quite a few romances, even though I’m now 45 with my wife, but a romance with Russia that I’ve never been involved in,” the Dutch socialite also said.
Russia was expelled from the Council of Europe shortly after it invaded Ukraine in February, in a move Kox approved.
“If you cross the borders of a neighboring state with your army and then cross the borders of the Council of Europe, you are eliminated,” he told EUobserver.
And if Moscow had counted on him for friendly relations as PACE president, then his support “swelled”, Kox said.
PACE, under its watch, also labeled the Russian regime a “terrorist” entity and called for the creation of a special tribunal to try Russian President Vladimir Putin for the crime of “aggression” against Ukraine, Kox noted. .
“It would be important for the EU to also come to the same conclusion,” he said, as MEPs in the European Parliament prepared to vote on a resolution on Russia’s “terrorist” status on Wednesday 23 november.
The new “aggression” tribunal would go after the Russian government, which has also inflicted losses on its own people, Kox said.
Some 84,600 Russian soldiers are believed to have died in the war, he said, and while they were ‘not victims but perpetrators of violence’ the figure still left him ‘cold’, he said. added.
The UN already had war crimes tribunals for military commanders and soldiers, so no one would go unpunished, Kox said.
“We have seen one atrocity after another [committed in Ukraine]”Kox said, referring to reports of mass rapes of Ukrainian women and killings of civilians.
When asked why the Russian soldiers were behaving so blatantly, he replied, “It’s hard to judge at this stage.”
“Atrocities take place in all wars by soldiers who were once sons and fathers and lived normally and it needs to be investigated, what’s behind it,” Kox said.
Going back to Levitsky, the revelations in the dossier suggested that he was part of a wider pro-Russian clique that also included Bruno Aller (a former French secretary general of PACE) and René van der Linden (a former president Dutch PACE).
But when asked if he thought the Council of Europe had a serious problem with Russian espionage in the years before the war, Kox disagreed.
Both Aller and van der Linden’s reputations were beyond reproach, he said.
“It’s not just the Russians in diplomacy who have their connections with the secret services,” he added.
But in any case, the Council of Europe did not have an internal security team to relay concerns to people like Kox in the hierarchy, he noted.
Council staff checked people’s basic credentials and delegates had to sign a code of conduct about what they were doing in Strasbourg.
But security checks or investigations into allegations of wrongdoing, such as espionage or bribery, were up to national authorities, Kox said.