A pro-Russian aide to a far-right German legislator who attempted to scuttle Berlin’s shipment of main battle tanks to Ukraine is an agent of Russian intelligence, The Insider can now reveal. Also, his handler is a rapper.
This is a joint investigation with Der Spiegel.
Vladimir Sergienko, 52, is the Ukrainian-born adviser to Eugen Schmidt, a Bundestag deputy with the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. The Insider and Der Spiegel reported in August that Sergienko had fallen under suspicion in Germany after his email and text message correspondence with a suspected FSB operative known only as “Alexei” came to light.
Alexei’s real name can now be disclosed as Ilya Vechtomov, born in 1987, an officer of the Fifth Service of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), one of the successor agencies of the Soviet-era KGB. Although the FSB is largely responsible for domestic security and counterintelligence activities inside Russia, the Fifth Service, created in the 1990s, acts as its foreign intelligence arm. (On Jan. 29 The Insider disclosed that at least one Fifth Service FSB officer served as a handler to Tatjana Ždanoka, a Latvian MEP. Following the publication of that article, it was announced that Ždanoka is under internal investigation by the European Parliament.)
A graduate in Complex Assurance of Information Security from the Kalashnikov Izhevsk State Technical University, Vechtomov’s identity was confirmed through telephone metadata. It shows that he is in constant communication with dozens of other known members of the FSB, including Vladimir Petrovsky, the head of the Ninth Division of Operational Information Department (DOI) of the Fifth Service. “Alexei” was also matched to Vechtomov through partially overlapping usernames, passwords and avatars he recycled between his two identities. The Ninth Division is responsible for intelligence-gathering on Ukraine, the country that Vladimir Putin tasked the Fifth Service with politically destabilizing in the lead-up to Russia’s full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, 2022.
Vladimir Sergienko’s handler, FSB officer Ilya Vechtomov.
“Since its formation, the Fifth Service has targeted Ukrainian top officials and intelligence personnel with the aim to create an effective network to undermine the Ukrainian state,” General Valeriy Kondratyuk, a former director of Ukraine’s military and foreign intelligence services, told The Insider. “However, the Fifth Service failed in the first stage of the full-scale invasion. Now international military aid to Ukraine is its primary target. The Fifth Service seeks to undermine Western trust in Ukraine and to prevent by all possible means the flow of weapons to our country.”
Leaked travel data shows that Vechtomov himself – using a number of alternative identities, including that of “Ilya Vekshin” – recruited and secretly met with other Ukrainians, usually in neighboring Belarus or in holiday destinations in Turkey, in the lead up to the 2022 invasion. The alternative names were discovered by The Insider thanks to Vechtomov’s lousy tradecraft. He left a number of cross-linking traces between his different aliases.
In a surreal plot twist, The Insider has also discovered that Ilya Vechtomov, who also goes by “Ilya Vekshin” or “Alexei” has a fourth secret identity: that of the rapper Fox D’Liss. Vechtomov has even invested in publicity material to promote his rap trio, OSII, founded in 2003, including posting videos of their live performances on YouTube and streaming their beats on Apple Music. The Chekist Vanilla Ice spearheading the penetration of Germany’s federal legislature even performed at a hip-hop music festival in Moscow mere weeks before the war began.
A promotional poster of rap group OSII, Vechtomov at center.
Sergienko, born in 1971, is himself a native of Ukraine’s western city of Lviv. However, most of his legislative work in his adoptive Germany has been aimed at helping Russia to conquer his homeland. In an emailed reply to Der Spiegel, Sergienko denied having any ties to Russian intelligence or Vechtomov. “The said connections to Russia are fiction and the said contact person, Ilya Vechtomov, does not exist for me. The accusations, according to which I am an agent of influence for Moscow, are unfounded and do not reflect reality.”
But Sergienko’s communiques with Vechtomov tell a very different story.
In his capacity as aide to AfD Bundestag deputy Schmidt, Sergienko has helped write speeches for the legislator and other AfD members. The party, which commands 83 out of 736 seats in the Bundestag, is notorious for its ultranationalist and xenophobic ideology, its opposition to the European Union and NATO, and its fondness for the current occupant of the Kremlin. Institutionally, AfD has campaigned against the sanctions that were imposed on Moscow after the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
An outspoken supporter of Russia’s war, Sergienko went on Russian state television to advocate for Ukraine’s surrender. He has also trafficked in febrile conspiracy theories: for instance, that Berlin was plotting to assassinate Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and that Scholz was telegraphing a “Nazi code” by supposedly agreeing to send 88 Leopard tanks to Ukraine. (The number 88 is used by neo-Nazis as shorthand for “Heil Hitler,” as “h” is the eighth letter in the alphabet.) This may qualify as a case of projection. In November 2023, Sergienko attended a “Peace with Russia” conference organized by a far-right extremist publication, Compact magazine, in Magdeburg, Germany. His proposal that any German politician advocating security assistance to Ukraine should be “shaved off the political landscape” was rapturously received by those in attendance.
Travel records show that Sergienko has visited Russia eighteen times since the start of the war. He even flew to Moscow on February 23, 2022, the day before the start of the invasion. Then, on June 6, 2023, Vechtomov arranged for Sergienko and a senior AfD operative, Bernhard Ulrich Oehme, to make a one-day trip to Sochi. The trip has not been disclosed publicly until now.
In an email to Der Spiegel, Schmidt stated that Sergienko was hired as “a direct reaction to the fear-inducing reporting” that the German magazine, along with other media, had been publishing “in connection with the war in Ukraine and towards the Russian-speaking citizens in Germany. Regarding claims about contacts to intelligence services… I refer to the fact that I do not comment on claims without substance.”
A former aide to another Bundestag deputy told The Insider that Sergienko would have had both formal and informal access to a welter of privileged information about German policymaking. “Once you’re inside the parliament building, you’re free to go wherever you want to,” the ex-aide, who requested anonymity, said. “If you're an aide, you have more access because you don't need a guide. The only off-limits part is the presidential level or the parliamentary society, the private club.”
FSB Fifth Service officer Ilya Vechtomov rapping at a festival in Moscow in February 2022.
Moreover, the largest opposition party in the parliament is always given the chairmanship of the appropriations committee, one of the most sensitive decision-making bodies in the legislature. Until the federal election in 2021, when Schmidt, Sergienko’s boss, won his seat, that party was AfD, meaning a Russian spy milling about in party circles would likely be privy to recent and relevant information, particularly in the critical months leading up to the war in Ukraine.
Leaked communications show that, after the start of the full-scale war, Sergienko took direct actions aimed at hampering Ukraine’s defensive efforts, and he took them at his FSB handler’s request. Under Vechtomov’s direction, Sergienko initiated a lawsuit aimed at halting — or at least slowing — German security assistance to Kyiv by making the claim that Chancellor Scholz had not received all of the necessary approvals from the Bundestag before undertaking to send Leopard 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine. On March 1, 2023, Sergienko messaged Vechtomov about his efforts: “The government’s work will be hindered. This situation is advantageous for us because the tanks will either be delivered much later than planned or a court injunction will be imposed. To maintain these actions, we need the following: approval, media support, financial support. A member of the Bundestag will sign a contract to prepare the lawsuit. Deputy inquiries and responses from the Bundestag’s scientific service will be used separately.”
Sergienko sought $93,000 from Vechtomov to finance the legal campaign, writing to the FSB officer on March 1 that it would cost “[a]pproximately 25,000 euros per month (estimated 2-3 months for review, the same duration for legal support, i.e., the injunction on supplies). The bill will be issued by a prestigious law firm [bringing together] several specialized lawyers. Additional expenses for handling and representation (approximately 10,000 euros). The full names of the involved colleagues (Bundestag deputies) will be provided.”
On May 3, Vechtomov messaged Sergienko: “By the way, on active measures, has something advanced?” (Active measures, a Soviet-era intelligence concept, refers to political warfare against the West.) Sergienko replied: “We are following the route map. Not easy but we are going.”
In July, the AfD parliamentary group did indeed file a lawsuit with Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court alleging that the government could not send any military aid to Ukraine – not just tanks, but also non-lethal kit such as wool blankets and sleeping bags – without the Bundestag’s sign-off. However, the AfD parliamentary faction has denied any connection between this lawsuit and Sergienko’s communiques with Vechtomov. In a reply to Der Spiegel, the faction insisted that it alone was covering the costs for the lawsuit, which was filed in the city of Karlsruhe. Moreover, according to the AfD's legal representative, the purpose of the case was not to delay tank shipments to Ukraine, but rather to clarify the constitutional rights of the Bundestag in matters concerning the provision of security assistance to foreign countries.
To date, Germany has sent 18 of its Leopard 2s to Ukraine and has also authorized other European countries with inventories of the German-made hardware to send dozens more from their stocks. These tanks were expected to play an integral part in Ukraine’s efforts to make territorial gains on the battlefield in 2023, and the delay in their delivery has been cited as one of the reasons why Kyiv’s ultimately underwhelming counteroffensive got off to such a late start.
Among Sergienko’s other tasks for Vechtomov was the composition of a letter to Pope Francis alleging the “persecution of Christians in Ukraine.” The missive was not signed with Sergienko's name, but was instead sent on behalf of several AfD politicians and one pro-Russian NGO, Vadar, where Schmidt sits on the board. Sergienko even sent a Russian language draft of the letter to Vechtomov for his approval.
All which points to a major breach in Germany’s national security. Marc Polymeropolous, a former CIA officer in charge of operations in Europe and Eurasia, told The Insider Sergienko is proof that “the Russian intelligence services continue to view Europe as their playground. Germany in particular has to up its counterintelligence game.”
The breach in the Bundestag comes soon after an even larger embarrassment for Berlin: the exposure of an FSB mole in the upper echelon of Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, or BND. Carsten Linke, 52, was until recently the director of technical reconnaissance in the BND, but he was arrested in 2022 for passing the FSB detailed information on the locations of High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and Iris-T anti-aircraft platforms on the Ukrainian battlefield — the first system having been provided to Kyiv by the United States and the second by Germany. Arthur Eller, a 31 year-old diamond merchant, was later detained by the FBI in Miami for acting as Linke’s intermediary to the FSB. Eller was then put on a flight from Florida back to Berlin, where he was arrested by German police.
Even worse, according to Western intelligence officials, Linke wasn’t even unmasked as a Russian agent by Germany; that honor went to Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, better known as GCHQ, a signals intelligence agency and the country’s equivalent to the U.S. National Security Agency.
Unlike Linke and Eller, however, Sergienko now faces the direct prospect of losing his German citizenship. Because Germany did not allow dual citizenship until a legislative change this past January, Sergienko stated on his German naturalization application that, at the time, he was a citizen of Ukraine alone, and that he had renounced his Russian citizenship. This was a lie. According to security officials in Berlin, German authorities informed Sergienko that his naturalization will be reversed, as a Russian passport was found on him at a security check at Hamburg airport last year. The Insider has examined copies of that passport, along with images of an internal Russian passport that was included in Sergienko’s emails. Both were issued in 2022.
As the embattled aide himself confirmed to Der Spiegel, Sergienko has filed a complaint with the administrative court in Berlin challenging the revocation of his German citizenship. That case could take up to a year to be adjudicated. In the meantime, Sergienko’s movements have already been restricted. His house pass for the Bundestag, which would otherwise allow him easy entry into all parliament buildings, is now temporarily suspended, and his “uncontrolled access” to the national legislature “is currently ruled out,” according to the Bundestag administration.
There is also a question of Sergienko’s finances. He has personally couriered cash between Moscow and Berlin and arranged wire transfers to a German NGO that shares his pro-Kremlin position. “Can we transfer money to a German NGO? I would need the bank details,” Vechtomov messaged Sergienko on April 14, 2023. Sergienko responded: “Yes, we can transfer to a German NGO. I will check with the auditor.”
In April, he was stopped by German customs agents upon his return from Russia and found to be carrying 9,000 euros – just below the 10,000 euro threshold permitted for entry into the country without a declaration. Sergienko suggested to The Insider in August that he was only traveling with so much cash due to the international sanctions restricting Russia’s access to the wider financial world: “As a supposed journalist, you should actually know that Russia is cut off from the international payments network,” he said. “Ask yourself how a man can travel today or meet family members who have no visa to [Germany] or to Russia.”
Phone billing records examined by The Insider and Der Spiegel show that Sergienko also communicated with Sargis Mirzakhanian, a Russian parliamentary staffer who runs an organization known as the International Agency for Current Policy, which was set up in 2014 after Russia’s occupation of Crimea. This agency has “paid politicians thousands of euros to put forward pro-Russian resolutions in European legislatures, “ according to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).
In an email to Der Spiegel, Sergienko alluded to the possibility that he might be entitled to financial compensation from the German news magazine over alleged “damage” done to his reputation by previous reporting on his ties to a then-only-suspected FSB officer. He also said that inquiries into such ties are a distraction from “a book project” he is currently working on. In Sergienko’s words, that literary endeavor is aimed “at preventing the Third World War.”