Poland said on Friday that it had detained a professional athlete suspected of spying for the Russian government, in the 14th arrest stemming from the dismantling of what the authorities say was a Russian spy ring that aimed to sabotage arms shipments to Ukraine.
Polish prosecutors said in a statement that the suspect, a Russian citizen, was connected to a network that “conducted intelligence and propaganda activities against Poland and prepared acts of sabotage” for Russia. They did not name the suspect, though Polish news sources reported that he was a professional hockey player.
“Russian spies are falling one by one!” said Poland’s justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, in a Twitter post on Friday. “A spy who operated under the guise of a sportsman has been captured.”
Officials said the suspect was facing espionage charges punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
In March, Polish prosecutors detained nine foreigners who were accused of spying for Russia and plotting to sabotage Polish infrastructure used to transport Western arms into neighboring Ukraine.
Poland, a NATO member and one of Europe’s staunchest supporters of Ukraine, has been a vital transit point for weapons and ammunition provided by Western countries to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia’s invasion. The presence in Poland of a Russian spy ring trying to damage its infrastructure would signal a risky escalation by Moscow, which has so far avoided striking at targets inside alliance territory.
The Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, on Friday suggested that Moscow’s embassy in Poland would “clear things up.”
“Of course the world of the embassy now is very hard,” he added, “because of the frenzied, Russophobic position.”
Prosecutors said that the suspect, who arrived in Poland in 2021, was paid to carry out “activities involving, among other, identifying critical infrastructure” in several provinces.
Polish news media reported that he played with the national hockey team, Zaglebie Sosnowiec.
The team’s coach, Grzegorz Klich, confirmed that the suspect was arrested earlier this month, but that he had signed to play with the team before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
“We did not have any suspicions against him before that,” he was quoted as saying in an interview published Friday in Fakt, a Polish tabloid. “He behaved normally. That’s why we are surprised by this case.”
Polish intelligence officers said they detained the suspect in the province of Silesia, southern Poland, where he had carried out most of his activities.
Anatol Magdziarz contributed reporting.