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They drove a Kia and paid their taxes every year – neighbors had no idea they were elite foreign spies

A ‘quiet’ couple living an ordinary life in a sleepy suburb left friends speechless after it emerged they were senior Russian spies operating a network of European informants for Vladimir Putin.

Ludwig Gisch cycled to his IT start-up every day from the pastel-colored house he shared with his wife Maria and their two young children on the outskirts of the Slovenian capital Ljubljana.

She ran an online art gallery, sent her children to the city’s British International School and was described by a neighbor as a ‘grey mouse’.

In reality, he was Artem Viktorovich Dultsev of Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence service, charged with undermining Western energy security after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and she was his boss.

“Now we will see how important these people really are for Russia,” one official told the newspaper Guardian. “This is a big game now; it is clear that Slovenia is just a proxy here.”

Ludwigisch was actually the Russian spy Artem Viktorovich Dultsev,

His wife Maria Rosa Mayer Muños was actually Anna Valerevna Dultseva, his Russian companion

His wife Maria Rosa Mayer Muños was actually Anna Valerevna Dultseva, his Russian companion

Ludwig Gisch and his wife Maria Rosa Mayer Muños were actually Russian spies Artem Viktorovich Dultsev and Anna Valerevna Dultseva

Dultseva (pictured) ran an online gallery and used exhibitions across Europe as a front

Dultseva (pictured) ran an online gallery and used exhibitions across Europe as a front

Dultseva (pictured) ran an online gallery and used exhibitions across Europe as a front

The couple had spent a decade painstakingly crafting their cover stories in an effort to evade detection. They arrived in Argentina on tourist visas in 2012, married and left as citizens five years later.

“They were very polite and respectful,” Jamoneria del Virrey, the owner of a delicatessen in Buenos Aires, told the newspaper. WJ. “They always paid in cash.”

When they moved to Slovenia in 2017, they acted like model citizens, paid their taxes on time, kept “to themselves” and never even picked up a parking ticket for the white Kia Ceed sedan they drove.

But a dawn raid on their Llubjana home in 2022 found hundreds of thousands of crisp euros hidden in a secret compartment and communications software so heavily encrypted that US intelligence services have yet to decode their messages to Moscow.

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Viktorovich set up a LinkedIn profile and set up an online IT company called DSM&IT, which offered cloud hosting services, and dutifully filed taxes on reported 2021 sales of €43,785.

Friends who downloaded the software said it was in stark contrast to Moscow’s state-of-the-art communications link.

“I wasn’t very impressed,” said one. “It was five years behind current technology in Europe or even something made in Russia.”

Maria, real name Anna Dultseva, made her online gallery Art Gallery 5’14’ more visible, posting photos from exhibitions across Europe, but mostly avoiding being photographed herself.

“She was always in a good mood and cheerful, and had a lot of fun together with other artists,” said Croatian photographer Marko Milić who met her at an art fair in Zagreb.

The suburban house on the outskirts of the Slovenian capital Ljubljana, where the couple lived with their two children while spying for Russia

The suburban house on the outskirts of the Slovenian capital Ljubljana, where the couple lived with their two children while spying for Russia

The suburban house on the outskirts of the Slovenian capital Ljubljana, where the couple lived with their two children while spying for Russia

The pair spent a decade building their elaborate false identities, including five years in Argentina

The pair spent a decade building their elaborate false identities, including five years in Argentina

The pair spent a decade building their elaborate false identities, including five years in Argentina

The couple had a wedding in Argentina, despite having previously married in Russia

The couple had a wedding in Argentina, despite having previously married in Russia

The couple had a wedding in Argentina, despite having previously married in Russia

The couple spoke both English and German to people who met them.

They claimed to find Slovenian too difficult to pronounce, although researchers have suggested that they were concerned about their Russian accent coming out in another Slavic language.

At home, the couple spoke Spanish with their children, according to a neighbor who occasionally saw them in the yard.

“I speak Spanish well and I could tell she didn’t have a Spanish accent. They were just normal nice people, they couldn’t possibly be spies. I think it was all invented by the media,” the neighbor said.

From their base in Slovenia, they could travel visa-free throughout the European Union to develop sources, recruit informants and liaise with other agents.

After ten years of establishing their new identity, it was the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 that led to their activation.

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They started targeting the Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (ACER), just eight kilometers away from their home in Llubjana.

“They were awakened,” said Vojko Volk, Slovenian State Secretary for International Affairs and National and International Security.

Russia supplied just under half of Europe’s gas on the eve of the invasion, earning billions of dollars in foreign exchange.

But European politicians were under extreme pressure to reduce their dependence on Russian energy and Moscow was desperate for intelligence from ACER.

The case has drawn comparisons to the Emmy-winning spy drama The Americans

The case has drawn comparisons to the Emmy-winning spy drama The Americans

The case has drawn comparisons to the Emmy-winning spy drama The Americans

The two spies were back in Buenos Aires having their fraudulently obtained passports renewed when war broke out, but were soon back in Slovenia to try to penetrate ACER.

But as relations with Russia deteriorated, Slovenian spy agencies received a tip about the ‘normal’ and ‘calm’ couple living in the pleasant Črnuče suburb of their capital.

Wiretaps and text messages revealed suspicious encounters across Europe and the Slovenians called in allied intelligence services to piece together the couple’s history.

“We worked together in complete secrecy,” Volk told the WSJ. “It was a puzzle.”

They discovered that the couple’s businesses were kept afloat by cash from their bosses in Moscow, while investigators in Argentina discovered that the only two witnesses at their wedding had given false identities.

Immigration officials in Buenos Aires then ran the couple’s fingerprints through Interpol’s database and discovered they were those of Artem Dultsev and Anna Dultseva.

Their sudden arrest in December 2022 led to a flight back to Moscow by spies fearing exposure.

A woman in Rio de Janeiro and a man in Athens were stunned to discover that their partners were married Russian spies, one of whom had created her cover by stealing the identity of a Greek baby who died in 1991.

Campos Wittich’s vet girlfriend helped mobilize the campaign to find him when he disappeared while on holiday in Malaysia, only to discover he was already married to fellow Russian spy Irina Romanova, who disappeared from Athens at the same time.

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They were arrested in December 2022 and have since been held in a Slovenian prison awaiting trial, while their son and daughter, aged eight and 11, have been placed with foster families.

‘They took it stoically. It is clear that they are professionals. But they are not talking,” said a source.

Moscow has increasingly relied on unknown agents for its intelligence gathering since the expulsion of more than 700 diplomats in the aftermath of the war in Ukraine.

“Illegals are once again becoming increasingly important for Moscow, especially as the line between espionage and war is almost non-existent,” Russian security expert Andrei Soldatov told the WSJ.

Many have targeted the US, including the ten uncovered by the FBI’s Ghost Stories operation in 2010.

Suspected Russian spy Campos Wittich fled to Moscow after the Slovenian arrests, leaving a distraught girlfriend behind in Rio de Janeiro

Suspected Russian spy Campos Wittich fled to Moscow after the Slovenian arrests, leaving a distraught girlfriend behind in Rio de Janeiro

Suspected Russian spy Campos Wittich fled to Moscow after the Slovenian arrests, leaving a distraught girlfriend behind in Rio de Janeiro

Wittich is married to fellow Russian spy Irina Romanova, who also left behind an unsuspecting partner when she fled Greece

Wittich is married to fellow Russian spy Irina Romanova, who also left behind an unsuspecting partner when she fled Greece

Wittich is married to fellow Russian spy Irina Romanova, who also left behind an unsuspecting partner when she fled Greece

They bought houses, took jobs and started families in an effort to quiet suspicious neighbors.

One attended Harvard, two at Seton Hall University, and one became the in-house IT chief of a well-connected DC consulting firm.

The revelations inspired the 2013 drama series The Americans, based on married KGB agents who spied for the Soviet Union after moving to a DC suburb.

The couple faces up to eight years in prison for espionage under Slovenian law and there is speculation they could be swapped for Western prisoners held in Russian prisons.

“We know they were important, serious officers,” Volk said.

“It’s like ‘The Americans,’ except in Slovenia.”

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