Updated April 2nd, 2024 at 00:55 IST

Kremlin Denies Report Linking Russian Intelligence Unit to 'Havana Syndrome'

The report claims to have uncovered proof that a Russian military intelligence unit was involved in the targeting of US officials across the world.

Reported by: Digital Desk
The American embassy in Havana where the first alleged case of the Havana Syndrome was reported back in 2016. | Image:AP
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Moscow: During a routine press conference on Monday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov commented on the recent joint investigation by The Insider, 60 Minutes and Der Spiegel which alleges that a Russian military intelligence unit was involved in the outbreak of mysterious health incidents which have affected American officials and their family members worldwide, a phenomenon referred to as the ‘Havana Syndrome’. 

Peskov said that the topic is not new and, inevitably, Russia is linked to such incidents. He noted that there has been no conclusive evidence published in this regard and thus, the claim of Russian involvement is “nothing more than a groundless and unfounded accusation.” 

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What is Havana Syndrome?

Before getting into what this joint investigation has alleged, it may be beneficial to first establish what the ‘Havana Syndrome’ is in the first place. First reported in Havana, Cuba in 2016, thus leading to the name, Havana Syndrome refers to a wide variety of unusual health symptoms affecting US government officials and their families across the world. 

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In most cases, seemingly healthy individuals reported a sudden and overwhelming onset of a variety of symptoms which could not be easily explained. 

These symptoms can range from a mild headache and sleeplessness to extended periods of hearing loss and general cognitive dysfunction. A study carried out by the National Institutes over five years and involving more than 80 US government officials and their family members said that it found no evidence of their brain structure being affected by the Havana Syndrome though it did acknowledge that the symptoms being felt by affected individuals are “very real” and cause “significant disruption” in their lives. 

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Similarly, a 2022 study carried out by the Central Investigation Agency noted that the 'mysterious' symptoms reported by those allegedly suffering from Havana Syndrome may be related to previously undiagnosed medical conditions or stress. 

As for what is causing such symptoms to manifest, there is a lack of consensus on the matter though it has frequently been speculated that a foreign country or entity may be making use of directed energy or sound-based devices to target US officials across the world. 

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Indeed, a 2020 report by the National Academies of Science found that a “directed pulsed radio frequency energy” could have produced the symptoms associated with the Havana Syndrome. 

Since 2016, more than 100 such cases have been reported, the most recent one being reported on April 1, 2024, when the US claimed that one of its officials had experienced Havana Syndrome symptoms during the 2023 NATO summit in Vilnius. 

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That said, the US has not officially taken a stance on who or what could be causing this syndrome, with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence stating in 2024 that it is ‘unlikely’ that a foreign adversary was responsible. 

What has the report alleged?

Circling back to the report, the investigation carried out by The Insider, 60 Minutes and Der Spiegel, over the course of a year, claims to have established a connection between the mysterious outbreaks of the Havana Syndrome and a unit of the Russian military intelligence force GRU. 

It claims that GRU Unit 29155, a division supposedly specialised in assassination and political destabilisation type missions, may have made use of ‘non-lethal acoustic weapons’ to target US officials.

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Clues pointing in this direction allegedly include the geolocation of Russian operatives from these units which appeared to confirm that they were present in places across the world before or after Havana Syndrome cases were reported in the same location. 

The investigation also claims to have uncovered evidence that senior members of the GRU unit had received awards for developing ‘non-lethal acoustic weapons’.

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Additionally, the investigation notes that the cases likely did not start in Havana but rather in a US consulate in Frankfurt back in 2014, just a few months after Russia invaded Crimea. 

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Published April 2nd, 2024 at 00:30 IST