Analysis: The West should not trust Ukrainian spy agencies. Neither should Ukrainians

Volodymyr ZelenskyON SUNDAY, JULY 17, the Ukrainian administration of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced the most extensive shake-up of the nation’s security leadership since the Russian military invasion. Two key members of Zelenskiy’s inner circle, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova and domestic security chief Ivan Bakanov, were summarily fired. Venediktova was the public face of Kyiv’s war crimes campaign, which was launched in March in response to the Russian invasion. Bakanov, a childhood friend of Zelenskiy, had headed the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) since 2019.

In a subsequent video statement, Zelenskiy said he fired the two officials after he was informed that at least 60 employees of the SBU and the Prosecutor General’s office had defected to the Russians in eastern Ukraine. Last week, in an article for SpyTalk, Kremlin watcher Olga Lautman said Bakanov’s dismissal had been expected for a few days. Regardless, the move has shaken Western observers, and has given rise to legitimate questions about the susceptibility of Ukraine’s security and intelligence services to Russian meddling. Should the Western alliance, and Western intelligence agencies in particular, trust their Ukrainian counterparts? The answer is, invariably, no. In fact, even the Ukrainians themselves are not in a position to trust their own intelligence services.

From the KGB to the SBU

On September 20, 1991, just one week after Ukraine secured its independence from the Soviet Union, the SBU was founded in place of the Soviet KGB. Initially, the new agency handled both internal security and external intelligence functions. But in 2005, the SBU’s Department of Intelligence became a stand-alone agency under the title Foreign Intelligence Service (SZR). Since then, the SZR has functioned as the institutional equivalent of the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), while the SBU has performed domestic security functions that resemble those of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

As is the case with the entirety of Ukraine’s state sector, the two agencies are endemically bloated. Intelligence observers report that the SBU’s 30,000 employees make it far larger in size than its British counterpart, the Security Service (MI5). Meanwhile, according to the latest information, the SZR has “double the number of personnel than the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and is larger than Britain’s [Secret Intelligence Service, or] MI6”. By all accounts, even today, more than 30 years after the dissolution of the USSR, the two agencies continue to resemble Soviet-style bureaucracies in terms of size, sluggishness, and corruption. Read more of this post

Despite expectations, a cyber-blitz has not occurred in Ukraine. Experts explain why

Russian invasion of Ukraine IN THE OPENING STAGES of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there was a widespread expectation among security experts that the world would witness a new chapter in the history of cyber-warfare: something akin to carpet-bombing in cyberspace. These fears, however, have not materialized. Although cyber-attacks have occurred on both sides, their scale has remained markedly modest. Consequently, their effect has been limited and has had no traceable strategic impact on the conflict.

Why is that? According to two experts, Nadiya Kostyuk, assistant professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Cybersecurity and Privacy, and Aaron Brantly, assistant professor and director of Virginia Tech’s Tech4Humanity Lab, the reasons partly relate to how nation-states form cyber-alliances, as well as to Russia’s overall approach to this war. The two experts attempt to forensically analyze this topic in their article entitled “War in the Borderland Through Cyberspace: Limits of Defending Ukraine Through Interstate Cooperation”, which was published on June 29 in Contemporary Security Policy.

Does the Improved Cyber-Defense Argument Stand to Reason?

In their article, Kostyuk and Brantly systematically scrutinize a number of reasons that other experts have proposed to explain the absence of a major cyber-war campaign by Russia. Among them is the view that Ukraine significantly improved its cyber-defenses after 2015, when it began collaborating closely with Western countries —notably the United States and the United Kingdom. Specially designated “cyber-warfare teams” from these countries have been helping Ukraine in tasks ranging from “the synchronization of [its] cyber-related legislation” with Western standards, as well as aligning them with NATO standards, so that Ukrainian cyber-warfare units can make use of advanced technologies and systems. Could it be, therefore, that Ukraine has improved its cyber-security posture enough to be able to defend itself against relentless Russian cyber-attacks?

That is unlikely, say the authors, given that “Ukraine’s cyber capabilities are still organizationally and operationally under- developed” in comparison to Russia’s. That is exacerbated by the endemic corruption and clientelism (the creation of patronage networks) in Ukraine, as well as by the bitter in-fighting between government agencies —notably the Ministry of Defense and the Security Service of Ukraine. It should not go without notice, Kostyuk and Brantly note, that the Ukrainian government sought frantically to develop a “volunteer cyber-army” on an ad hoc basis to defend the nation in the first days of the Russian invasion. That did not exactly instill trust in the country’s level of preparation to withstand a cyber-campaign by Moscow. Read more of this post

Mystery blasts, fires, prompt rumors of sabotage campaign inside Russia (updated)

Kremlin, RussiaA SERIES OF LARGE-scale incidents of destruction, which have been occurring across Russia in recent days, are prompting speculation that the county may be experiencing a wave of attacks against its strategic infrastructure. The incidents include enormous fires at power plants, munition depots and state-owned storage facilities. The collapse of at least one railway bridge has also been reported. There are additional reports of massive wildfires raging across Siberia, which are imposing heavy demands on Russia’s emergency response infrastructure.

On April 21, a massive blaze engulfed the Central Research Institute for Air and Space Defense of the Russian Defense Ministry in Tver, a city located around 120 miles northwest of Moscow. According to Associated Press, which reported the news about the fire, the institute “was involved in the development of some of the state-of-the-art Russian weapons systems, reportedly including the Iskander missile”. By next morning, at least 17 people were believed to have died as a result of the fire.

Late last week, the Sakhalinskaya GRES-2 power station, a vast 120-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Russia’s far-eastern Sakhalin province, went up in flames, giving rise to persistent rumors of sabotage. On May 1, Russian state-owned news agencies reported that a railway bridge in the western province of Kursk, 70 miles from the Ukrainian border, had been destroyed. Analysts at the Washington-based Atlantic Council think tank claimed that the bridge had been used extensively by the Russian military to transport equipment to eastern Ukraine. Later on the same day, a cluster of fuel-oil tanks in Mytishchi, a mid-size city located northeast of Moscow, were completely destroyed by a fast-spreading fire.

On May 2, a munitions factory in Perm, a major urban center in western Siberia, was hit by a “powerful” explosion. Ukrainian government officials hinted at sabotage in social media posts, though no proof has been provided, and the Kremlin has not commented on the matter. On the following day, the Prosveshchenie publishing house warehouse in Bogorodskoye, northeast of Moscow, was destroyed by a massive fire. The warehouse belongs to Russia’s state-owned publisher of school textbooks. The fire occurred almost simultaneously as another fire engulfed a polyethylene waste storage facility in the central Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk.

Meanwhile, the sprawling forests that surround Krasnoyarsk and other Siberian urban centers are experiencing seasonal wildfires of near-unprecedented scale. Some early reports claimed that the Russian government was finding it difficult to contain these fires, because the country’s emergency response personnel has been sent to the frontlines of the war in Ukraine. But these reports were denied by Russia’s Ministry of Emergency Situations, which claimed earlier this week that the fires were mostly under control.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Updated: 09 May 2022 | Research credit: M.R. | Permalink

Russia targeted by unprecedented wave of cyber-attacks, experts say

Computer hackers AnonymousRUSSIAN STATE COMPANIES, BUSINESSES and individuals are being targeted in an unprecedented wave of attacks by digital assailants, according to observers, who say they are surprised by its ferocity. Since February of this year, hackers have accessed the personal financial data of pro-Kremlin oligarchs, stolen millions of internal emails stored on Russian government severs, and defaced high-profile websites across the nation. The Washington Post, which summarized the wave of attacks last Sunday, said they are being waged by hacker collectives, as well as common criminals. The paper claimed that the assailants are not connected to foreign governments.

According to observers, Russia currently tops the global list of targeted attacks by hackers for the first time since records began. Major targets include Russia’s media regulator, the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, which anti-government activists blame for implementing Soviet-style censorship. Hackers have also attacked Russia’s state-owned broadcaster, known as VGTRK, as well the Russian intelligence and defense establishments. Tens of thousands of emails exchanged by senior VGTRK officials since 2013 were recently stolen and leaked in a massive data dump. Additionally, lengthy lists containing the names of alleged Russian intelligence officers, as well as of soldiers, have been leaked online by unknown hackers.

The attacks are led by political hacker collectives, including Network Battalion 65 (NB65), which announced its existence on Twitter just hours after Russian troops began to march toward Kyiv. The group is believed to have links to the international hacktivist collective Anonymous, and claims to have no ties to governments. Another hacker collective that is behind the attacks on Russia is a group calling itself AgainstTheWest. Despite its name, it is led by a group of pro-Western, “English-speaking hackers […] with intelligence backgrounds”, according to The Post. Attacks are also being perpetrated by smaller groups of hackers, some of them based in Ukraine, and by criminal groups, whose members are motivated by profit and are attacking Russian state targets at a time when the Kremlin appears vulnerable.

According to the paper, the Ukrainian government is not directly involved in these cyber-attacks. However, it has repeatedly endorsed attacks by hackers aimed at weakening the Russian state. Back in February, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister and Digital Transformation Minister issued an open call for the formation of a “volunteer cyber army” to fight for Ukraine. As intelNews reported at the time, the Ukrainian government claimed that nearly 200,000 people had shown interest in joining the initiative. However, little has been mentioned since. The government of Ukraine maintains an “IT Army” channel on Telegram, where it frequently suggests Russian targets that pro-Ukrainian hackers should attack. However, any evidence of links between it and the wave of cyber-attacks that Russia has been experiencing remains speculative.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 03 May 2022 | Permalink

Dozens purged as Kremlin blames Russian spy services for botched Ukraine invasion

FSB - IAMore than 150 officers have been purged form the ranks of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), as President Vladimir Putin is placing blame on his intelligence agencies for the setbacks experienced during the invasion of Ukraine. This assessment was communicated to the London-based Times newspaper by British intelligence sources, who added that many of those purged have been dismissed from the service, while others remain under house arrest. A few —among them senior FSB officials— are in prison. The FSB is tasked with domestic security and counterintelligence operations, which were carried out by the KGB during the Cold War.

According to The Times, the purge has mostly targeted officers in the FSB’s Service for Operational Information and International Communications, which is informally known as the Fifth Service of the FSB. As intelNews has previously explained, the FSB’s Fifth Service was established in 1992 in order to fill the vacuum created by a host of no-spy agreements between Moscow and the governments of former Soviet Republics. These agreements prevent Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) from spying inside the territories of former Soviet states.

By 1995, the Fifth Service had become known as the “foreign spy wing” of the FSB. It grew in size drastically after 1999, and some claim it “graduated into [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s imperial gendarme”. Today, the Fifth Service is reportedly in charge of Kremlin’s “kill list” of Ukrainian senior officials and other dissidents who live in Ukraine. Until recently, the Fifth Service was led by Sergei Beseda and Anatoly Bolyukh (or Bolukh).

However, The Times claims that both officials have been dismissed from their posts in recent weeks. Initially, the Russian government claimed that Beseda had embezzled funds, and placed him under house arrest. He has since been transferred to a prison, according to the paper, and has now been formally charged with misinforming the Kremlin about the conditions on the ground in Ukraine. Bolyukh has been dismissed from his post but is reportedly not in prison. His current whereabouts remain unclear.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 14 April 2022 | Permalink

France’s military intelligence chief fired ‘for failing to warn about Ukraine war’

Éric VidaudTHE DIRECTOR OF FRANCE’S military intelligence agency has been asked to resign, allegedly because of his agency’s failure to anticipate the Russian invasion of Ukraine. General Éric Vidaud is a career military officer, who rose through the ranks to command the 1st Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment, one of the three units in the French Army Special Forces Command. In 2018, he was placed at the helm of the Special Operations Command, which oversees the joint activities of special forces units from all of France’s military branches. In August of last year, Vidaud assumed command of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DRM), which operates under France’s Armed Forces Ministry.

On Thursday it was announced that Vidaud will be leaving his post, after just seven months on the job. The official government line is that his departure is part of a wider effort to reorganize the structure of the DRM. But several French news media report that the general is paying the price for the DRM’s failure to anticipate the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Unlike some of its allies, France did not appear to believe that the Kremlin was intent on launching a large-scale conventional military invasion of Ukraine. Two weeks into the war, General Thierry Burkhard, France’s Chief of the Defense Staff (head of the Armed Forces), said in an interview that French military analysts been caught by surprise. They believed that the sheer financial cost of conquering Ukraine “would have been monstrous” for Russia, and that the Kremlin had “other options” to bring down the Ukrainian government.

The assumption that the Russian President Vladimir Putin was bluffing about launching a military invasion of Ukraine led to repeated public statements by his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, who kept assuring the world that a diplomatic solution would eventually be found. Some French media now report that President Macron is blaming the DRM, and General Vidaud personally, for his being led to believe that the Kremlin was bluffing. One report claims that Vidaud has been accused by France’s political leadership of “lacking a mastery of subjects” relating to Russia and Ukraine, and providing Macron with “inadequate briefings” on these subjects.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 April 2022 | Permalink

Analysis: American Intelligence and the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

Volodymyr ZelenskyAMERICAN INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES ASSESSED Russia’s intentions in Ukraine with remarkable precision. Moreover, Washington’s picture of the Russian military’s material power has proven highly accurate. On the other hand, American intelligence agencies appear to have over-estimated Russia’s conceptual military power —that is, Moscow’s ability to utilize its material military strength efficiently. This, combined with a tendency to underrate the willingness of the Ukrainian population to resist the Russian invasion, appears to have led Washington to over-estimate Russia’s chances of a swift military victory in Ukraine.

American estimates of Russia’s military power potential before the invasion of Ukraine were largely accurate. United States intelligence agencies —primarily the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency— had formed a relatively precise picture of the Russian military strength, in terms of its material power. This means that, long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Washington was well-versed on the strength of the Russian military in terms of its size, hardware and firepower. Moreover, American Q Quoteintelligence interpreted Russian intentions on Ukraine with remarkable accuracy. It should be noted that, with the help of its intelligence advisors, the White House was able to estimate the precise date and time of the invasion of Ukraine.

However, America’s understanding of Russian conceptual power —namely the ability of the Russian military to utilize its physical resources effectively— was far more limited. Washington over-estimated the logistical and organizational capabilities of the Russian Armed Forces. In other words, American intelligence had a largely accurate picture of the material capabilities of the Russian military. It had a far less accurate picture of the Russian military’s ability to use these capabilities effectively. It follows that the unimpressive performance of the Russian military in Ukraine has surprised American observers, and has prompted a re-evaluation of Russian military capability estimates in the American intelligence community. Read more of this post

Ukrainian agency publishes personal data of 600 alleged Russian intelligence officers

Kyrylo BudanovUKRAINE’S MILITARY INTELLIGENCE AGENCY has published a list that contains the names, addresses and passport numbers of 600 Russians, who it alleges are employees of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). The FSB is Russia’s domestic security and counterintelligence agency, but its personnel also operate in former Soviet republics, including Ukraine. It has been claimed that the FSB is the main source of intelligence that the Kremlin has used to plan and execute the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

The list of alleged FSB personnel was published on Monday on the website of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, which is Ukraine’s primary military intelligence agency. The list is titled, “Russian FSB officers involved in criminal activities by the aggressor state in Europe”. Most entries include the names, birth dates and passport numbers of the alleged FSB officers. Their residential addresses are also listed. Some entries include subscriber identity module (SIM) card numbers, as well as vehicle registration numbers. Some observers noted on Monday that at least some of the names on the list appear to come from prior leaks of alleged FSB officers, which have been leaked online over the years. Other listings, however, appear to contain names that were not previously associated with the FSB.

In a separate but potentially related development, Kyrylo Budanov (pictured), the director of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, said on Monday that his agency had a number of assets inside the Kremlin. In an interview to an American newsmagazine, Budanov claimed that Ukrainian intelligence had “managed to infiltrate many sectors of Russia’s leading military, political and financial institutions”. He added that the Ukrainian military’s recent combat successes in eastern Ukraine had been achieved due to intelligence supplied by assets inside the Russian government.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 March 2022 | Permalink

Russian defense minister not seen in public since March 11, prompting speculation

Sergei ShoiguRUSSIA’S MINISTER OF DEFENSE, Sergei Shoigu, who has been one of President Vladimir Putin’s closest confidantes for nearly two decades, has not been seen in public for nearly two weeks, prompting speculation that he may be under arrest. Shoigu, 66, was appointed Minister of Defense in 2012. Since then, he has been arguably the most media-friendly member of the Putin administration, and has formed a close alliance between the Russian military and pro-government media outlets.

Once Russian troops invaded Ukraine, on February 24, Shoigu became an almost permanent fixture on pro-Kremlin television channels and radio stations. He gave several interviews each day, and provided incessant public commentary about what the Kremlin termed a “special military operation”. All that ended after March 11, when Shoigu made his last known public appearance. On that day, the RIA Novosti news agency showed him participating in a ceremony to honor Russian soldiers who fought in the invasion of Ukraine.

On March 18, a statement on the website of the Kremlin claimed that Shoigu had taken part in a meeting about Ukraine with senior cabinet officials, which was chaired by with President Putin himself. But no photographs or video footage of the meeting were published. Archive footage of Shoigu was used instead.

As Newsweek reports, a number of Russian investigative reporters are now claiming that Shoigu may have been arrested. The reporters, from banned news outlets like Agentstvo and Mediazona, point out that the absence of Russia’s most senior military official from the public media sphere for nearly two weeks is unusual. It is even more unusual, given that it is happening during a full-scale strategic offensive by the Russian military in Ukraine. Other rumors suggest that Shoigu may be facing health problems, which may include having suffered a hear attack in recent days. He could, therefore, be hospitalized, or even dead.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 March 2022 | Permalink

Ukrainian spy agency sees plot to oust Putin, but West is skeptical of claim

Alexander BortnikovUKRAINE’S MILITARY INTELLIGENCE AGENCY said on Sunday that a plot was underway by senior Russian government officials, with the goal of ousting President Vladimir Putin and entering into a negotiated settlement with the West. However, Western intelligence sources told the United States government-owned Voice of America that claims of a possible coup plot in Moscow were likely part of a Ukrainian information operation aimed at “sow[ing] doubts about loyalty within the top echelons of Putin’s Kremlin”

The initial claim of a coup was made by the Chief Directorate of Intelligence of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, which is Kyiv’s military intelligence agency. In a statement, the spy agency alleged that the coup against President Putin was being planned by “a group of influential figures […] among the Russian business and political elite”. The leaders of the group were “siloviki”—members of the Soviet intelligence and military nomenclature, who rose to power in the 1990s alongside Putin, according to the agency.

These siloviki were oligarchs, business magnates and politicians from the era of Boris Yeltsin, Putin’s predecessor in the Russian presidency. They were allegedly planning to depose Putin “as soon as possible” in a “palace coup” and replace him with his most senior intelligence advisor, Alexander Bortnikov (pictured). Bortnikov is a Soviet-era intelligence operative who today heads the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s domestic security and counterintelligence agency.

There are reports that Putin blames the FSB’s substandard intelligence for the botched military campaign in Ukraine, and that he and Bortnikov have fallen out as a result. Meanwhile, several Yeltsin-era oligarchs have begun to voice criticism of the war in Ukraine—among them the banking magnate Mikhail Fridman, the metals mogul Oleg Deripaska, and Oleg Tinkov, who owns a network of banking and investment firms in Russia.

However, in a report published on Tuesday, the Voice of America, which is funded by the United States Department of State, said Western intelligence officials remained unconvinced of Ukraine’s claims about a possible coup in Moscow. The news service cited anonymous “Western intelligence sources” as saying they could not see men in Putin’s inner circle having the will or ability to turn against the Russian strongman. Moreover, Kremlin grandees like Bortnikov are not qualitatively different from Putin in how they think about Russian domestic and international strategy, the sources said.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 March 2022 | Permalink

Analysis: What We Are Likely to See in the Coming Weeks in Ukraine

Ukraine Russia war“THERE ARE DECADES WHERE nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen”. These words by the Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin offer a fitting description of the cataclysmic events witnessed since February 24. In the early hours of that day, the largest country in the world launched a strategic ground offensive against the largest country in Europe. What began as a “special military operation” has now escalated into the most extensive military conflict in Europe since World War II. It is clear that Russia’s original plan for this war collapsed within hours of the initial attack. But the correlation of forces continues to overwhelmingly favor the Russian side. Moreover, the bulk of the Russian forces are heading for Kyiv. This could result in the largest and most deadly urban battle since World War II.

Russia’s Original Strategy

The Kremlin’s decision to invade Ukraine was premised on a rapid military campaign, which was designed to trigger the collapse of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s administration within about a week. The original plan appears to have rested on quickly introducing non-conscript military units inside Kyiv, in order to force the government toQ Quote 1 flee to Lviv. At the same time, elite formations from the Main Directorate of the Armed Forces’ General Staff (GRU) and Spetsnaz (special operations forces) were sent to the Ukrainian capital to assassinate leading government figures.

Based on that assumption, Russia’s original strategy was to avoid engaging in clashes in major urban centers, barring those that are located along key transportation routes. That is because urban terrain heavily favors the defender and tends to result in mass invader casualties. The Russians can’t afford too many of those, given that the Russian expeditionary force of about 150,000 non-conscript troops is grossly insufficient to conquer—let alone occupy—a country the size of Ukraine, with a largely young population of well over 40 million. Read more of this post

Secret CIA training program helping Ukrainians fight Russian troops, sources say

Kyiv Molotovs UkraineA SECRET TRAINING PROGRAM run by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which began shortly after Russia invaded eastern Ukraine in 2014, is now helping the Ukrainians beat back Russian military advances. According to Yahoo News, which revealed the existence of the CIA program earlier this week, the CIA began training Ukrainian special operations forces personnel in eastern Ukraine, starting in 2015. That was only months after the Kremlin sparked a separatist war in eastern Ukraine and the Crimea, eventually pulling them away from the control of Kyiv.

Yahoo news reports that the CIA carried out the training with the help of personnel from the Special Activities Center (SAC, called Special Activities Division in 2015, when the secret program began). The SAC operates under the Agency’s Directorate of Operations. Within the SAC, paramilitary operations and training are carried out by the Special Operations Group (SOG). A small team from SOG, “in the low single digits”, arrived in eastern Ukraine and began training Ukrainian forces in a variety of military and paramilitary techniques.

The news website claims that the Ukrainians were taught by the CIA how to engage in anti-tank warfare, which included the use of American-supplied FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missiles. They were also taught sniping techniques, as well as how to operate in insurgency formations without being detected by Russian electronic surveillance tools. The CIA program took place alongside a more extensive, US-based training program for Ukrainian special operations forces, which was run by the United States military. That program also began in 2015, according to Yahoo News.

The training program continued for a number of years, according to Yahoo News. In fact, members of SAC/SOG were on the ground in Ukraine in early February, just days before the Russian invasion began. At that time, the administration of US President Joe Biden, expecting a Russian invasion, ordered that all CIA personnel should leave Ukraine, fearing that they could get captured by Russian forces. Yahoo News’ Zach Dorfman said he spoke to “over half a dozen former officials”, who claimed to have recognized CIA-style training in the tactics being employed on the ground by the Ukrainians.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 March 2022 | Permalink

Putin allegedly places his senior spies under arrest for faulty Ukraine intelligence

FSB - JFTHERE ARE GROWING INDICATIONS that a number of senior Russian intelligence officials have been placed under arrest, reportedly because the Kremlin is blaming them for its stalled military campaign in Ukraine. Some intelligence officials are believed to have been detained and interrogated, while others are said to have been placed under house arrest in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Information about the alleged detentions of senior intelligence officials first surfaced on Friday 11 March on Meduza.io, a Latvia-based news website run by dissident Russian journalists. The website quoted Irina Borogan and Andrei Soldatov, two longtime observers—and critics—of the Russian intelligence agencies. Two days later, the Sunday edition of the British newspaper The Times claimed that several senior members of the Russian intelligence agencies had been detained.

Among them, said The Times, were Sergei Beseda and Anatoly Bolyukh (or Bolukh). Both work for the Federal Security Service (FSB), which is Russia’s domestic security and counterintelligence service. Importantly, Bolyukh heads the Service for Operational Information and International Communications—known as the Fifth Service—of the FSB. As intelNews has explained, the FSB’s Fifth Service was created in 1992 to fill the vacuum left by a host of no-spy agreements, which were signed between Moscow and the governments of former Soviet Republics. These agreements prevent Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) to spy inside the territories of former Soviet states.

By 1995, the Fifth Service had become known as the foreign spy wing of the FSB. It grew in size drastically after 1999, and some claim it “graduated into [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s imperial gendarme”. The Fifth Service is reportedly in charge of Kremlin’s “kill list” of Ukrainian senior officials and other dissidents who live in Ukraine. Today the Fifth Service it is led by Beseda, with Bolyukh as his deputy. Both men are said to be under house arrest, according to the reports.

The official reason given for the detentions was “accusations of embezzlement of funds”, according to The Times. However, the actual reason was “The real reason is unreliable, incomplete and partially false information about the political situation in Ukraine”, according to one source. The Times went as far as to suggest that Russian intelligence agencies were experiencing a full-scale purge of some of their most senior members. These began last week, said the paper, as teams of FSB officers conducted searches at more than 20 addresses in Moscow alone.

But other sources with contacts inside Russia dismissed the reports of an all-out purge as “exaggerated”. These sources agreed that some senior Russian intelligence officials had indeed been questioned over financial corruption, but that none of them had been placed under arrest. British newspaper The Independent said Western intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, could not confirm that the alleged purges had taken place.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 March 2022 | Permalink

China may be preparing to give Russia military aid for Ukraine, sources claim

Vladimir Putin Xi JinpingTHE RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT HAS asked China to supply it with military hardware, as well as diplomatic and financial support, which would allow it to weather Western-imposed sanctions against it, according to Western officials. In what bears the marks of a controlled leak by the White House, several American and British news outlets reported late last night that Moscow had approached Beijing with a request for support across many levels, as the war in Ukraine continues to escalate.

The New York Times said that “an official” in the US government had confirmed that Russia and China were in communication about the possibility of Beijing providing Moscow with military support for its war in Ukraine. However, the official would not comment about the intelligence sources and methods that the US employed to secure this information. Separately, Politico reported yesterday that the details of Russia’s alleged request remained secret. According to the American news outlet CNN, China’s response to Russia’s request was not known as of last night.

Later in the evening, London-based newspaper The Financial Times said there were early “indicators that China may be preparing to help Russia” in Ukraine. American officials told news outlets last night that Washington was “watching closely” to see whether Moscow’s request would be granted by the Chinese. The BBC reported late last night that the administration of US President Joe Biden was urgently putting pressure on China, hoping to convince it to refrain from taking steps to help Russia in Ukraine, militarily or economically.

This development comes less than 24 hours before President Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, is scheduled to hold a closed-door meeting in Rome, Italy, with Yang Jiechi, director of the Communist Party of China’s Central Foreign Affairs Commission. The Commission is chaired by no other than Chinese Premier and Communist Party of China General Secretary Xi Jinping. Moscow will need the Commission’s support for its request for Chinese military assistance, if it is to receive it in the coming days.

There is a general consensus among observers that the meeting in Rome between Sullivan and Yang is of critical importance for the future of the war in Ukraine. The United States will try to convince China that it has much to lose economically by siding with Russia in this war. Meanwhile, Liu Pengyu, a spokesman for the embassy of China in Washington, was telling Western news media last night that the embassy had “never heard” of a request for military assistance from Russia.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 March 2022 | Permalink

Concern mounts over Russia’s possible use of chemical weapons in Ukraine

Russia Ukraine WarTHERE ARE GROWING CONCERNS in Western intelligence circles that the war in Ukraine may be entering an unconventional phase in the coming days, as Russia may deploy chemical weapons on the war-torn country. Alert levels quickly rose in Western capitals late yesterday, after Russia +Text- the United States and Ukraine of planning to use biological weapons against its military. Some Western observers expressed fears that the accusations may be an attempt by the Kremlin to justify the large-scale deployment of unconventional weapons in Ukraine.

This is not the first time that Moscow has leveled such accusations against the United States and Ukraine. For over a decade, senior officials in the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin have claimed that the United States and Britain have maintained secret networks of biological weapons laboratories in Eastern Europe. But the Kremlin’s accusations have been getting more frequent and more specific in recent days. On March 7, Igor Kirillov, Chief of the Russian military’s Radiation, Chemical and Biological Defense Forces, alleged that American and Ukrainian soldiers were destroying biological weapons facilities in Western Ukraine. Their goal, Kirillov claimed, was to keep lethal biological agents from falling into the hands of the Russian military.

Two days later, on March 9, Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Major General Igor Konashenkov stated that Ukrainian forces had secretly transported “80 tons of ammonia” to a location northwest of Kharkiv. The purpose of the operation, Konashenkov said, was to carry out a “provocation using toxic substances”, and then blame Russia of using chemical weapons. During the Syrian Civil War, Moscow leveled similar allegations against Syrian rebels shortly before the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad launched chemical attacks against rebel-held areass.

There is also concern among Western analysts that the disconnection of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant’s electrical network from Ukraine’s electrical grid may be “a Russian attempt to trigger nuclear panic over a potential radiological incident” in Ukraine. In light of this incident, some observers are beginning to interpret prior attacks on the Zaporizhia nuclear facility on March 4, and on a research facility containing a nuclear reactor in Kharkiv on March 6, as deliberate acts by Moscow. They say that the Kremlin may actively be seeking to introduce unconventional weapons into the war in Ukraine.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 March 2022 | Permalink

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