Russian diplomats expelled from Ireland ‘met with members of paramilitary groups’

Russian embassy IrelandFOUR RUSSIAN DIPLOMATS, WHO Ireland claims are undercover intelligence officers, met with Irish paramilitaries as part of a wider plan to “stoke political unrest” in Britain and Ireland, according to a new report. In a press conference held in Dublin last week, Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Micheál Martin announced that his government would expel four employees of the Russian Embassy there.

Martin did not provide details about the Russian diplomats, nor did he give their names. He said, however, that his administration had been provided with detailed information about the activities of the Russians by members of the National Crime and Security Intelligence Service of the An Garda Síochána (police service of the Republic of Ireland) and the Defence Intelligence Section of the Irish Armed Forces.

On Monday, an article by the London-based Times newspaper alleged that a major reason why Dublin decided to expel the Russian diplomats was their “efforts to cultivate contacts with dissident republicans and loyalist paramilitaries” in the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland, which is British soil. The Russian diplomats began meeting dissident republicans under the pretext of attending lectures and presentations on Irish history in Dublin and elsewhere, The Times said.

According to the paper, the activities of the Russian diplomats were part of a wider campaign by Russian intelligence to “undermine confidence” in European institutions, by exploiting nationalist tensions stirred by Britain’s recent exit from the European Union. The effort is being led by the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, which is widely known by its Cold War-era initials, GRU. The spy agency is in charge of a campaign to amplify the voices of republican and loyalist paramilitary groups on social media and other platforms, in order to undermine regional security, The Times said.

The paper added that at least one of the four expelled Russian diplomats is believed to be an intelligence officer for the GRU. IntelNews has discussed previously a number of concerns among Irish officials regarding the size of the Russian embassy in Dublin. Many believe that Moscow intends to turn its embassy in the Irish capital into a major espionage hub in Europe. In 2018, the Irish government denied a request by Moscow to expand its embassy complex by 86,000 sq ft.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 April 2022 | Permalink

Several EU member states expel dozens of Russian diplomats for suspected espionage

Russian Embassy PragueA WEEK AFTER POLAND announced the expulsion of 45 Russian diplomats, the foreign ministries of Belgium, the Czech Republic, Ireland and the Netherlands announced on March 29, 2022 that they would expel Russian diplomats. A day later, Slovakia followed up by announcing it will expel 35 Russian diplomats. On Monday, April 4, France, Germany and Lithuania followed suit with dozens of expulsions.

The German federal government announced it will expel 40 Russian diplomats who, according to minister of foreign affairs Annalena Baerbock, “worked every day against our freedom and against the cohesion of our society”, and are “a threat to those who seek our protection”. The persons involved have five days to leave Germany. Later that day, France announced it will expel “many” Russian diplomats “whose activities are contrary to our security interests”, adding that “this action is part of a European approach”. No further details are known at this time.
Furthermore, Lithuania ordered the Russian ambassador to Vilnius to leave the country, and announced their ambassador to Ukraine will return to Kyiv. In an official statement, foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said Lithuania was “lowering the level of diplomatic representation with Russia, this way expressing its full solidarity with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, who are suffering from Russia’s unprecedented aggression”. Meanwhile, Latvian minister of foreign affairs Edgars Rinkēvičs announced in a tweet that Latvia will “limit diplomatic relations” with the Russian Federation “taking into account the crimes committed by the Russian armed forces in Ukraine”, and that “specific decisions will be announced once internal procedures have been complete”.

The Czech Republic, which in 2021 called on the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to expel Russian diplomats in solidarity against Moscow, announced the expulsion of one diplomat from the Russian embassy in Prague, on a 72-hour notice. In a tweet, the Czech ministry of foreign affairs stated that “Together with our Allies, we are reducing the Russian intelligence presence in the EU”.

Belgium has order the expulsion of 21 diplomats from the Russian embassy in Brussels and consulate in Antwerp. Minister Sophie Wilmès said the measure was taken to protect national security and was unrelated to the war in Ukraine. “Diplomatic channels with Russia remain open, the Russian embassy can continue to operate and we continue to advocate dialogue”, Wilmès said.

The Netherlands will be expelling 17 diplomats from the Russian embassy in The Hague. According to minister Wopke Hoekstra, the diplomats were secretly active as intelligence officers. Hoekstra based this on information from the Dutch secret services AIVD and MIVD. The Russian embassy in The Hague has 75 registered diplomats, of which 58 will remain. Hoekstra says the decision was taken with “a number of like-minded countries”, based on grounds of national security. Like his Belgian colleague, Woekstra adds he wants diplomatic channels with Russia to remain open.

Ireland will be expelling four “senior officials” from the Russian embassy in Dublin, for engaging in activities “not […] in accordance with international standards of diplomatic behaviour”. They were suspected of being undercover military officers of the GRU and were already on the radar of Garda Síochána, the Irish national police and security service, for some time.

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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

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

More Russian spies in Mexico than anywhere else in the world, US official claims

Glen VanHerckTHE PRESIDENT OF MEXICO has stated that his country is “sovereign” in response to comments, made by a senior United States military official, that Mexico hosts more Russian intelligence personnel than any other country in the world. These claims were made on Thursday by US Air Force General Glen VanHerck (pictured), during his appearance before the Senate Committee on Armed Services. General VanHerck is commander of the US Northern Command, which is one of the US Department of Defense’s eleven unified combatant commands.

While speaking at the open-door hearing on Thursday, General VanHerck said the Russian embassy in Mexico City was among the largest in all of Latin America. He added that the embassy hosts an unusually high number of officers of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of Russia’s Armed Forces. Known by its Russian initials, GRU, the Directorate is Moscow’s primary military intelligence agency. According to General VanHerck, the GRU uses Russian diplomatic facilities in Mexico as a base from which to access the United States.

The general added that Russian and Chinese intelligence operatives were “very aggressive and active” in the entire area that falls under the regional mission of the US Northern Command, including in Caribbean islands, such as the Bahamas. As the intelligence competition between the US and Russia heats up over Ukraine, Latin America and the Caribbean have the potential to attract intelligence personnel from both the United States and Russia.

Speaking on Friday at a scheduled press conference in Mexico City, Mexico’s President, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, appeared to evade a question by a journalist about General VanHerck’s allegations. When asked to respond to the allegations, President Obrador said he and his team “don’t have information on this”. He went on to state that Mexico is a “free, independent, sovereign country”, adding that the country’s territory was not a base from which “Moscow […] Beijing or Washington” could “spy on anybody”. The Russian embassy in Mexico City has not yet commented on General VanHerck’s claims.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 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

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

US indicts five members of Chinese spy ring, handler remains at large

Chinese Ministry of State SecurityAUTHORITIES IN THE UNITED States have indicted five members of an alleged spy ring for the Chinese Ministry for State Security (MSS), who engaged in sabotage, bribing, harassment, intimidation and entrapment operations. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) alleges [PDF]  that the five men, Qiming Lin, 59, Shujun Wang, 73, Quiang ‘Jason’ Sun, 40, Matthew Ziburis, 49, and Fan ‘Frank’ Liu, 62, operated at the behest of the government of China, conducting several operations on US soil, with an “unlimited budget”.

Lin, Wang, Liu and Ziburis have been arrested. They each face between 10 and 20 years in prison, if convicted. Sun, who is the alleged handler of the spy ring, remains at large. The FBI claims Sun is an MSS officer and is currently in China. The FBI alleges that the five men were tasked with destroying the personal lives and careers of Chinese dissidents living in the United States. Their victims included a Chinese-born American citizen, who is running for Congress. The dissident is not identified in the FBI indictment. However, according to the Business Insider, he is believed to be Yan Xiong, a Long Island resident who escaped to the US after participating in the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations.

Members of the Chinese spy ring allegedly tried to thwart Yan’s Congressional election campaign. Specifically, they are accused of conspiring to extort Yan, by luring him in a ‘honey trap’ operation involving prostitutes. They also conspired to plant child pornography in Yan’s personal computer, and even using physical beatings and intimidation in order to subvert his political career. The spy ring is also believed to have targeted Weiming Chen, a Chinese-born, California-based artist, who has produced sculptures and other artwork critical of the Chinese government.

In most cases, members of the spy ring tried to acquire personal data belonging to their victims, including their US social security numbers, as well as copies of their passports. In several cases, members of the spy ring installed covert surveillance equipment in the cars, residences and work places of their targets. These allowed them to monitor their victims’ personal lives and whereabouts. In announcing the indictments on Wednesday, US Department of Justice representatives said efforts by Chinese spies to intimidate and silence expatriate dissidents living in the US had risen at an “alarming rate” in the past year.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 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

Seized Russian weapons systems could be ‘goldmine’ for Western intelligence

Russia Ukraine warA WIDE ARRAY OF Russian military equipment, which has been falling in the hands of the Ukrainian forces since February 24, could prove a “goldmine” for American and other Western spy agencies, experts claim. As the war enters its third week, there are reports that the Ukrainian forces have captured numerous Russian command-and-control vehicles, as well as other logistical military equipment. Reports also suggest that a large array of Russian weapons systems have been falling into the hands of the Ukrainian armed forces and paramilitary units.

Some of the confiscated Russian weapons include Pantsir surface-to-air missile systems and TOS-1A thermobaric multiple-launch rocket systems, which have been found mounted on abandoned tanks or armored trucks. The Ukrainians also claim to have captured Russian fighter jets, such as the Sukhoi Su-34, in working condition. The government in Kyiv is frequently reminding Ukrainian regular troops and paramilitaries to preserve the integrity of captured Russian military equipment, to include helicopters, warplanes and land-based weapons systems, as well as Russian-language user manuals.

On Tuesday, the American newsmagazine Newsweek cited “current and former US military personnel” as stating that the war in Ukraine gives Washington a rare opportunity to get its hands on the latest Russian military equipment. There is a longstanding intelligence cooperation agreement between the US and Ukraine, so sharing captured military and intelligence equipment is “normal practice”, especially on the Ukrainian side, sources told Newsweek. In today’s digitized combat environment, such equipment regularly includes microchips, which enable communication with command posts. The software found on this equipment can be critical for rival intelligence agencies, as they can use it to develop and test malware. Such malware can be deployed during combat, with potentially disastrous consequences for the adversary’s military.

Some of this equipment can be so crucial that “it’s like capturing an Enigma machine”, one expert told Newsweek, referring to the sophisticated cipher device used by the Wehrmacht during World War II to secure its military communications. Such equipment can potentially be reverse-engineered, and then shared by the United States with other Western intelligence agencies, for purposes of developing ways of jamming them, sabotaging them, or otherwise compromising them, experts said.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 March 2022 | Permalink

Private military contractors stream into Ukraine as experts see ‘market frenzy’

Ukraine warTHE DEMAND FOR PRIVATE military contractors (PMCs) in Ukraine is rising by the day, as experts see “a frenzy in the market” for security personnel consisting primarily of former soldiers with combat experience. According to the BBC, some PMC companies are offering between $1,000 and $2,000 a day, excluding bonuses, for those with combat experience who are willing to make the trip to the war-torn country.

Ever since the collapse of Soviet communism in the early 1990s, Eastern Europe has been fertile ground for PMC firms, which are usually employed to provide protection to corporations and wealthy families. Now the demand for PMCs in the region is rising fast and is expected to be constant for the foreseeable future, according to the BBC. Currently PMC jobs in Ukraine, an active warzone, comes with a host of physical-security challenges. Experts tell the BBC that most of the missions in which PMCs expert to participate involve logistical support and so-called “extraction” operations. These refer to organized efforts to help remove people from Ukraine. They can range from simple to very complex operations, sometimes involving entire families of people who have the means to pay for their security. In such cases, operations may be priced in the millions, with handsome profits for those involved. In many cases, PMCs can charge in excess of $10,000 per person for extraction operations.

Industry insiders tell the BBC that a number of non-governmental organizations operating inside or around Ukraine, are hiring now PMCs for protection. In such cases, PMC personnel are “supposed to protect people, places or assets, rather than engage in direct combat”. However, there are instances of intelligence agencies that are hiring PMCs in order to extract some of their personnel who have gotten stuck in Ukraine amidst the conflict. These operations are among the most complex, because they involve contractual work on behalf of foreign governments.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government said on Tuesday it would make provisions to offer Ukrainian citizenship to international volunteers who join the ranks of its military. Ukraine’s Deputy Interior Minister, Yevhen Yenin, said in an interview that a special Ukrainian “military passport” will be given to international volunteers. The passport will replace the need for a visa, and can potentially be replaced with a Ukrainian passport for those who wish to acquire citizenship. On the same day, a number of African countries, among them Senegal, Nigeria and Algeria, cautioned their citizens against traveling to Ukraine to fight in the war in exchange for money or citizenship.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 March 2022 | Permalink

Report by whistleblower alleges up to 10,000 Russian casualties in Ukraine (updated)

Ukraine KharkivA REPORT BY AN anonymous Russian intelligence analyst alleges that the Russian forces in Ukraine could have suffered as many as 10,000 casualties, and claims that the Kremlin has lost contact with a number of divisions. The claims are included in a 2,000-word document published online by Vladimir Osechkin, a Russian anti-corruption activist and vocal critic of the Kremlin, who has been living in France since 2015. In the past, Osechkin has collaborated with the investigative website Bellingcat.

According to British newspaper The Times, which first reported on the claims made by Osechkin, the document originates from an anonymous intelligence analyst in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). The FSB has inherited the domestic functions of the Soviet-era KGB and today operates as Russia’s internal security and counterintelligence agency. The anonymous analyst claims that the Kremlin kept the FSB in the dark about its intentions to order a military invasion of Ukraine.

The report adds that Russian President Vladimir Putin had based its estimations about whether the country could withstand Western economic sanctions on a number of optimistic forecasts produced by the FSB in the run-up to the war in Ukraine. However, these forecasts were nothing more than “hypothetical box-ticking exercises” in which intelligence analysts were expected to make Russia “the victor” in order to avoid the wrath of their superiors. No-one in the FSB thought these forecasts were going to be used by the Kremlin to make actual decisions about a war in Ukraine, it is claimed.

The Kremlin now realizes the extent of its miscalculation, says the anonymous analyst. However, it is too late to avert this “total failure”, which is comparable militarily only to the “collapse of Nazi Germany” in 1944 and 1945. The Russian forces in Ukraine could have already suffered as many as 10,000 casualties, even though the Russian government has only acknowledged close to 500 deaths of servicemen, the document claims. The true number is unknown even to President Putin himself, given that the Ministry of Defense has “lost contact with major divisions” in Ukraine. The report concludes with the assessment that “Pandora’s Box has been opened” and that Moscow “has no way out” of this debacle. “There are no options for a possible victory, only defeat”, it warns.

The Times said it showed the report to Christo Grozev, a Bulgarian investigative journalist, who supervises Bellingcat’s reporting on Russian affairs. Grozev told the paper that Ukrainian intelligence has previously produced fake FSB documents in order to frame the public narrative about the war. He argued, however, that “this letter appeared different” and that former FSB agents who had seen it appeared convinced of its authenticity. He added that Osechkin’s disclosures from Russian sources tend to be reliable.

Update: Meanwhile in Washington, Lieutenant General Scott D. Berrier, Director of the United States Defense Intelligence Agency, told a Congressional hearing on Tuesday that between 2,000 and 4,000 Russian troops have so far been killed in Ukraine. He added there was “low confidence” for this estimate, and that it was derived from clandestine and and open-source intelligence collection.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 March 2022 | Permalink

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