Mystery arrest of Russian mercenaries in Belarus ‘was US-Ukrainian sting operation’

Belarus KGB

THE BIZARRE CASE OF the arrest of three dozen Russian mercenaries in Belarus in 2020, allegedly for trying to destabilize the country, was in reality a joint Ukrainian-American sting operation that went awry, according to a new report. IntelNews readers will remember the puzzling July 2020 announcement by Belarusian authorities of the arrest of 33 Russians, who were said to be employees of Wagner Group, a Kremlin-backed private military firm.

The 33 Russians were charged with terrorism against the government of Belarussian strongman Alexander Lukashenko, who was then seeking a sixth term in office. Soon afterwards, the Belarussian State Security Committee (KGB) said the Russians had entered the country as part of a 200-strong group of mercenaries working for Wagner, in order to “destabilize the situation during the election campaign” of Lukashenko. That, however, made little sense, given that Lukashenko is one of Moscow’s strongest international allies. To add to the mystery, the Russians were quietly released from custody just a few days later.

What was behind that mysterious case? According to the American news network CNN, the bizarre incident was part of an international sting operation set up by the Ukrainian intelligence services with the support of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Citing three former high-ranking Ukrainian military intelligence officials, CNN claims that the sting operation aimed to lure, and eventually arrest, Russian mercenaries who have participated in the Kremlin’s invasion of eastern Ukraine since 2014.

The news network claims that the Ukrainian intelligence services set up a fake Russian private military company and used it to advertise $5,000-a-month contracts to provide security for Venezuelan oil facilities. Hundreds of Russian would-be contractors sent in applications. When quizzed by the fake company about their bona-fides, the applicants freely provided evidence of their participation in the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian War.

The ultimate goal of the sting operation was to sign up the Russian contractors and offer to transport them to Turkey, from where they would supposedly fly to Caracas and begin working. In reality, however, the Russians would be transported to Ukraine, where they would face arrest and potential imprisonment for war crimes. However, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented their transportation via air. Instead, the sting organizers chose to transport them by bus to neighboring Belarus, from where they planned to transport them to Ukraine. However, the presence of 33 burly Russians in a hotel sanatorium outside of Minsk raised suspicions, and led to their eventual arrest by the Belarussian security forces.

The report by CNN claims that the CIA provided the Ukrainian intelligence services with “cash, technical assistance and advice”. But the news network also says that United States officials “deny having a direct role” in the sting operation.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 September 2021 | Permalink

Probe launched into suspicious death of Belarusian opposition activist in Ukraine

Minsk Belarus

Authorities in Ukraine have opened an investigation in to the death of a leading Belarusian opposition activist, whose body was found hanging from a tree near his house in Kiev, a day after he went missing. Vitaly Shishov, 26, was a vocal critic of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. For the past year, Shishov had been the director of the Belarusian House in Ukraine (BDU), an activist organization that specializes in assisting political refugees arriving in Ukraine from Belarus

Among other things, BDU is known for helping Belarusian immigrants apply for political asylum in Ukraine, as well as finding them employment and accommodation in Kiev and other Ukrainian urban centers. Alongside Poland and Lithuania, Ukraine has become a major hub for Belarusian exiles, who have been fleeing abroad in their thousands in the past year. Many of them seek to escape a violent crackdown by the authorities, which is ongoing. The crackdown is widely seen as President Lukashenko’s response to the widespread popular protests, which were prompted by his return to power, following the heavily disputed presidential election of 2020.

In addition to his work with BDU, Shishov was known as a particularly outspoken critic of the Belarusian government on social media and in blogs. He frequently organized and led large protest rallies in Kiev, many of them within sight of the Belarusian embassy there. He had also publicized the identities of people, whom he accused of being agents of the Belarusian government. He and his associates often claimed that they were being followed in the streets of Kiev by individuals whom they suspected of being in the service of the government of Belarus.

Shishov’s partner reported him missing on Monday, after he failed to return to his home from a morning jog. Ukrainian authorities said on Tuesday that his body had been found hanging from a tree in a small forested area near his home. Notably, his personal cell phone and other belongings, including his wallet, were found with him. Some reports indicate that his body bore visible bruises, but forensic examinations of the body are ongoing. A Ukrainian police spokesman said on Tuesday that the possibility that Shishov’s death was a murder that had been made to look like a suicide was among several theories being examined. The Belarusian government has not commented on the case.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 August 2021 | Permalink

Russian actors had access to Dutch police computer network during MH17 probe

Flight MH17

Russian hackers compromised the computer systems of the Dutch national police while the latter were conducting a criminal probe into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17), according to a new report. MH17 was a scheduled passenger flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, which was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. All 283 passengers and 15 crew on board, 196 of them Dutch citizens, were killed.

Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant, which revealed this new information last week, said the compromise of the Dutch national police’s computer systems was not detected by Dutch police themselves, but by the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD). The paper said that neither the police nor the AIVD were willing to confirm the breach, but added that it had confirmed the breach took place through multiple anonymous sources.

On July 5, 2017, the Netherlands, Ukraine, Belgium, Australia and Malaysia announced the establishment of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) into the downing of flight MH-17. The multinational group stipulated that possible suspects of the downing of flight MH17 would be tried in the Netherlands. In September 2017, the AIVD said it possessed information about Russian targets in the Netherlands, which included an IP address of a police academy system. That system turned out to have been compromised, which allowed the attackers to access police systems. According to four anonymous sources, evidence of the attack was detected in several different places.

The police academy is part of the Dutch national police, and non-academy police personnel can access the network using their log-in credentials. Some sources suggest that the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) carried out the attack through a Russian hacker group known as APT29, or Cozy Bear. However, a growing number of sources claim the attack was perpetrated by the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff, known commonly as GRU, through a hacker group known as APT28, or Fancy Bear. SVR attackers are often involved in prolonged espionage operations and are careful to stay below the radar, whereas the GRU is believed to be more heavy-handed and faster. The SVR is believed to be partly responsible for the compromise of United States government agencies and companies through the supply chain attack known as the SolarWinds cyber attack, which came to light in late 2020.

Russia has tried to sabotage and undermine investigation activities into the MH17 disaster through various means: influence campaigns on social media, hacking of the Dutch Safety Board, theft of data from Dutch investigators, manipulation of other countries involved in the investigation, and the use of military spies. The Dutch police and public prosecution service were repeatedly targeted by phishing emails, police computer systems were subjected to direct attacks, and a Russian hacker drove a car with hacking equipment near the public prosecution office in Rotterdam.

The above efforts are not believed to have been successful. But the attack that came to light in September 2017 may have been. The infected police academy system ran “exotic” (meaning uncommon) software, according to a well-informed source. The Russians reportedly exploited a zero day vulnerability in that software. After the incident, the national police made improvements in their logging and monitoring capabilities, and in their Security Operations Center (SOC). It is not currently known how long the attackers had access to the national police system, nor what information they were able to obtain.

Author: Matthijs Koot | Date: 17 June 2021 | Permalink

Russian spies ‘launched major cyber attack on Ukraine’ prior to naval incident

Strait of KerchRussia “paved the way” for last November’s seizure of Ukrainian Navy ships by launching a major cyber attack and disinformation campaign aimed at Ukraine, according to a cyber security firm and the European Union. In what has become known as the Kerch Strait incident of November 25, border service coast guard vessels belonging to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) opened fire on three Ukrainian Navy ships that were attempting to enter the Sea of Azov through the Kerch Strait. All three Ukrainian vessels, along with crews totaling 24 sailors, were captured by the Russian force and remain in detention. Ukraine condemned Russia’s action as an act of war and declared martial law in its eastern and southern provinces. But Moscow said the incident had been caused by a provocation by the Ukrainian government, in a desperate effort to increase its popularity at home. Meanwhile, the three Ukrainian ships and their crews remain in Russia.

But now a private cyber security firm has said that Moscow launched a series of cyber attacks on Ukrainian government servers, which were aimed at gathering intelligence that could be used for the ships’ capture. In a separate development, the European Union’s security commissioner has alleged that the Kremlin launched an elaborate “disinformation campaign” aiming to “soften up public opinion” before seizing the Ukrainian ships.

The American-based cyber security firm Stealthcare said this week that the cyber attacks were carried out by Carbanak and the Gamaredon Group, two hacker entities that are believed to be sponsored by the Russian intelligence services. The first wave of attacks, which occurred in October of this year, centered on a phishing campaign that targeted government agencies in Ukraine and other Eastern European countries. Victims of these attacks had “important functions” of their computers taken over by remote actors who stole and exfiltrated data, according to Stealthcare. Another attack installed back doors on computer servers belonging to Ukrainian government agencies in November, just days prior to the Kerch Strait crisis. The two attacks, said the company, provided the hackers with “information that would have been very […] relevant in planning” the November 25 naval crisis, said Stealthcare. The company added that there was “no doubt that this was a Kremlin-led reconnaissance effort to prepare for the Kerch Strait crisis”.

Meanwhile on Monday Julian King, a British diplomat who is currently the European Commissioner for the Security Union, said that Russia “paved the way for the Kerch Strait crisis” through a systematic fake news campaign that “lasted for more than a year”. The campaign, said King, included the use of social media to spread false rumors, such as claims that the Ukrainian government had infected the Black Sea with bacteria that cause cholera. Another report by Russian media allegedly claimed that Kiev had tried to secretly transport a nuclear device to Russian-annexed Crimea through the Kerch Strait. The EU security commissioner added that social media platforms and online search engines like Google had a responsibility “to identify and close down fake accounts that were spreading disinformation”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 December 2018 | Research credit: D.V. | Permalink

Ukraine, Russia, spied on Dutch investigators of MH17 plane disaster, TV report claims

MH17 crashDozens of Dutch security officers, legal experts, diplomats and other civil servants were systematically spied on by Ukrainian and Russian intelligence services while probing the aftermath of the MH17 disaster, according to a report on Dutch television. Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, a scheduled passenger flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. All 283 passengers and 15 crew on board, 196 of them Dutch citizens, were killed. In the aftermath of the disaster, the Dutch Safety Board spearheaded the establishment of the multinational Joint Investigation Team (JIT), which is still engaged in a criminal probe aimed at identifying, arresting and convicting the culprits behind the unprovoked attack on Flight MH17. As part of the JIT, dozens of Dutch officials traveled to Ukraine to initiate the investigation into the plane crash and repatriate victims’ bodies and belongings. Their activities were conducted with the support of the Ukrainian government, which is party to the JIT.

But on Tuesday, Holland’s RTL Niews broadcaster said that members of the Dutch JIT delegation were subjected to systematic and persistent spying by both Ukrainian and Russian government operatives. According to RTL, Dutch investigators found sophisticated eavesdropping devices in their hotel rooms in Ukraine, and believed that their electronic devices had been compromised. Citing “inside sources” from the Dutch government, the broadcaster said that, during their stay in Ukraine, members of the Dutch JIT delegation noticed that the microphones and cameras on their wireless electronic devices would turn on without being prompted. They also noticed that the devices would constantly try to connect to public WiFi networks without being prompted. Upon their return to Holland, Dutch officials had their wireless devices examined by Dutch government security experts. They were told that numerous malware were discovered on the devices.

RTL Niews said that the question of whether valuable information relating to the MH17 investigation was stolen by foreign spies remains unanswered. But it noted that the members of the Dutch JIT delegation were warned about possible espionage by foreign powers prior to traveling to Ukraine. During their stay there, they were not allowed to send messages in unencrypted format and were only permitted to hold sensitive conversations in especially designated rooms inside the Dutch embassy in Kiev. The Dutch government did not respond to questions submitted to it by RTL Niews. But it issued a statement saying that its security experts had briefed and trained the Dutch JIT delegation prior to its trip to Ukraine. Members of the delegation were told that foreign parties would seek to collect intelligence, because the MH17 investigation was taking place in a “conflict area with significant geopolitical interest” for many parties. They were therefore advised to “assume that they were being spied on [and] adjust [their] behavior accordingly” while in Ukraine, the Dutch government’s statement said.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 28 June 2018 | Permalink

Opinion: Bizarre fake murder plot points to Ukrainian state’s recklessness, unreliability

Arkady Babchenko

Arkady Babchenko

Western audiences were treated to a small taste of the bizarreness of Eastern European politics this week, when a Russian journalist who had reportedly been assassinated by the Kremlin, made an appearance at a live press conference held in Kiev. On Tuesday, Ukrainian media reported that Arkady Babchenko, a Russian war correspondent based in Ukraine, had been shot dead outside his apartment in the Ukrainian capital. A day later, after Babchenko’s murder had prompted global headlines pointing to Russia as the most likely culprit, Babchenko suddenly
appeared alive and well during a press conference held by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). The SBU then said that Babchenko’s killing had been staged in an attempt to derail a Russian-sponsored plan to kill him. The bizarre incident concluded with Babchenko meeting on live television with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who praised him as a hero. Later that night, the Russian journalist wrote on his Facebook page that he planned to die after “dancing on [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s grave”.

Welcome to Ukraine, a strange, corrupt and ultra-paranoid state that is on the front lines of what some describe as a new Cold War between the West and Russia. Like the Cold War of the last century, the present confrontation is fought largely through information. The Russian government, which appears to be far more skillful than its Western adversaries in utilizing information for political purposes, immediately sought to capitalize on the Babchenko case. In fact, this baffling and inexplicable fiasco may be said to constitute one of the greatest propaganda victories for the Kremlin in years.

Ever since accusations began to surface in the Western media about Moscow’s alleged involvement in the 2016 presidential elections in the United States, Russia has dismissed these claims as “fake news” and anti-Russian disinformation. When Sergei and Yulia Skripal were poisoned in England in March, the Kremlin called it a false-flag operation. This is a technical term that describes a military or intelligence activity that seeks to conceal the role of the sponsoring party, while at the same time placing blame on another, unsuspecting, party. Most Western observes reject Russia’s dismissals, and see the Kremlin as the most likely culprit behind the attempt to kill the Skripals.

As one would expect, Russia stuck to its guns on Tuesday, when the world’s media announced the death of Arkady Babchenko in the Ukraine. Moscow claimed once again that we were dealing here with a false flag operation that was orchestrated by anti-Kremlin circles to make Russia look bad at home and abroad. It turns out that Moscow was right. Babchenko’s “murder” was indeed a false flag operation —admittedly a sloppy, shoddy and incredibly clumsy false flag operation, but a false flag operation nonetheless. Moreover, Babchenko’s staged killing could not possibly have come at a worse time for Ukraine and its Western allies. In the current environment, global public opinion is extremely sensitive to the phenomenon of ‘fake news’ and disinformation. Within this broader context, the Ukrainian state and its intelligence institutions have placed themselves at the center of an global disinformation maelstrom that will take a long time to subside. In doing so, the government of Ukraine has irreparably harmed its reputation among the general public and in the eyes of its Western allies. The Kremlin could not possibly have asked for a better gift from its Ukrainian adversaries.

The amateurishness and recklessness of some Eastern European countries that the West sees as allies in its confrontation with Russia, such as Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, and others, would be humorous if it were not so dangerous. The manifest idiocy of the Babchenko fake plot also poses serious questions about the West’s policy vis-à-vis  Russia. It is one thing for the West to be critical of the Kremlin and its policies —both domestic and foreign. It is quite another for it to place its trust on governments and intelligence services as those of Ukraine, which are clearly unreliable, unprofessional, and appear to lack basic understanding of the role of information in international affairs.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 June 2018 | Permalink

Ukraine arrests prime minister’s interpreter, accuses him of spying for Russia

Stanislav YezhovUkraine’s counterintelligence agency has arrested the principal translator of the country’s prime minister, accusing him of spying for Russia. The translator has been identified as Stanislav Yezhov, who has served as a translator for two consecutive Ukrainian prime ministers. As part of his job, Yezhov has been present at nearly all high-level meetings between Ukraine’s Prime Minister, Volodymyr Groysman, and foreign leaders since 2016, when Groysman assumed his executive post. In the last year alone, Yezhov accompanied the Ukrainian prime minister during official trips to Washington, London and Berlin. Before translating for Groysman, Yezhov is thought to have served as an interpreter for Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s former President. Yanukovych, a pro-Russian politician, occupied that office from 2010 until his ousting from power in 2014, as a result of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution.

On Wednesday, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), the country’s main counterintelligence agency, released a statement announcing that “an official” in the Ukrainian state had been arrested in the capital Kiev on Saturday, December 16. The SBU statement said that the official had “access to sensitive government information” and that he had operated in the service “of an adversary state for a long period”. The statement then identified the “adversary state” as Russia. Yezhov’s name and profession were not included in the SBU statement. But Ukrainian government officials later revealed it. According to subsequent local media reports, Yezhov was recruited by Russian intelligence in 2014, when he was posted at the Ukrainian embassy in Washington, DC. Prior to that post, Yezhov is believed to have served at the Ukrainian embassy in Slovenia.

The Russians allegedly trained him and provided him with specially designed collection technology, which he then used to gather intelligence and communicate it to his Russian handlers. Speaking on Ukrainian television, Anton Gerashchenko, advisor to Arsen Avakov, the country’s Minister of Internal Affairs, said that Yezhov had worked for Russian intelligence “for at least two years, possibly longer”. Yezhov is now reportedly facing charges of treason. The government of Russia has not issued any statements about Yezhov’s arrest.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 December 2017 | Permalink

Ukraine, Belarus expel diplomats following espionage claims

Ukrainian embassy in BelarusUkraine fired its deputy-head of foreign intelligence and expelled a Belarussian diplomat a day after the government of Belarus claimed that it busted a Ukrainian spy ring that recruited local agents. The chain of events began on October 25, when the Belarussian Committee for State Security (KGB) arrested a Ukrainian journalist. The journalist, Pavlo Sharoyko, is based in the Belarussian capital Minsk and works as the Belarus correspondent for the National Radio Company of Ukraine —the country’s public broadcaster. Even though Sharoyko was arrested in October, his imprisonment was not publicly announced by Belarus until last Saturday. On Tuesday, November 21, at a press conference held at the KGB headquarters in Minsk, KGB spokesman Dmitry Pobyarzhin told reporters that Sharoyko was arrested for engaging in espionage on behalf of the Ukrainian government.

According to Pobyarzhin, Sharoyko is an undercover intelligence officer masquerading as a journalist. His real employer, said Pobyarzhin, is the Chief Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. While based in Minsk, the Ukrainian radio correspondent allegedly built an extensive network of spies, consisting of Belarussian citizens who carried out espionage tasks in exchange for financial compensation, said Pobyarzhin. The KGB spokesman also claimed that Sharoyko was not officially associated with the Ukrainian embassy in Minsk, but he had a spy handler there. The alleged handler, a Ukrainian diplomat by the name of Ihor Skvortsov, had been confronted by the KGB and expelled from the country for engaging in espionage, said Pobyarzhin.

Late on Tuesday, The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense said that Sharoyko had worked there as a spokesman before 2009, but rejected the charges against him. However, on Monday, a day after Sharoyko’s arrest was announced, Ukraine’s President, Petro Poroshenko, dismissed the deputy director of the country’s Foreign Intelligence Service, V. Sinkevich, from his post. It is not known whether the surprise dismissal is connected to the announcement by the Belarussian KGB. On Tuesday, Kiev announced that it had expelled a Belarussian diplomat from the embassy of Belarus in the Ukrainian capital, in response to the expulsion of Skvortsov the day before. The Ukrainian government did not name the expelled Belarussian diplomat.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 November 2017 | Permalink

Attack kills wife of Ukraine commander behind alleged plan to assassinate Putin

Amina Okuyeva Adam OsmayevAn armed attack in the outskirts of Kiev has killed the wife of a Chechen commander of a Ukrainian paramilitary unit, who is wanted in Russia for an alleged plan to kill President Vladimir Putin. Adam Osmayev is believed to have survived the attack, but his wife, Amina Okuyeva, was reportedly shot in the head and died on the spot. Osmayev, a Russian Chechen, became widely known in Ukraine in February of 2012, when he was arrested by police in Odessa, a major port city located on the northwestern shore of the Black Sea in the country’s south. He was found to be carrying forged identity documents. When police searched his apartment, they found large quantities of illegal explosives. Authorities in Moscow told the Ukrainian government that Osmayev was involved in a conspiracy to kill Russian President Vladimir Putin. A Chechen associate of Osmayev, Ilya Pyanzin, was handed over to Russia by the Ukrainians and was given a 10-year prison sentence by a Moscow court.

But Osmayev’s legal team was able to argue that his human rights would not be guaranteed if Ukraine extradited him to Russia. In 2013, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Osmayev should serve his sentence in Ukraine, at which point Kiev rejected Moscow’s extradition request. In late 2014, Osmayev was released from prison and allowed to remain in Ukraine. Soon after his release from prison, Osmayev entered the ranks of the Dzhokhar Dudayev battalion. The armed group was one of over 30 paramilitary units organized by Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense to combat pro-Russian separatists in southeastern Ukraine. By early 2015, Osmayev had risen to the rank of commander of the battalion and was increasingly treated as a celebrity by Ukrainian nationalists. But he continued to face threats from Russia and pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. On June 1 of this year, Osmayev and Okuyeva survived an apparent assassination attempt by a man who was wounded but managed to escape following a shootout with the couple.

Ukrainian media reported on Monday that Okuyeva was killed earlier that day, after the car that her husband was driving was ambushed by a group of masked assailants on the outskirts of Kiev. According to eyewitnesses’ accounts, the assailants opened fire at Osmayev’s car as it was passing through a railway crossing. Osmayev was reportedly injured in the attack, but Okuyeva was shot in the head and died at the scene. Footage aired on Ukrainian national television showed Osmayev’s heavily damaged car, which reportedly sustained “a hail of bullets” fired by the attackers. The Chechen paramilitary commander told reporters that the attackers’ main goal was to assassinate him. No group or government has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 October 2017 | Permalink

Ukraine releases rare footage showing arrests of North Korean nuclear spies

North Korean SpiesUkrainian authorities have released rare surveillance footage filmed during a sting operation that ended with the capture of three North Korean spies. The North Koreans, two of whom are now serving prison sentences in Ukraine, had traveled there in 2011 believing they would be given missile technology secrets. Last July, North Korea surprised missile technology experts by successfully testing two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Government-controlled media in Pyongyang claimed that North Korean ICBMs were capable of reaching the United States’ mainland.

On August 14, a report by the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) suggested that North Korea’s technological leap had been achieved with assistance from abroad. The report claimed that one possible source of North Korea’s technical advancement was the Yuzhnoye Design Office, a corporation that specializes in the design of rockets and satellites. Based in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro, Yuzhnoye has its roots in the Soviet space and weapons program of the early 1950s. Following the publication of the IISS report, some experts claimed that North Korean spies may have illicitly purchased or stolen missile designs from Yuzhnoye. Ukrainian authorities strongly denied these allegations, and argued that Russia was a far more likely source of North Korea’s technical knowledge —something that Moscow refutes. In an effort to strengthen their claims, Ukrainian officials were authorized to release details of counterespionage operations against North Korean spies in recent years. They told the US-based news network CNN that several North Korean spies had been caught spying in Ukraine in recent years, and that Ukraine responded in 2016 by barring all North Koreans from entering the country.

The Ukrainians also released to CNN surveillance footage filed during a sting operation in 2011, in which three North Korean diplomats were caught photographing classified documents in Ukraine. The documents, which contained technical blueprints of missiles, were fake, and the operation had been planned by the Ukrainians several years prior. The three North Koreans had traveled to Ukraine from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s embassy in Moscow. One of the men, who had been tasked with transporting stolen hardware missile parts out of Ukraine, was deported following his arrest. His two accomplices are currently serving eight-year prison sentences in a Ukrainian prison located nearly 90 miles west of Kiev. Reporters from CNN were also granted access to the two North Korean prisoners, known only as “X5” and “X32”. The younger prisoner, who goes by X32, declined to be interviewed. But X5, who is in his mid-50s, told CNN that he was born in Pyongyang and that at the time of his arrest he was serving as a trade representative in the DPRK’s embassy in Belarus.

Ukrainian officials told CNN that the two men were visited in jail once by officials in the DPRK’s embassy in Moscow, but that was their only contact —face-to-face or otherwise— with North Korean citizens since their arrest. The officials argued that this information about Ukraine’s counterespionage operations against North Korean spies should help dispel all allegations that Pyongyang may have acquired its missile knowhow from Ukrainian sources.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 August 2017 | Permalink

Ukrainian military intelligence commander killed in Kiev car explosion

Colonel Maksim ShapovalA senior military intelligence officer, who commanded a Ukrainian special-forces unit that fought against the Russians in eastern Ukraine, was killed on Monday when his car exploded in broad daylight in Kiev. Initially, the Ukrainian government sources simply said that the dead driver of the car was a member of the Ministry of Defense’s Main Directorate of Intelligence. Later, the casualty was identified as Colonel Maksim Shapoval, a senior commander of the Main Directorate of Intelligence, who led an elite special-forces unit. Subsequent media reports said that Colonel Shapoval’s unit had fought against Russian-backed guerillas in eastern Ukraine in the past year.

A police report said that Colonel Shapoval died instantly when his car exploded at an intersection in central Kiev. The explosion took place at 8:15 a.m. local time on Monday, and was reportedly caused by a powerful bomb that had been attached to the outer floor of the vehicle, right below the driver’s seat. A video taken at the scene of the explosion showed the charred frame of a silver-colored sedan in the middle of a city street, surrounded by debris.

A Ukrainian government spokesman said on Tuesday afternoon that Kiev was treating the incident as an act of terrorism. When asked about possible suspects, the spokesman said that Colonel Shapoval’s killing appeared to be the work of professionals. He added that investigators were looking for possible evidence of Russian state involvement in the attack. Authorities in Ukraine have repeatedly accused Russia of involvement in the extrajudicial killings of Ukrainian leaders or Russian dissidents since 2014, when Moscow illegally annexed the Ukrainian province of Crimea. Since then, the Kremlin is believed to be secretly supporting pro-Russian rebels who have taken over several regions of southeastern Ukraine. Ukraine’s Chief Military Prosecutor alleged on Tuesday that the killings of Colonel Shapoval and others were perpetrated by Russian intelligence operatives. He added that his office would launch a detailed investigation into Colonel Shapoval’s killing.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 June 2017 | Permalink

Ukraine raids Russian internet search engine company as part of ‘treason’ probe

YandexUkrainian security service personnel raided the offices of a Russia-based internet search engine firm in two cities on Tuesday, as part of a treason investigation. The probe is reportedly related to the ongoing dispute between Kiev and Moscow, which intensified after 2014, when Russia unilaterally annexed the Russian district of Crimea. The Ukrainian government also accuses the Kremlin of clandestinely supporting pro-Russian insurgents in southeastern Ukraine, something that Moscow denies.

Earlier this month, Kiev announced that it would be blocking its citizens from using social media networks that are popular in Russia, including Yandex, a search engine that holds the lion’s share of the Russian internet usage market. The Ukrainian government argued that Russian social are were being used by Moscow to stir up pro-Russian sentiment and organize pro-Russian insurgents and activists inside Ukraine.

On Tuesday, members of Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) raided the offices of Yandex in the Ukrainian capital Kiev and in the city of Odessa, Ukraine’s third largest city, located on the Black Sea coast. The two locations that were raided by the SBU are registered as subsidiaries of Yandex, which is based in the Russian capital Moscow. In a statement issued on the same day, the SBU said that the simultaneous raids were part of a wider “treason probe”. The security service argues in the statement that Yandex had been found to be sharing the personal information of Ukrainian Internet users with the Russian intelligence services. The illegally shared information included the details of Ukrainian military personnel, said the SBU statement. In turn, Moscow used the data provided by Yandex to plan, organize and carry out “espionage, sabotage and subversive operations” in Ukraine, said the SBU.

Late on Tuesday, a statement issued by Yandex in Moscow confirmed the SBU raids and said it would cooperate with the investigation by the Ukrainian authorities. Meanwhile, Kiev has said that the ban on Russian social media and Internet search engines will remain active for at least three years.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 May 2017 | Permalink

Ukraine gives Britain intel about Russian ‘hybrid war’ tactics in Crimea

UkraineUkrainian intelligence and defense officials are sharing intelligence with Britain about cutting-edge Russian military tactics in the Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine. Since the 2014 Russian military intervention in Ukraine, observers have noted the sophisticated tactics used by Moscow. The Russian forces seem to be combining their advanced conventional arsenal with electronic warfare and information operations. The latter include the use of deception, spreading propaganda through social media, and computer hacking. Some experts have described Russia’s tactics in the Crimean Peninsula and the Donbass region of Ukraine as a form of “hybrid warfare”, which has its roots in Soviet times. The difference in the contemporary operational landscape is the prominence of electronic resources, which the Russians are simultaneously employing as disinformation channels and tools of sabotage. Following the Ukrainian crisis of 2014, the former Soviet republic is today seen as being at the forefront of Russia’s experimentation with “hybrid warfare”.

According to British newspaper The Times, a delegation of Ukrainian military officials, with considerable experience in studying Russia’s war tactics in Donbass and Crimea, secretly visited the United Kingdom in July for consultations. The paper quoted an anonymous British military source saying that the visit was part of a series of meetings between Ukrainian and British officials. The goal of the meetings, it said, is to understand Russia’s military tactics in the 21st century. The agenda of the secret meetings includes discussion on topics such as the use of radio-electric weapons that disrupt GPS and drone signals, the deployment of sabotage and covert action, or the use of social media to spread disinformation. Russian tactics that have been discussed include the use of acoustics to locate snipers in an urban battlefield, tactical coordination of drones in fleets, and the widespread use of cellular telephone messages to target civilian populations.

A representative of the UK’s Ministry of Defense, who was contacted by The Times, admitted that “a small delegation from Ukraine was hosted” in Britain “as part of a think-tank sponsored visit”, but refused to provide further details. The paper said the meetings will probably continue and may even widen in scope to include staff from North Atlantic Treaty Organization member states.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 12 August 2016 | Permalink

Russia claims arrest of alleged CIA-trained spy

Lubyanka SquareThe Russian government says it has arrested a senior Ukrainian intelligence officer, who was allegedly trained by the United States Central Intelligence Agency and tasked with infiltrating the Russian secret services. In a statement published on Thursday, Russia’s Federal Security Service, known as FSB, said the alleged infiltrator is a “senior level employee” of the SBU, the Security Service of Ukraine. The SBU is Ukraine’s primary counterterrorism and counterintelligence agency, with much of its output focused on the Russian Federation.

The FSB statement identified the Ukrainian man as Lieutenant Colonel Yuriy Ivanchenko, but did not release further information about his background and identity, nor did it specify the details of his activities in Russia. According to the Russians, Ivanchenko allegedly entered the country in recent weeks, ostensibly in order to visit family members who live in Russia. But his real goal, according to the FSB, was to make contact with Russian intelligence and infiltrate the country’s security structure. Moscow says that Ivanchenko had planned to pose as a willing spy, namely an employee of Ukrainian intelligence who was offering to provide information to Russia. He was not a genuine spy, however, but rather a ‘dangle’ —namely someone posing as a genuine spy, but who is in fact attempting to deceive a rival intelligence agency by knowingly giving it misleading or inaccurate information.

Moreover, the Russians claim that Ivanchenko was being jointly run by the SBU and the CIA, and that the American intelligence agency had trained him to pose as a ‘dangle’ in order to collect information about FSB activities in Ukraine. The goal of the CIA, said Moscow, was to “lure an FSB employee and capture him with incriminating information”. However, the FSB statement said that Ivanchenko’s SBU connection and CIA affiliation were known to Russia prior to his arrival in the country, as he had previously tried to offer his services to Moscow. He was therefore arrested and will be deported in the coming days with a persona non grata (unwelcome person) designation. The CIA and SBU have not commented on Russia’s allegations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 April 2016 | Permalink

How are Ukrainian weapons ending up in the hands of ISIS?

Antiaircraft missileSignificant amounts of Ukrainian-manufactured weapons are ending up in the hands of the Islamic State, prompting accusations that Kiev may be arming the militant group in an effort to impair its regional foe Russia. Persisting rumors that Ukraine may be secretly arming the Islamic State —also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS— resurfaced last week, when authorities in Kuwait arrested six men suspected of working for the militant group. Among them was Osama Mohammed Saeed Khaiyat, a Syrian citizen of Lebanese background, who is believed to have traveled to Europe and the Middle East in search of weapons to be purchased by the Islamic State. Khaiyat, 45, allegedly told his captors that he has made several trips to Ukraine in the past, where he has purchased weapons and ammunition on behalf of the group. The weapons are purchased with cash, said Khaiyat, and are then delivered to Islamic State fighters in Syria through smuggling routes in the Black Sea and in Turkey.

As can be expected, Khaiyat’s revelations rekindled rumors that the government of Ukraine may be secretly funding the Islamic State, or may be turning a blind eye to secret dealings between weapons merchants and Islamic State arms procurers. The theory goes that Kiev is hoping that a well-armed Islamic State may be able to bog down Russian armed forces in Syria and thus distract Moscow from its military operations in eastern Ukraine. However, there is no proof that Ukraine’s state-owned Ukroboronprom weapons conglomerate, which oversees the country’s military–industrial complex, is the source of the weapons. It is worth noting that millions of weapons have been stolen from Ukrainian government depots since the start of the war in Donbass, and that weapons-smuggling has increased dramatically as a result. Moreover, Khaiyat told his Kuwaiti captors that FN-6 portable antiaircraft surface-to-air missiles were among the weapons he bought in Ukraine. The FN-6 is a Chinese-manufactured weapon, which has never been sold to the Ukrainian military. On the other hand, the Ukrainians could have purchased that weapon from the Chinese through a front-company, before supplying it to the black market.

Speaking to Russian news agency TASS, a spokesman for the Ukrainian military said on Friday that authorities in the former Soviet republic had no idea how the weapons were reaching the Islamic State. Vladislav Seleznyov, who speaks on behalf of the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ General Staff, told TASS that Kiev had “not produced or purchased Chinese-designed antiaircraft missile systems”, nor had it “provided transit for their transportation” to Syria. He added that reporters “should turn to law enforcement agencies on this issue”, as the Ukrainian military had “nothing to report on this topic”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 November 2015 | Permalink

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