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

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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