Analysis: A Western-supported anti-Russian insurgency in Ukraine is unlikely

Ukraine RussiaAS THE FULL-SCALE invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Armed Forces continues to unfold, some Western commentators have begun to speculate about the possible launch of an anti-Russian insurgency by the Ukrainian population. This kind of speculation is not unreasonable. Indeed, given their enormous disparity in size and might, a symmetric confrontation between the two belligerents seems unthinkable. One simply cannot imagine that a direct military confrontation between Russian and Ukrainian military forces could result in anything other than a resounding victory for Moscow. However, although the rise of an armed anti-Russian insurgency in Ukraine is possible, it is unlikely to be large in scale, and even more unlikely to succeed.

On first glance, Ukraine seems like a textbook case for a possible insurgency. Russia aside, it is Europe’s largest country by landmass, with a population of nearly 50 million. Even under the most favorable conditions, the Russians would find it difficult to occupy and control it without the consent of the local populace. Moreover, Ukraine shares borders with seven countries, including Russia, four of which—Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Poland—are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The geographic proximity of a host of NATO bases would easily allow Western intelligence agencies to provide the local population with war materiel, including advanced military hardware and other supplies. Lastly, due to the protracted war in Donetsk and Luhansk, the Ukrainian military has amassed significant experience in insurgency over the past decade.

However, as Brown University visiting professor Lyle Goldstein cautions in a recent article, things are never simple in war. Although no fewer than four NATO states border Ukraine, the military alliance and its leading patron, the United States, will need to exercise immense caution. In using these states to arm Ukrainian insurgents, Western powers will need to ensure a maximum degree of plausible deniability. Should Russia determine that Western countries are using these NATO powers as front-line states in a new Cold War, it could be tempted to launch military operations against them—an act that could spiral into an out-of-control multi-state war. It is also likely that these front-line NATO member-states will resist calls to be involved in this conflict, in order to avoid being dragged into a wider regional war.

Moreover, although numerous regions of Ukraine appear to be under fire at the moment, it is doubtful that the Russian military will seek to occupy the entire country. Moscow is thus unlikely to try to extend its control past the largely pro-Russian regions of eastern and east-central Ukraine. Such a strategy would ensure that Russian troops would be able to operate in a largely friendly environment. It would also make it difficult for Ukrainian insurgents to operate effectively anywhere east of Kiev. Lastly, the Russian Armed Forces have amassed substantial counter-insurgency experience in the post-Cold War era, having fought in large numbers in Chechnya and Syria, as well as in various regions of Africa through the Wagner Group.

In short, unless the Russians over-play their hand and try to take over the entire country, Western powers are likely to find it difficult to organize, support and sustain a concerted armed insurgency on Ukrainian soil. This does not mean that the ongoing Russian military campaign in Ukraine will inevitably be successful. War is inherently unpredictable, so anything can happen in the coming weeks and months. However, defeating the Russians in any military context will require many years of extremely brutal, bloody and fierce war.

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

Little-known Russian spy unit is behind alleged Ukraine ‘kill/capture list’

FSB - JFA LITTLE KNOWN SPY unit, which experts have described as a mysterious “third espionage agency” inside the Russian intelligence apparatus, is said to be behind a “kill/capture list” that Moscow allegedly plans to put to use in Ukraine. United States government officials insisted on Monday that such a list exists, despite strong denials from Russia. American officials claimed that the purpose of the list is to minimize popular resistance by Ukrainians to an invading Russian army, and to destabilize the government in Kiev, so that a pro-Russian government can eventually replace it.

The alleged list reportedly contains the names of senior Ukrainian politicians, Ukraine-based critics of the Russian and Belarusian governments, journalists and other activists. These individuals are to be captured or killed in the event of an invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces, according to Washington. Speaking on Monday on behalf of the Kremlin, Russian spokesperson Dmitry Peskov called the list “a fake” and insisted that it does not exist. Moscow also stressed that the United States did not provide details about the alleged list, nor did it cite the sources of its information.

According to the United States government, the alleged kill/capture list is maintained by the foreign intelligence arm of the Russia’s Federal Security Service. Known as FSB, the agency’s primary mission is to carry out counterintelligence and counterterrorism tasks inside the borders of the Russian Federation. But the FSB includes a little-known intelligence unit, known as the Service for Operational Information and International Communications—or the Fifth Service, in short.

The 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 that it “graduated into [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s imperial gendarme”. Today it is led by close Putin ally Sergei Beseda, who is a colonel general in the FSB. Its Ukraine wing is believed to have grown to over 200 officers in recent years.

The main task of the Fifth Service is political action of a covert nature, aimed at electoral subversion, political influence campaigns, psychological operations, and the undermining of groups or movements that oppose Russia’s continuing influence in the territories of the former Soviet Union. Some Western news sources have recently alleged that the Fifth Service has been tasked with coordinating activities between the Russian government and pro-Russian groups inside Ukraine, as well as “engineering [mini] coups in Ukraine’s major cities”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 February 2022 | Permalink

British military warns 50% of Russia’s entire ground force has now encircled Ukraine

UK Ministry of DefenceIN A VIDEO MESSAGE described by observers as “extraordinary”, the British Ministry of Defence has warned that at least half of the Russian military’s ground combat units have now encircled much of Ukraine. The report describes this as “the largest gathering of Russian troops” anywhere in the world since 1991—the year when the Soviet Union collapsed.

The video, titled “intelligence update”, was posted on Thursday on the social media application Twitter by the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence. It appears to be an example of what some observers are viewing as a “new front of information war” between Western and Russian intelligence agencies. As intelNews reported last week, American intelligence agencies have been instructed by the White House to release raw intelligence directly to the public about Russia’s intentions on Ukraine. This new method of public intelligence reporting has been described as “highly unusual” and even “unprecedented”.

British newspaper The Guardian called the two-minute video by the Ministry of Defence “extraordinary” in its candor and its attempt to communicate directly with the public. It includes visuals, such as satellite imagery, as well as graphics that show possible routes that Russian forces could take to invade Ukraine. The video warns that the scale of the Russian military presence along the Ukrainian border with Russia and Belarus is “far beyond that needed for a large-scale training exercise”. It concludes that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could take place “within days”.

The paper observes that Western spy agencies appear to be trying to use their intelligence information to “shape the narrative” about the crisis in Ukraine, before Moscow is able to use its formidable disinformation capabilities to set the agenda.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 February 2022 | Permalink

US strategy of revealing raw intelligence on Russia seen as ‘unusual’, ‘unprecedented’

Ukraine Russia borderTHE DECISION BY UNITED States officials to release what appears to be raw intelligence about Russia’s intentions on Ukraine is being described by observers as “highly unusual” and even “unprecedented”. Two weeks ago, American officials said they were in possession of intelligence about an alleged Russian false-flag operation targeting Ukraine. The operation revolved around a fake video, allegedly using paid actors, which would be used by Moscow as evidence of a campaign of ethnic cleansing by Kiev against eastern Ukraine’s Russian population.

More recently, the United States government claimed that Russia was potentially preparing to attack Ukraine on Wednesday, February 16. Such specific intelligence about an adversary’s intentions is rarely released to the public, especially during periods of international tension like the present. The decision by the US government to release this intelligence on an almost daily basis is being described by observers as “unprecedented”. It is broadly seen as one of the most aggressive “transparency-as-strategy” campaigns by American intelligence agencies since at least the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

One such observer, Thomas Rid, Professor of Strategic Studies at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, calls this novel approach by the US Intelligence Community “ambitious”. It is too early to say, however, whether this approach has actually helped prevent a conflict that the Russians were otherwise determined to see erupt in Ukraine. It is even more difficult to say whether this strategy will prove successful for the US government and the US Intelligence Community in the long run.

This is especially pertinent in relation to “sources and methods”—namely the precise source or sources that are presumably providing Washington with actionable intelligence from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. Douglas London, a recently retired Central Intelligence Agency case officer, points out that, the more Washington reveals precise details about the Kremlin’s intentions, the more it risks helping the Russians narrow in on the potential mole that is supplying America with intelligence. This tactic might provide the US with “a short-term gain right now in the Ukraine”, says London; however, it runs the risk of blinding American intelligence agencies “in the future to what the Russians are planning there and elsewhere”, he warns.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 February 2022 | Permalink

Even Russian military commanders don’t know what Putin’s plans are on Ukraine

Vladimir PutinEVEN RUSSIAN MILITARY COMMANDERS and intelligence officials on the ground near the Ukrainian border are in the dark about whether the Kremlin intends to invade Ukraine in the coming weeks, according to a report. The American news network CNN reported on Monday that Russian “intelligence and military operatives” stationed near the Ukrainian border are “not really understanding what the game plan is”.

Citing “four people familiar with the intelligence” on the matter, the news network said United States spy agencies had intercepted communications between Russian military and intelligence officials on the ground near Ukraine. The intercepts suggest that at least some Russian government personnel are concerned that the Kremlin may have miscalculated the tactical, financial and logistical challenges of a possible full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The CNN report noted that Russian military commanders on the ground are unlikely to oppose, or even hesitate to carry out, a direct order to invade Ukraine by the government in Moscow. However, there is reportedly concern among the Russian military and intelligence forces at the border that logistical support remains inadequate. It is currently believed that the size of the Russian military force along the Ukrainian border remains about 30 percent below what is needed to mount a full-scale military invasion of Ukraine.

Nevertheless, there are now indications that crucial supply lines needed to provide frontline Russian troops with war materiel, fuel, medicine, food, and other supplies, are being assembled. These supply lines could potentially allow the Kremlin’s forces to persist during a protracted conventional war through the upcoming spring and summer months. However, the intentions of Russian President Vladimir Putin remain a mystery, even to most Russian government officials. American intelligence agencies have “insights into the Russian military and foreign ministry”, according to CNN. However, they still lack adequate access to Putin’s inner circle, whose members remain firmly in control of plans for a possible invasion of Ukraine.

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

Ukraine relies on expanded intelligence relationship with the US, sources claim

Ukraine Russia borderUKRAINE IS INCREASINGLY RELIANT on its close intelligence relationship with the United States, which has grown dramatically in depth and intensity since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, according to a new report. The report, authored by Zach Dorfman, national security correspondent for Yahoo News, cites “more than half a dozen former US intelligence and national security officials”. It suggests that the intelligence relationship between Ukraine and the US has been “mutually advantageous” in recent years, and is “as robust […] as just about [any other] in Europe”.

On the American side, the intelligence cooperation effort is led by the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, two agencies that frequently exchange information with their Ukrainian counterparts. The information, which includes intelligence obtained from intercepted communications, has largely concentrated as of late on Russian military operations and activities. The two agencies have also participated in intelligence exchanges with the Ukrainians, with officials from the two sides engaging in reciprocal visits “to swap information” and provide training.

According to Yahoo News, CIA paramilitary operations officers have been training Ukrainian special operations forces personnel, as well as Ukrainian intelligence officers, since 2015. The training takes place “at an undisclosed facility in the southern United States”, the report states. Moreover, the NSA has engaged in offensive cyber operations against Russian government targets jointly with Ukrainian government agencies. This collaboration is especially lucrative for the NSA, whose collection capabilities in Eastern Europe are relatively limited.

Lastly, the Ukrainians have been providing US government agencies like the Department of the Treasury with financial intelligence on Russian efforts to evade economic sanctions. This information often includes data on the collusion between Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs, as many of the latter have close ties to the Russian government.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 February 2022 | Permalink

US, British spy agencies preparing Ukraine to withstand Russian invasion – reports

Ukraine Russia borderBRITISH, AMERICAN AND OTHER Western intelligence agencies are quietly preparing Ukrainian military and security experts to withstand a possible Russian attack, according to a number of media reports. The New York Times reported on Monday that cyberwarfare units from the United States and the United Kingdom have been dispatched to Ukraine. Their mission is believed to be helping the former Soviet republic in confronting possible large-scale cyberattacks from Moscow.

According to The Times, Ukraine has been undergoing a widespread series of cyberattacks from Russia almost without stop during the past several years. The attacks have consisted of multiple sabotage and espionage campaigns, which have targeted nearly every Ukrainian government agency, as well as the country’s energy infrastructure. These attacks have historically been low in number and intensity. This has changed in recent months, however, according to American officials.

Some observers are concerned that a series of large-scale cyberattacks may precede a military invasion by the nearly 200,000 Russian troops that are currently present along the Russian-Ukrainian border. Were they to materialize, these cyberattacks will probably attempt to sabotage core functions of Ukraine’s economy and government, including the banking and air-traffic systems. Moscow’s broader goal, according to The Times, would be to subvert the ability of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government to govern Ukraine. This, in turn, could lead to its fall and replacement by a pro-Russian administration. If a pro-Russian government is threatened by a pro-Western revolt —something that Ukraine has seen in the past— it could potentially request military assistance from Moscow, which would provide a political pretext for an invasion.

Meanwhile, British newspaper The Daily Mirror said on Monday that American intelligence agencies have “secretly agreed to arm and train Ukrainian troops on how to fight a guerrilla war against Russian forces if they invade”. The paper said that meetings to discuss these plans have been taking place between officials from the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency. The goal of such an effort, the report claims, would be to mirror the American help given to Afghan fighters by the CIA during the Soviet-Afghan war of the 1980s.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 December 2021 | Permalink

US intelligence reports suggest possible Russian military invasion in Ukraine

UkraineINTELLIGENCE OFFICIALS IN THE United States are becoming increasingly convinced that Russia is contemplating extensive military action in Ukraine, according to Western insiders. Russian troop concentrations near the Ukrainian border have been “large and unusual” for several weeks, according to observers.

The New York Times reports that American intelligence assessments do not view war in Ukraine as an inevitable outcome of Moscow’s military maneuvers in western Russia. In fact, many suggest that Russian President Vladimir Putin “has not yet decided” how to proceed in Ukraine. Nevertheless, “all the pieces are in place” for a large-scale military invasion, according to experts who spoke to The Times.

The number of American intelligence observers who believe that Moscow’s military maneuvers may represent a bluff is gradually shrinking. Some believe that the Kremlin’s goal is to establish command over a larger and more unified landmass than the one it currently controls in southeastern Ukraine, and thus secure a contiguous land linking Russian soil with the territory it occupies in Ukraine.

Washington has been sharing intelligence on this fast-changing situation with Ukraine, while also briefing its North Atlantic Treaty Organization partners. Last week, the United States Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines visited Brussels for discussions with NATO ambassadors. The unusual visit to Russia by Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns, which took place in early November, may also be connected to the rising tensions in Ukraine, according to The Times.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 22 November 2021 | Permalink

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

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