The Ukrainian secret squad that kills Russians in the elevator and restaurant

The operation was prepared for a month. Yevhen Yunakov, the mayor of Velykyi Burluk in the Kharkiv region, had been identified as a Russian collaborator. “Caucasus”, a commander of special forces, and a group of local officers were entrusted with the task. His men meticulously observed their target for days: when he shopped, when and where he moved, how far his surveillance went. After remotely detonating their bomb, they disappeared to safe shelters in the occupied territories. Only weeks later, after the city was liberated, did the group return to Ukrainian-controlled territory. Yunakov’s body was never found.

The reference to Israel’s foreign intelligence agency moves Ukrainians, who are desperate for justice. In fact, the origins of political assassination lie a little closer to home. The Mossad learned much of its craft from the Soviet secret police and its founder, Pavel Sudoplatov, who was born in Melitopol in what is now occupied southern Ukraine. In the 1930s, Sudoplatov infiltrated Ukrainian nationalist groups and personally blew up one of their leaders with a chocolate bomb. (He was also responsible for the assassination of Leon Trotsky in 1940.)

Creation of elite spy unit in response to invasion

In modern Ukraine, assassinations date back at least to 2015, when the Internal Security Service (SBU) created a new department after Russia took Crimea and the eastern Donbass region. The fifth elite counterintelligence unit began as a saboteur force in response to the invasion. She later focused on what is euphemistically called “dirty work.”

Valentin Nalivaychenko, who headed the SBU at the time, says the move came about when the then Ukrainian leadership decided that a policy of imprisoning collaborators was not enough. Prisons were overcrowded, but few were deterred. “We reluctantly came to the conclusion that we needed to eliminate terrorists,” he says. A former officer of the unit describes it similarly. “We had to bring the war to them.”

In 2015 and 2016, the unit was linked to the assassination of key Russian-backed commanders in Donbass: Mikhail Tolstych, aka “Givi”, who was killed in a missile attack, Arsen Pavlov, aka “Motorola”, who was blown up in an elevator and Alexander Zakharchenko who was blown up in a restaurant.

Elite unit plays central role in operations against Russia

According to intelligence insiders, the SBU’s elite fifth unit plays a central role in operations against Russia. Due to its relative size and budget – five times larger than that of the Ukrainian military intelligence agency HUR – the SBU was best placed to carry out the most demanding assignments, such as: B. the bombing of the Kerch bridge connecting Russia and Crimea in October 2022. Others underline the importance of the HUR with its underground networks and its greater experience in wartime. “We’re mostly employees,” stresses an SBU source.

Another, increasingly important actor in occupied Ukraine are the Special Operations Forces (SSO). This is a relatively new group that coordinates the Ukrainian partisans, the Rukh Oporu (resistance movement). For example, the Kharkiv operation was conducted by the SSO. Denys Yaroslavsky, an officer with the SSO, says the Sonderkommando is now pushing for more powers to conduct operations inside Russia itself. This is not universally welcomed in the Ukrainian intelligence community.

Ukrainian president to authorize controversial operations himself

The Ukrainian president is understood to authorize the most controversial operations himself, but other actions are delegated. A senior government source with knowledge of the work declined to discuss specifics: “It’s important not to comment on or even think about such operations.” However, he says that Volodymyr Zelensky gave clear orders to avoid collateral damage to civilians. “The President is formally, and at times vociferously, telling people that order.” Ukraine must choose its targets carefully, the source adds, which it may not have “always” done.

The Ukrainian leadership came under particular scrutiny in October when the New York Times reported that the US government blamed them for a car bombing that killed Darya Dugina, daughter of nationalist philosopher Alexander Dugin. This exacerbated an already lively internal debate within Ukraine’s intelligence community. It was unclear whether Mrs. Dugina was to die; according to some reports, she had swapped cars with her father.

Operations were apparently designed to impress presidents

But a series of operations targeting middle-level propagandists showed a trend that few of the insiders interviewed for this article were happy with. “These are fringe figures,” says a source in SBU counterintelligence. “This makes me extremely uncomfortable.” The former officer of the fifth SBU unit suspects that the operations were designed more to impress the president than to bring victory closer. “Clowns, prostitutes and pranksters are a constant in the Russian government,” he says. “Kill one of them and another will appear in their place.”

The former spy says he’s concerned Ukrainian assassination attempts are driven by impulse rather than logic. Some of the murders have a useful psychological function, he says: they are intended to make the population aware of the consequences of war crimes and to improve morale among Ukrainians.

Such was “certainly” the case with Stanislav Rzhitsky, a former submarine commander believed to have fired the missiles that killed 38 Ukrainians in Vinnytsia in July 2022. A year later he was shot while jogging in a park in Krasnodar (Russia). However, other operations suggested a lack of strategy. They risked revealing the sources, methods and extent of Ukrainian infiltration into Russia: “Our security services shouldn’t do everything just because they can.”

Ukraine wants to avoid “blind terror”.

Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for military intelligence, assures that Ukraine avoids what he calls “blind terror”. The aim is “not to frighten the enemy” but to “drive them out of the occupied Ukrainian territories”. However, the Ukrainian spies would continue to “identify and exploit Russian psychology and vulnerabilities” wherever they discovered them.

Of course, the opposite is also the case. Infiltration of Ukrainian security services by Russian agents remains a major problem. According to some insiders, it is the biggest obstacle to trying to create a Ukrainian Mossad. The former head of internal security of the SBU has fled Ukraine and is being investigated in absentia for treason. Trust continues to be an issue in this service, where all but the less sensitive operations are conducted in small groups. “People are always our weakest link,” says the SBU’s counterintelligence source. “They are by far the most uncertain part of our planning.”

Hank Peter

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One thought on “The Ukrainian secret squad that kills Russians in the elevator and restaurant

  1. ewiwiqiq September 9, 2023 at 5:45 pm – Ijoqube Iqatuzij


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