FSB errors performed essential position in Russia’s failed conflict plans in Ukraine

KYIV, Ukraine — Within the last days earlier than the invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s safety service started sending cryptic directions to informants in Kyiv. Pack up and get out of the capital, the Kremlin collaborators have been instructed, however go away behind the keys to your houses.

The instructions got here from senior officers in a unit of Russia’s Federal Safety Service (FSB) with a prosaic title — the Division of Operational Data — however an ominous project: make sure the decapitation of the Ukrainian authorities and oversee the set up of a pro-Russian regime.

The messages have been a measure of the boldness in that audacious plan. So sure have been FSB operatives that they might quickly management the levers of energy in Kyiv, based on Ukrainian and Western safety officers, that they spent the waning days earlier than the conflict arranging secure homes or lodging in informants’ residences and different places for the deliberate inflow of personnel.

“Have a profitable journey!” one FSB officer instructed one other who was being despatched to supervise the anticipated occupation, based on intercepted communications. There isn’t a indication that the recipient ever made it to the capital, because the FSB’s plans collapsed amid the retreat of Russian forces within the early months of the conflict.

The communications exposing these preparations are half of a bigger trove of delicate supplies obtained by Ukrainian and different safety providers and reviewed by The Washington Publish. They provide uncommon perception into the actions of the FSB — a sprawling service that bears monumental accountability for the failed Russian conflict plan and the hubris that propelled it.

An company whose area consists of inner safety in Russia in addition to espionage within the former Soviet states, the FSB has spent a long time spying on Ukraine, trying to co-opt its establishments, paying off officers and dealing to impede any perceived drift towards the West. No facet of the FSB’s intelligence mission exterior Russia was extra necessary than burrowing into all ranges of Ukrainian society.

And but, the company did not incapacitate Ukraine’s authorities, foment any semblance of a pro-Russian groundswell or interrupt President Volodymyr Zelensky’s maintain on energy. Its analysts both didn’t fathom how forcefully Ukraine would reply, Ukrainian and Western officers mentioned, or did perceive however couldn’t or wouldn’t convey such sober assessments to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

[Hubris and isolation led Vladimir Putin to misjudge Ukraine]

The humiliations of Russia’s navy have largely overshadowed the failures of the FSB and different intelligence companies. However in some methods, these have been much more incomprehensible and consequential, officers mentioned, underpinning practically each Kremlin conflict choice.

“The Russians have been improper by a mile,” mentioned a senior U.S. official with common entry to categorised intelligence on Russia and its safety providers. “They arrange a whole conflict effort to grab strategic goals that have been past their means,” the official mentioned. “Russia’s mistake was actually basic and strategic.”

Ukraine’s safety providers have an curiosity in discrediting Russia’s spy companies, however key particulars from the trove have been corroborated by officers in Western governments.

The information present that the FSB unit chargeable for Ukraine surged in measurement within the months main as much as the conflict and was relying on assist from an enormous community of paid brokers in Ukraine’s safety equipment. Some complied and sabotaged Ukraine’s defenses, officers mentioned, whereas others seem to have pocketed their FSB funds however balked at doing the Kremlin’s bidding when the preventing began.

There are information that add to the thriller of Russian miscalculations. Intensive polls carried out for the FSB present that enormous segments of Ukraine’s inhabitants have been ready to withstand Russian encroachment, and that any expectation that Russian forces could be greeted as liberators was unfounded. Even so, officers mentioned, the FSB continued to feed the Kremlin rosy assessments that Ukraine’s lots would welcome the arrival of Russia’s navy and the restoration of Moscow-friendly rule.

“There was loads of wishful considering within the GRU and the navy, nevertheless it began with the FSB,” mentioned a senior Western safety official, utilizing the GRU abbreviation for Russia’s essential navy intelligence company. “The sense that there could be flowers strewn of their path — that was an FSB train.” He and different safety officers in Ukraine, america and Europe spoke on the situation of anonymity to debate delicate intelligence.

Adhering to those misguided assumptions, officers mentioned, the FSB championed a conflict plan premised on the concept that a lightning assault on Kyiv would topple the federal government in a matter of days. Zelensky could be lifeless, captured or in exile, making a political vacuum for FSB brokers to fill.

As a substitute, FSB operatives who at one level had reached the outskirts of Kyiv needed to retreat alongside Russian forces, Ukrainian safety officers mentioned. Reasonably than presiding over the formation of a brand new authorities in Kyiv, officers mentioned, the FSB now faces tough questions in Moscow about what its lengthy historical past of operations towards Ukraine — and the big sums that financed them — achieved.

The FSB didn’t reply to requests for remark.

The FSB’s plans and the efforts of Ukraine’s safety companies to thwart them — with backing from the CIA, Britain’s MI6 and different Western intelligence providers — are a part of a shadow conflict that has performed out in parallel to Russia’s navy marketing campaign. It’s a battle that was underway lengthy earlier than the Feb. 24 invasion, and its battle strains are blurred by the tangled, overlapping histories of Russian providers and Ukrainian counterparts that started as offspring of the Soviet-era KGB.

Six months into the conflict, neither aspect seems to have a transparent higher hand.

Ukraine’s safety companies have scored notable victories. Early on, a Ukrainian nongovernmental group printed what it described as a roster of FSB operatives linked to the conflict effort, posting the identities and passport numbers of dozens of alleged spies in a transfer meant to disrupt the company’s plans and rattle its personnel. An individual linked to the NGO, which is known as Myrotvorets, or Peacemaker, mentioned the info was obtained by Ukraine’s safety providers. The particular person spoke on the situation of anonymity, citing threats to his safety.

On the identical time, Ukraine’s essential inner safety service, the SBU, has struggled to rid its ranks of Russian moles and saboteurs. A number of senior officers have been arrested and branded traitors by Zelensky, who took the extraordinary step in July of eradicating SBU Director Ivan Bakanov — a childhood pal — from his publish.

Putin just isn’t believed to have taken comparable motion towards any of his spy chiefs, regardless of the dimensions of their misjudgments.

“In case your safety providers put such a excessive precedence on understanding Ukraine, and your navy plan relies on that understanding, how might they’ve gotten it so improper?” mentioned William B. Taylor Jr., who twice served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, together with in an performing capability in 2019. “How might they’ve assumed the Ukrainians wouldn’t struggle, that President Zelensky wouldn’t resist so valiantly? The disconnect must be someplace between the FSB and the very high.”


Amongst these planning to reach in Kyiv in late February was Igor Kovalenko, recognized by Ukraine as a senior FSB officer who had for years been a principal handler of a number of the most distinguished Ukrainian politicians and authorities officers secretly on the Kremlin’s payroll, together with members of the opposition occasion co-chaired by Viktor Medvedchuk, an in depth pal of Putin.

An change Kovalenko had with an FSB subordinate on Feb. 18 means that he had his eye on an condominium in Kyiv’s leafy Obolon neighborhood, overlooking the Dnieper River.

Intercepted communications present that Kovalenko requested for the deal with of the condominium and speak to particulars for an FSB informant who occupied it. Ukrainian authorities mentioned the resident was subsequently detained and questioned.

Kovalenko’s subordinate despatched again the deal with, telephone numbers and code phrases used to speak with the informant, who served in Zelensky’s authorities, Ukrainian officers mentioned.

The officers declined to determine the informant however mentioned he admitted that he had obtained FSB directions days earlier than the invasion to pack his belongings, go away his keys and get out of the capital to make sure his private safety through the conflict’s preliminary section.

Different informants detained by Ukrainian authorities have supplied related accounts, one of many officers mentioned. “That they had been instructed, ‘While you return, it’s going to all be totally different.’ ”

Particulars printed by Peacemaker and confirmed by Ukrainian safety officers describe Kovalenko as a 47-year-old veteran of the spy service who in recent times was chargeable for managing the company’s clandestine ties to Ukraine’s parliament and essential pro-Russian occasion.

Kovalenko didn’t reply to requests for remark.

Ukrainian authorities consider that Kovalenko might have been simply miles from the capital in March, accompanying Russian forces then exterior the town. However the FSB group assigned to arrange operations in Kyiv needed to abandon that plan when Russia’s forces started their retreat, officers mentioned.

The Obolon condominium was positioned underneath surveillance by the SBU after the deal with surfaced in communications intercepts, officers mentioned. Neither Kovalenko nor some other FSB officer ever turned as much as declare the keys.


Kovalenko is a senior officer in an FSB unit — the Ninth Directorate of the Division of Operational Data — whose essential objective has for years been to make sure Ukraine’s servility to Moscow.

The division is overseen by a senior FSB officer, Sergey Beseda, who began his profession with the KGB within the late Nineteen Seventies, based on Ukrainian officers, and was assigned to abroad posts together with Cuba earlier than returning to Moscow to go operations in Ukraine, Georgia and different former Soviet republics.

After protests erupted in Kyiv in late 2013 towards the pro-Russian authorities of Viktor Yanukovych, Beseda turned up within the Ukrainian capital urging Yanukovych to make use of lethal drive to place down an rebellion that may come to be often known as the Maidan Revolution, Ukrainian officers mentioned.

When the protesters prevailed, Yanukovych fled to Russia with a bunch of senior advisers suspected of working with Beseda’s department within the years that adopted to carry a pro-Russian authorities again to energy.

That mission appeared to tackle new urgency within the two years main as much as the February invasion.

In 2019, the FSB started a significant growth of its Ukraine unit, a bunch that grew from 30 officers to as many as 160 final summer season, based on Ukrainian officers who cited intercepted communications and different intelligence.

To entice recruits from different branches, the FSB supplied bonuses and free housing in buildings adjoining to the FSB coaching academy on Michurinsky Prospekt in Moscow, officers mentioned. Arriving officers have been assigned territories in Ukraine and tasked with growing lists of collaborators to work with, in addition to adversaries to neutralize.

[In Ukrainian villages, whispers of collaboration with the Russians]

At first, the surge was seen as one other enterprise geared toward “returning Russian affect in Ukraine,” mentioned a safety official in Kyiv concerned in monitoring FSB operations. However on reflection, it could have been an early sign that Russia was shifting focus, the official mentioned, from shaping occasions in Ukraine to plotting “its seizure.”

As Russia’s navy mobilization accelerated final yr, Ukraine’s safety providers have been inundated with extra intelligence from Western spy providers, officers mentioned.

On Jan. 12, CIA Director William J. Burns arrived in Kyiv with an in depth file on Russia’s plans and a group of accompanying U.S. officers who sought to persuade Zelensky and his inside circle that conflict was imminent.

But when the CIA group departed, Ukraine’s spy chiefs gathered with Zelensky to ship a follow-on briefing that was much more equivocal.

“We relayed all the data that the Individuals had shared with none adjustments,” mentioned a participant. However on the identical time, the official mentioned, “our info mentioned that the Russians should not planning conflict” on such a big scale, and that judgment was given equal weight alongside the CIA warnings.

The ultimate weeks earlier than the invasion have been punctuated by a flurry of contradictory intelligence studies and complicated alerts from European officers.

Ten days after Burns’s go to, the British authorities declared that it had “info that signifies the Russian authorities is seeking to set up a pro-Russian chief in Kyiv because it considers whether or not to invade and occupy Ukraine.”

The British file recognized a pro-Russian former member of Ukraine’s parliament, Yevhen Murayev, “as a possible candidate,” a declare that Murayev dismissed as “ridiculous and humorous” in a response to the Related Press. The British assertion additionally listed former members of Yanukovych’s cupboard, alleging that that they had hyperlinks to Russian intelligence and that officers they have been in touch with have been “concerned within the planning for an assault on Ukraine.”

About the identical time, Ukraine’s safety companies picked up indications that FSB operatives have been in direct communication with Russia’s airborne forces, officers mentioned. Such direct interplay between the FSB and navy models was so uncommon, officers mentioned, that it was considered a worrisome signal of joint operational planning.

[The man who has Putin’s ear — and may want his job]

That concern appears to have been well-placed. Russia’s airborne forces performed a pivotal position within the seize of an airport in Hostomel, on the outskirts of Kyiv, within the early hours of the invasion. It was a key node for the anticipated assault on the capital, and FSB officers have been noticed there earlier than Russian forces have been pushed from the airstrip, officers mentioned.

Different late-arriving intelligence, nevertheless, appeared to solid doubt on the concept that Russia was even ready for, not to mention planning, full-scale fight.

In mid-February, Ukraine’s international intelligence service, the SZRU, despatched brokers into Russia to hold out surveillance operations on navy models. One group encountered a Potemkin village of Russian {hardware}, officers mentioned, with dozens of parked tanks accompanied by a small safety element. No tank operators or upkeep crews have been anyplace within the neighborhood.

Elsewhere, Ukraine’s spies came across a scene of disciplinary mayhem: strains of stranded Russian autos accompanied by troops who had bartered gas and different provides for alcohol. “A number of them have been drunk,” mentioned a Ukrainian official who reviewed studies on what Ukraine’s spies had witnessed.

The scenes fed doubts amongst safety advisers to Zelensky, a few of whom have been understandably disinclined to consider that their nation’s days is perhaps numbered. Even now, months later, many proceed to specific disbelief that Russia pressed forward so poorly ready.

European officers additionally remained skeptical. In Kyiv on Feb. 8, French President Emmanuel Macron mentioned he had obtained a private assurance from Putin that Russia wouldn’t escalate the state of affairs. Germany’s spy chief, Bruno Kahl, had mentioned days earlier that Putin’s choice on whether or not to assault had “not but been made.” (Kahl was in Kyiv on the day the invasion started and needed to be evacuated by automobile to Poland.)

Ultimately, many Ukrainian safety officers believed that Russia’s navy buildup was largely a psychological ploy, however that Moscow may use missile strikes and incursions by airborne models and elite Spetsnaz troops to topple a authorities it noticed as teetering. On the time, Zelensky’s approval rankings had plummeted to round 26 % as Ukraine confronted an power disaster and stress on its forex that officers attributed to Russian sabotage.

“We didn’t count on … some basic invasion in Second World Warfare fashion with tanks, artillery and infantry,” a senior Ukrainian safety official mentioned. Ukraine was improper about Russia’s intentions, he mentioned, however even Moscow might not have envisioned a significant land conflict.

“They anticipated someone to open the gate,” the official mentioned. “They didn’t count on any resistance.”

In an interview this month with The Publish, Zelensky mentioned that nicely earlier than the invasion, Russia had been waging “a hybrid conflict towards our state. There was an power blow, there was a political blow.”

“They wished a change of energy from contained in the nation,” he mentioned. “I had the sensation that [the Russians] wished to arrange us for a tender give up.”


Ukraine’s SBU — like its Russian counterpart — is a direct descendant of the KGB. It occupies the previous KGB headquarters in Kyiv, is organized across the identical bureaucratic construction as its Soviet predecessor, and employs an undisclosed variety of officers who skilled on the KGB academy in Moscow or its FSB successor after the Soviet breakup.

The companies’ entangled histories carry a hall-of-mirrors facet to the battle.

Present and former Ukrainian safety officers mentioned worry concerning the loyalties of even senior personnel is a supply of fixed anxiousness. One official mentioned he reached for his telephone on the conflict’s second day to start calling subordinates to relay orders. However he hesitated as he dialed, he mentioned, fearful that his calls would go unanswered or reveal that senior lieutenants had thrown their assist to the Russians.

He was shocked, he mentioned, when these he referred to as not solely answered however adopted orders with a precision and willpower that have been uncommon earlier than the battle.

“It’s a paradox of the Ukrainian state,” the official mentioned. “It was believed, together with by Ukrainians themselves, that there was a excessive degree of corruption, inefficiency and infiltration of Russian brokers within the Ukrainian authorities buildings.” However after Feb. 24, he mentioned, “they not solely labored but in addition labored extra effectively than ever.”

He and others attributed a lot of that resilience to the instance Zelensky set together with his choice to stay within the capital. His potential to take action was due partly to the existence of an enormous bunker advanced underneath Kyiv’s authorities quarter that was designed by Soviet engineers and constructed to outlive nuclear battle.

A senior adviser described being taken to satisfy Zelensky within the first weeks of the conflict and descending right into a disorienting warren of tunnels and command posts. “I nonetheless can’t say to you the place [Zelensky’s base of operations] is strictly,” he mentioned, as a result of the advanced is such a labyrinth.

Ukraine has made repeated makes an attempt to cleanse its ranks of Russian property, at one level even enlisting a CIA officer to function an inner adviser on rooting out FSB penetrations, based on former U.S. officers. However with an estimated 27,000 staff — making the SBU not less than 5 instances as massive as MI5, its British equal — the company has struggled to surmount the issue.

“Is there treachery? What can I say?” Zelensky mentioned. “With all my love for Ukraine, we aren’t with out sin.” The variety of those that should not loyal to their nation “has fallen over time,” he mentioned. Nonetheless, when the conflict began, “there have been individuals who have been working for Russians for cash, and a few who from the within all the time hated Ukraine and have been ready for the Soviet Union to return.”

A number of senior SBU officers have been charged with treason. Amongst them is the previous head of the company’s directorate in Kherson, in southern Ukraine, who was accused of ordering subordinates to desert their posts as Russian forces flooded the area.

[In Kherson, misery under Russian occupation, hope over Ukrainian gains]

Final month, Ukrainian authorities arrested one other SBU officer, Oleg Kulinich, who had been put in within the service’s higher ranks by Bakanov, the SBU director and childhood pal of Zelensky. The allegations towards Kulinich underscore the pervasiveness of Russian penetrations. Costs filed by Ukrainian authorities describe him as a part of a cell of sleeper brokers operated by Vladimir Sivkovich, a former deputy head of Ukraine’s safety council who was positioned underneath sanction by the U.S. Treasury Division in January for working “with a community of Russian intelligence actors to hold out affect operations.”

Two years earlier than the conflict, Sivkovich “set a process for Kulinich” to start stealing secret inner SBU information that may be “of operational curiosity” to the “particular providers of the Russian Federation,” based on the charging doc.

Collectively, based on the doc, they conspired to assist promote one other alleged Russian spy to take management of the SBU’s counterintelligence division. That determine, Andriy Naumov, was arrested in Serbia in June carrying money and gems value greater than $700,000, based on info launched by Serbian authorities.

On the evening earlier than Russia’s invasion, Kulinich “intentionally” blocked the dissemination of intelligence warning that Russian forces in Crimea have been hours from launching an assault, based on the Ukrainian indictment.

Zelensky’s choice to oust Bakanov as SBU director after Kulinich’s arrest was pushed by exasperation together with his failure to “cleanse” the company of Russia sympathizers, mentioned Andriy Smirnov, deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential workplace. “Six months into the conflict,” he mentioned, “we proceed to uncover a great deal of these individuals.”

Bakanov didn’t reply to requests for remark. Kulinich, Sivkovich and Naumov couldn’t be reached for remark, and none seem to have made any public assertion concerning the allegations towards them.

General, Ukraine has detained greater than 800 individuals suspected of aiding Russia by way of reconnaissance or sabotage, based on Ukraine’s Inside Ministry. Authorities have additionally moved towards suspected “brokers of affect” in authorities, parliament and politics.

Chief amongst them is Medvedchuk, the opposition occasion chairman who has such shut ties to Putin that the Russian chief is the godfather of his youngest daughter. Ukrainian officers described Medvedchuk, 68, as a savvy political operator who harbored ambitions of excessive workplace himself and possibly would have served as puppet-master to any regime put in by the Kremlin.

Zelensky’s authorities had charged Medvedchuk with treason in Might 2021 and positioned him underneath home arrest. Medvedchuk denied any wrongdoing and mentioned he would struggle to clear his title. He then escaped through the early days of the conflict, however was recaptured in April and now awaits trial. Medvedchuk’s lawyer, Tetyana Zhukovska, declined to remark this month, saying she couldn’t achieve this till a Ukrainian court docket dominated within the treason case towards her shopper.

[In the Ukraine war, a battle for the nation’s mineral and energy wealth]

“Once they started on Feb. 24, the duty was to take Kyiv,” mentioned a Ukrainian safety official. “They anticipated it will result in a domino impact” that may ripple throughout the nation. “They might take first central energy after which they might have strengthened presence in areas.”

As a part of that plan, Ukrainian officers mentioned, the FSB had lined up not less than two pro-Russian governments-in-waiting — not only one because the British authorities had warned. Ukraine officers mentioned it was unclear why Russia had mobilized two teams, although some speculated that Putin might have merely wished choices.

One, positioned in Belarus, centered on Yanukovych. On March 7, a aircraft that belonged to the previous Ukrainian president landed in Minsk, its arrival handled as a sign that Russia may search to reinstate a politician Kremlin officers nonetheless referred to after his 2014 ouster because the nation’s “legit” chief.

Yanukovych then issued an open letter to Zelensky, broadcast by a Russian state information company, by which he instructed the Ukrainian president it was his obligation to “cease the bloodshed and attain a peace deal at any value.” Over the next week, Yanukovych’s safety chief spoke thrice with a senior officer from the FSB’s Ukraine unit, based on knowledge intercepted by Ukrainian intelligence.

Yanukovych didn’t reply to requests for remark. His former prime minister, Nikolai Azarov, mentioned in a phone interview with The Publish that any suggestion that Moscow was looking for to engineer Yanukovych’s return to energy was “complete nonsense.”

A second group, which included former members of the Yanukovych authorities, gathered in southeastern Ukraine as territory there fell to Russian forces. Amongst them was Oleg Tsaryov, a former main member of Yanukovych’s Celebration of Areas, who declared his presence in Ukraine on a publish to the Telegram messaging app, saying that “Kyiv shall be free from fascists.”

In a phone interview with The Publish final month, Tsaryov mentioned he had even moved into areas round Kyiv through the preliminary weeks of the conflict, touring with “mates” he declined to determine. He wouldn’t reply questions on whether or not he was a part of any plot to grab energy, saying solely that when he was exterior Kyiv, “I didn’t have any agreements with anybody a few new authorities.”


Almost each intelligence service with a stake within the conflict made consequential misjudgments.

U.S. spy companies have been prescient on Putin’s intentions however underestimated Ukraine’s potential to face up to the onslaught — an error that contributed to america’ preliminary hesitation to ship heavy and complex weapons.

Ukraine’s providers seem to have learn an excessive amount of into indicators that Russian forces have been ill-prepared for full-scale fight, resisting Western warnings of an invasion that got here inside miles of the capital.

Russia’s intelligence breakdowns in Ukraine appear extra systemic, its work marred by unreliable sources, disincentives to ship onerous truths to the Kremlin, and an endemic bias that matched Putin’s contemptuous perspective towards the nation.

The FSB fueled this dynamic, officers mentioned, with assessments packaged to please the Kremlin and with sources who had their very own causes — political and monetary — for encouraging a Russian takedown of the Kyiv authorities.

Confidential studies by a assume tank with shut ties to the FSB, the Moscow-based Institute of CIS International locations, prodded Moscow to reassert management over its neighbor. An early 2021 report obtained by The Publish mentioned that doing so was the one technique to “rid Russia of the everlasting risk … posed by the puppet state prepared to hold out any order of the enemy forces of the West.”

The director of the institute, Konstantin Zatulin, insisted in a phone interview that he had opposed using navy drive towards Ukraine, and he blamed the Kremlin’s “inflated expectations” about what the invasion might accomplish on exaggerations by Kremlin allies within the nation.

Foremost amongst them was Medvedchuk, who had served as presidential chief of workers within the early 2000s earlier than amassing a enterprise fortune and turning into co-leader of Ukraine’s essential pro-Russian occasion.

Not like different Ukrainian figures, Medvedchuk was in direct contact with Putin, based on officers who cited monitored communications. His was essentially the most distinguished voice in a refrain of Kremlin allies assuring Moscow that Zelensky was weak, that his authorities would collapse and that Russian forces could be welcomed by the Ukrainian individuals, officers mentioned.

In recent times, Medvedchuk appeared to make use of his enterprise empire to put the groundwork for a Russian transfer towards Kyiv. His TV stations routinely bashed Zelensky and aired pro-Russian propaganda, together with discredited claims that america had biolabs within the nation to assist Ukraine develop organic weapons. His firms, which included a stake in an oil refinery in southern Russia, served as a conduit for cash that flowed to pro-Russian forces and backed plots to destabilize the Kyiv authorities, officers mentioned.

As his actions turned extra brazen, america and Ukraine moved towards his community.

The U.S. Treasury Division, which had beforehand positioned Medvedchuk underneath sanction, went after key occasion lieutenants in January, accusing them of collaborating with Russian intelligence on efforts to “take over the Ukrainian authorities and management Ukraine’s essential infrastructure with an occupying drive.”

A kind of sanctioned associates, Oleh Voloshyn, denied that he or Medvedchuk had any particular prior data of Russia’s invasion plan or that they have been looking for to overthrow the Zelensky authorities. In a phone interview with The Publish final month, Voloshyn blamed the conflict on Zelensky, saying the repression of Medvedchuk and his supporters pressured Moscow to defend its allies.

“The selection was all the time turning into impartial voluntarily, or made impartial by way of drive,” he mentioned. “I don’t say that is good or dangerous. It’s simply the fact.”

Nearly instantly, the conflict did not dwell as much as Medvedchuk’s forecasts. And it was his political community, moderately than Zelensky’s, that in the end folded, with as many as a dozen senior occasion officers leaving the nation.

Moscow’s subsequent spurning of Medvedchuk has been one of many few seen indicators of Putin’s pique.

After Medvedchuk was recaptured in mid-April, Ukrainian authorities proposed sending him to Moscow as a part of a prisoner swap. However officers mentioned the Kremlin has proven no real interest in any deal that may free the oligarch.

Typically pictured earlier than the conflict sporting immaculately tailor-made fits in conferences with the Russian chief, current photographs launched by Ukraine present Medvedchuk in jail fatigues and handcuffs.

To the Kremlin, “he’s a traitor as a result of he took all the cash and delivered no outcomes,” mentioned Kostyantyn Batozsky, who was an adviser to a Donetsk governor earlier than the area was taken over by pro-Russian separatists.

Medvedchuk “is a performed card; they may by no means use him once more,” Batozsky mentioned. “He doesn’t wish to go to Russia now as a result of he shall be requested essentially the most disagreeable query on the earth: What concerning the cash? The place did it go?”


One of many extra puzzling facets of Russia’s miscalculation is that the FSB had obtained info suggesting that conflict with Ukraine wouldn’t be a walkover.

Latest polls carried out by a company with shut ties to the FSB confirmed that Putin was deeply unpopular in Ukraine and that the concept that Russian forces could be welcomed was fiction, based on copies obtained by Ukrainian intelligence.

An April 2021 ballot by the agency Analysis & Branding discovered that 84 % of Ukrainians would regard any additional encroachment by Russian forces as an “occupation,” with simply 2 % seeing such a state of affairs as a “liberation.”

A second ballot, carried out in late January simply weeks earlier than the conflict, queried Ukrainians about invasion eventualities in extraordinary element, based on a 26-page doc reviewed by The Publish. It was commissioned by and introduced to Sivkovich, the previous Yanukovich aide who’s accused of working sleeper brokers, Ukrainian officers mentioned.

Was a “nice conflict” between the nations doable? the ballot requested. Have been individuals “feeling involved for themselves and their family members” concerning the buildup of Russian forces? Was Ukraine’s military able to keeping off an invasion?

Essentially the most salient query seems towards the top of the ballot: “Are you able to defend Ukraine within the occasion of such a necessity?” General, 48 % answered within the affirmative.

Ukrainian officers mentioned the quantity ought to have been interpreted as an indication of resolve, displaying that thousands and thousands of residents have been able to take up arms towards Russia. The FSB, nevertheless, might have drawn a unique conclusion from the identical knowledge, believing that solely a minority of Ukrainians have been dedicated to defending their nation.

It’s unclear whether or not the outcomes of those surveys have been precisely relayed to the Kremlin.

When contacted by phone, Eduard Zolotukhin, Analysis & Branding’s director, requested The Publish to ship written questions, however then didn’t reply.


The fallout for the FSB has been tough to determine amid the data blackout imposed on Russian media by Putin.

Early studies that Beseda, chargeable for the FSB’s Ukraine directorate, had been demoted and even imprisoned are seen skeptically by U.S. and different intelligence officers, who say they’ve seen no info to recommend that any of Russia’s spy chiefs has confronted such penalties.

“We’ve got fairly good cause to consider that he’s nonetheless within the job,” a senior U.S. official mentioned of Beseda. Nor, the official mentioned, is there any indication that FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov has been held to account for his company’s failures. A senior Russian politician with shut hyperlinks to the Kremlin and to the FSB additionally mentioned in an interview that Beseda was persevering with to hold out his duties.

[The West has imposed a barrage of sanctions on top Russian figures. See how they’re connected to Putin.]

Different studies indicated that Putin had sidelined the FSB due to its failures and given better accountability for Ukraine to the military-linked GRU. Ukrainian officers say in any other case.

“I don’t share this view,” one official mentioned. The FSB “didn’t handle the duty they got. However they’re persevering with to work. Not with the identical enthusiasm. However they proceed.”

Ukrainian officers cited current intelligence indicating that the FSB — just like the Russian navy — has regrouped, turning its focus to territories within the south and east which were obliterated by Russian artillery.

“We are able to see it taking part in out now in Mariupol, Melitopol, Kherson” and different cities which have fallen to Russian forces, a Ukrainian intelligence official mentioned. FSB officers swoop in to implement a model of the blueprint the company initially had for Kyiv.

“The goal is political management, financial management, management over felony teams — all spheres of exercise on seized territory,” the intelligence official mentioned. “The ultimate goal is to put in a pro-Russian energy.”

Kherson, the primary main metropolis to fall to the Russian military, now affords a chilling glimpse into what life may need been like if Russia had taken Ukraine’s capital.

The town’s mayor, Ihor Kolykhaiev, was arrested in June after repeatedly refusing to cooperate with the Russian occupiers, and his whereabouts are unknown, an aide to the mayor mentioned. He has been changed by Oleksandr Kobets, a former KGB officer who had additionally as soon as labored for the SBU.

The previous mayor’s aide, Galina Lyashevskaya, mentioned that not less than 300 residents have been unaccounted for when Kolykhaiev was ousted from his place in April. Newer estimates are not less than double that.

Many extra have been arrested, she mentioned, and about half the town’s inhabitants of 300,000 has fled. In a current report, Human Rights Watch documented dozens of instances of torture amongst Kherson’s residents.

“The FSB doesn’t have any uniform, so that you by no means know who’s standing subsequent to you,” Lyashevskaya mentioned. “It’s paradise for the FSB right here. … They will drive anybody to do what they need.”

Ukrainian officers mentioned the FSB is concerned in planning a referendum that would offer a pretext for incorporating the town and surrounding area into Russia. However Ukraine has begun staging forces for a significant counteroffensive to retake Kherson.


With no finish to the conflict in sight, FSB officers have begun working on three-month rotations, based on Ukrainian safety officers.

Kovalenko, the FSB operative who had inquired a few riverside condominium in Kyiv, retreated to Russia with a damaged finger and obvious unease about Ukrainian penetrations of his directorate, based on Ukrainian safety officers. In communications with kinfolk that have been monitored by Ukrainian intelligence, he spoke about altering telephones, switching addresses in Moscow and even promoting household autos. Then, in late Might, he revealed that he was being despatched again to Ukraine for an additional project.

One relative responded to the information with a Russian expletive.

Ukrainian officers mentioned they haven’t been in a position to decide Kovalenko’s present whereabouts.

Shane Harris, Karen DeYoung and Souad Mekhennet in Washington and Isabelle Khurshudyan and David L. Stern in Kyiv contributed to this report.

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Enhancing by Peter Finn. Copy enhancing by Martha Murdock and Tom Justice. Photograph enhancing by Chloe Coleman. Design and improvement by Garland Potts and Emily Sabens. Design enhancing by Joe Moore. Challenge administration by Jay Wang.

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