NewsCounterintelligence never sleeps: Ukrainian forces capture Russian spies

Counterintelligence never sleeps: Ukrainian forces capture Russian spies

Ukraine and Russia have not at all given up fighting.
Ukraine and Russia have not at all given up fighting.
Images source: © Wikimedia Commons | Markus Rauchenberger, U.S. Army Europe, domena publiczna
10:02 AM EST, November 5, 2023

The conflict between Ukraine and Russia remains unresolved, with both sides engaging in guerilla actions. Russian efforts, primarily focused on reconnaissance and political diversions, have been largely unsuccessful, with an increasing number of operatives falling into Ukrainian hands.

Just recently, Ukrainian counterintelligence captured another Russian agent, who was feeding enemy ranks with precious information about troop movements. Within the past week, five individuals working with the Federal Security Service of Russia have been apprehended. The largest group was nabbed in Kyiv.

Disrupting a Russian intelligence group

In the capital, officers from the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) successfully neutralized an intelligence combat group linked to the FSB, arresting three individuals planning attacks on Ukrainian military infrastructure facilities.

The SSU reports that prime targets included the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, and their reserve command posts, none of which were destroyed in previous rocket strikes. The saboteurs planned to use specially fitted drones armed with improvised explosive devices in their mission, according to the report.

The vigilant SSU agents reacted swiftly, arresting all members of the Russian group as they entered the active phase of their sabotage preparation.

"Each member of the Russian intelligence group had specific tasks regarding reconnaissance and diversionary actions on behalf of the aggressor country. One was responsible for manufacturing improvised explosive devices, another modified civilian drones into attack units, and the third member directly controlled these drones. To acquire the necessary skills, a woman in the Kyiv region reportedly undertook drone operator training this year," the SSU reported.

Formed in 2018, this group remained dormant until the full-scale war erupted. Subsequently, they were activated and tasked with identifying targets for maneuvering missiles. Detainees' accommodations yielded explosive materials, small arms, sniper rifles, and grenades.

Reconnaissance and intelligence

This is the first group of its kind intercepted by Ukrainian forces. Up until now, most of the enemy agents detained were primarily involved in observing Ukrainian military movements, training bases, and supply lines.

Russian intelligence networks are notoriously extensive and highly efficient, so capturing a single agent does not halt information flow to the Kremlin.

On October 30 in Zaporizhzhia, SSU arrested a man deploying remote-operated Go-Pro cameras at road intersections to monitor Ukrainian military movements. The agent would install cameras at strategic locations designated by an FSB handler and affix them to public lighting structures, providing live video feed access to FSB staff.

The SSU issued a statement, "For his service to the enemy, the Russian special services transferred a reward of 30,000 hryvnias into the agent's bank account." Alert bank employees noted the suspicious transaction, leading to counterintelligence scrutiny and eventual arrest once sufficient evidence was gathered. The spy now faces potential life imprisonment.

Ensuring safety first

Since the war broke out, Ukrainian citizens have remained vigilant, alerting authorities to suspicious activities at the slightest provocation. Photography in sensitive locations is enough to warrant citizens reporting suspicious individuals to the police or military, even with just historic monuments as the backdrop.

There have been instances where I was requested to delete photos from a "Zheleznyakov" monitor situated as a monument along the Dnieper's banks since 1960.

"Barrels are still barrels," casually remarked a patrolman while scanning my smartphone's contents.

Such checks, especially towards journalists in proximity to pivotal infrastructure that's not under military supervision, are frequent. Due to the public’s attentiveness, numerous supposed media workers, actually Russian agents attempting to pin down locations of Ukrainian firing positions, fortifications, and military storage areas, were apprehended. The suspected group leader has already received a 12-year jail sentence, while the remaining three currently await their trial.

The extraordinary vigilance of Ukrainian citizens has allowed the SSU to apprehend over 230 Russian agents by September.

Agents ranging from simple informants to influential figures like Viktor Medvedchuk, the former president Leonid Kuchma's presidential administration head, and Supreme Council deputy, have been apprehended. The SSU began investigating his ties to Russian intelligence in 2020, later charging him with treason and espionage. After the war broke out, he escaped house arrest, was recaptured, and eventually exchanged for 200 Ukrainian prisoners.

Russian dilemmas. "Recognizing their own helplessness"

Meanwhile, Russians are struggling with unconventional tactics employed by Ukrainians. While Russian soldiers operate in enemy territories, Ukrainian partisans easily integrate into their familiar environment in occupied territories. Kyiv's National Resistance Center reported that "occupants conduct searches and block entire city blocks for search purposes."

Such actions are performed with military assistance, questioning residents about any "suspicious individuals".

"These actions only serve to validate their helplessness, they will not yield the desired results for the enemy. Instead, each participant in such raids will be held accountable for their crimes in front of the Ukrainian nation," the National Resistance Center stated.

This signifies another wave of Russian repression against Ukrainians in occupied territories. Sergey Gaidai, occupying Luhansk regional military administration head, announced intensified searches in response to "recent incidents" in Crimea. So far, the Russians have not reported capturing any Ukrainian spies.

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