During recruitment faked by Ukrainian services, Russian mercenaries were supposed to boast about their “qualifications”, revealing, among other things, details of their illegal activities in the Donbass, reports the Bellingcat investigative portal. According to the SBU’s talks with members of the so-called Wagner group, some of them could be related to the shooting down of the MH17 plane in 2014. Christo Grozew of Bellingcat believes that the Wagnerists’ stories are “a valuable evidence base.”
It is about the history that is referred to in Ukraine as “Wagnergate”. Last summer, the Ukrainian media reported that the secret services of Ukraine were preparing an operation aimed at detaining a group of the so-called Wagnerists who took part in the war in Donbas, and for this purpose they were lured to Belarus.
The mercenaries were planned to be captured when they were to fly from Minsk to Istanbul under the pretext of leaving for work in Venezuela. The plane from Minsk would land in Ukraine, where the so-called the Wagnerians would be captured. However, the militants were detained by the Belarusian services in Minsk, and then handed over to Russia, although Ukraine asked for their extradition.
The mercenaries were to be hired under counterfeit contracts to protect oil wells in Venezuela. During the recruitment, they were to talk about the crimes they had committed on the territory of Ukraine, because they thought that they were showing “employers” the level of their “qualifications” – wrote Ukrainian Pravda.
“Breaking off the special operation aimed at detaining the so-called Wagnerists has been covered with new details, and at the same time rumors, rumors and intrigues for over a year (…)” – emphasized the NW radio website, recalling that a temporary commission of inquiry was established in the Ukrainian parliament to investigate the circumstances of the operation and to clarify the truth in this case.
Information about this story is also collected by the Bellingcat investigative portal. Journalists also make a documentary on this topic.
Fake job interviews
In an interview with Radio NW, Grozew from Bellingcat stressed that the three candidates for the alleged job in Venezuela could be linked to the shooting down of the MH17 plane in 2014 in Donbas. Two of them boasted of being there, he added, but “this is not confirmed by objective data.” Another one gave up his trip to Belarus. According to Grozew, in the “recruitment interview” he tried to convince his “probation officers” that it was worth employing him by telling, inter alia, that he was escorting a convoy with Buk missiles and was handling missile convoys from the border between Ukraine and Russia. He even named his probation officers from the Russian GRU military intelligence, who gave him instructions, Grozev pointed out.
“He would be the most valuable of all witnesses, but he did not go” to Belarus, but, as the journalist added, “even in such a half-unsuccessful operation there is a lot of value.” This is primarily information contained in conversations in which mercenaries talked about their past in Ukrainian territory. “This is a very valuable evidence base” – he assessed.
When asked how the mercenaries were recruited for the alleged job in Venezuela, he said that lists of fighters who could be hired at the moment had first been compiled because they were unemployed at the time and not abroad. “People who have a mercenary past are specific, because they are used to working with high levels of adrenaline, they are used to killing and that they can kill them. After several months of living in tiny villages, there are gaps in their lives: financial – because they receive a lot of money for their trips, and emotional ones – they need an adrenaline rush, “said Grozew. According to him, the Ukrainian services have created just such a long list. Then a short list is created, these people are called and invited to work, the journalist said.
As part of the “recruitment”, the mercenaries sent photos and videos, including Ukrainian planes and helicopters shot down. Others said what battles they took part in. They related how many, according to their estimates, were killed and how many were wounded. But such evidence is not always considered sufficient – emphasized Grozew.
The journalist said the data collected by his portal “did not and does not have to show whether (in the operation) foreign intelligence was involved”. “We only see that these mercenaries were hired by the Ukrainian special services, we see that the operation was taking place; that it was being prepared from the end of 2019,” he said.
Ukrainian authorities’ mistakes
According to sources interviewed by the media, the operation was postponed by 3-4 days, which, in Grozew’s opinion, was “the cause of the failure”. It could be assumed that by leaving 33 men with a military background in Belarus for a few days, the operation may end in failure, he stressed.
When asked who and why “terminated” this operation, the journalist replied that it was an evaluative term. “There may be legal but wrong actions here. In the most innocent variant, it is possible that the administration estimated that the advantages of postponing (operations) are more than the minuses and risks. It seems illogical and wrong solution, but then it is possible that someone acknowledged them So it is not necessary to talk about the fact that someone broke this operation, and most likely made a tactical and strategic mistake that was critical “- the journalist acknowledged.
Grozev assessed that the Ukrainian authorities’ biggest mistake was that they did not turn the operation into their success. “Calling the operation an ‘operation’, publishing all the phone calls at once, thousands of minutes of mercenary testimony – it would create an evidence base for many court cases that are now underway, including in The Hague and Strasbourg” – said the journalist. “For me, the most important thing would be to show how this humiliating operation was for the Russian special services, because it was all happening next to them, they did not know anything” – noted Grozew.
Main photo source: Belarusian KGB via State TV and Radio Company of Belarus