Ukraine’s domestic security service (SBU) has an elite ancillary known as the fifth counter-intelligence directorate, which has taken a central role in “counter-Russia operations” specializing in “wet work” or assassinations, according to a report in The Economist.
The report discusses the killing of Yevhen Yunakov, the former mayor of Velykyi Burluk in the Khariv region, after he had been targeted as a “collaborator” with Moscow. Yunakov was meticulously stalked for days by a group of local officers from the Special Operations Forces (SSO) before being murdered with a bomb.
“Over 18 months of war, dozens of people like Yunakov have been targeted in clinical operations across occupied Ukraine and inside Russia itself. They have been shot, blown up, hanged and even, on occasion, poisoned with doctored brandy,” the report reads.
SSO is described as a relatively new group that directs the Resistance Movement, Ukraine’s partisans. One officer in the SSO, told the outlet the group is demanding more authority to conduct operations within Russia.
Ukrainian military intelligence has been implicated in various attacks inside Russia which have targeted civilians. “If you are asking about [creating a version of] Mossad…We don’t need to. It already exists,” General Kyrylo Budanov, chief of Main Directorate of intelligence for the Ukraine defense ministry, boasted during an interview this July.
But it is noted that the SBU has a five times greater budget, which permits it to carry out more sophisticated operations such as the October truck bombing of the Kerch Bridge which connects Crimea with mainland Russia. That attack, which also killed non-combatants, provoked Moscow’s first large-scale strategic airstrikes on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure.
Modern Ukraine’s assassination program began in 2015, following the US-backed coup in Kiev a year earlier. The SBU “created a new body after Russia had seized Crimea… Valentin Nalivaychenko, who headed the SBU at the time, says the switch came about when Ukraine’s then leaders decided that a policy of imprisoning collaborators was not enough. Prisons were overflowing, but few were deterred.”
As Nalivaychenko bluntly puts it, the SBU “came to the conclusion that we needed to eliminate people.” This is how the fifth counter-intelligence directorate, which originally formed as a “saboteur force,” was born.
Besides myriad drone attacks and HUR-aligned neo-Nazi militias’ assaults on civilians inside Russia, Kiev has murdered Russian journalists. Darya Dugina, the daughter of philosopher Alexander Dugin, was killed in a car bombing outside Moscow. Vladlen Tatarsky, the war correspondent, was bombed months later while hosting an event inside a St. Petersburg cafe.
The report suggests these killings – which are strategically unimportant – are meant to please President Volodymyr Zelensky, despite other claims that he insists civilians be left unharmed.
“It was unclear if [Dugina] was meant to die; some reports suggest she had switched cars with her father. But a subsequent string of operations targeting mid-level propagandists showed a trend that few of the insiders interviewed for this article were happy with.”
One SBU counter-intelligence source told The Economist “These are marginal figures,” adding “it makes me uncomfortable.”
He continued, “[suggesting] the operations were designed to impress the president rather than bring victory any closer.”
Connor Freeman is the assistant editor and a writer at the Libertarian Institute, primarily covering foreign policy. He is a co-host on the Conflicts of Interest podcast. His writing has been featured in media outlets such as Antiwar.com, Counterpunch, and the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity. He has also appeared on Liberty Weekly, Around the Empire, and Parallax Views. You can follow him on Twitter@FreemansMind96.