More wetwork in Kyiv – IC Colonel assassinated

June 27, 2017

As Ukraine takes the brunt of what is rapidly becoming a global cyber attack with India, Spain, France, the UK, USA, Denmark, Norway (and no doubt others as time ticks by) suffering from what appears to be a new strain of the Petya virus -whether it is fought off  (where it can be) and the ransomware paid off in others (through however many Bitcoin wallets there are receiving payment), as a result the assassination of Colonel Maxim Shapoval in Kyiv will not feature as the global or even regional headline.

Colonel Shapoval was an important figure.  He was Chief of the Ukrainian Military Special Ops Forces Intelligence.   Albeit nobody is irreplaceable in any institution or organisation, his assassination is a significant loss.

The Ukrainian authorities have declared that the bomb in or under his Mercedes that was responsible for his assassination is being treated as a terrorist incident.

There have been almost a dozen similar explosion/bombings in Ukraine this year.

In fact only a few days ago a very similar incident occurred in Kyiv but without the fatal outcome.

While all such incidents were seemingly aimed at assassination, the targets and by extension the mens rea have thus ruled out terrorism in some cases.

Business disputes and score settling hiding in among the modus operandi of wetwork tradecraft is not unknown in Ukraine.  The spate of 30 or so bombings in Odessa during the 2014 – 2015 spree were not all the work of “the Communist 3” or a sprinkling of Transnistrians sponsored by Russia.  At least 6, possible more, were business disputes being settled via, and under the cover, of the same modus operandi.

Thus recent exploding cars are sometimes classified as terrorism, and sometimes as murder/attempted murder despite the same modus operandi.

Ergo, having classed this incident as a terrorist act, any personal business intrigues that there may or may not have been are clearly not likely to feature as a priority line of inquiry – and perhaps rightly so.  While ruling everything in until it can be ruled out, the most obvious premeditation relates to the on-going war with Russia and the victim’s professional activities therein.

It is also necessary to acknowledge that since 2014, Ukrainian military intelligence officers have literally had a price on their heads be they killed or captured in and around the occupied Donbas.  The price on the late Colonel Shapoval will have been higher than most.

Therefore many (probably correctly) will look to Russia as the assassin – whether it was carried out directly by the Russian GRU, via a collaborative Ukrainian, or via organised crime for reward.

That the late Colonel was assassinated in downtown Kyiv and nowhere near the occupied Donbas will be something of a metaphorical slap in the face for both counterintelligence and counterterrorism alike – particularly after the assassinations of other high profile/high value victims such as Messrs Voronenkov, Sheremet and the attempt on Mr Osmaev over the past few months, all occurring in Kyiv.

Of course it cannot be discounted that somebody disaffected within  current or former Ukrainian military could also be responsible – whether they have consciously “turned to the dark side” and The Kremlin – or not.

Aside from the immediate “who dunnit” however, there are other just as important questions to be asked and answered – or left unanswered.

Which incidents are linked, and which are not?  Is there a single operational decision making centre regarding such acts or not?  If not, which incidents are linked to which decision centers, who do they choose to carry out the wetwork, and why?  If there is more than one operational decision making centre, how many can be identified, and do they have their own unique modus operandi or a common one?  Where are they based?  Who sits within them?  What are the commonalities between victims if any?  What were the victims about to do, or had recently done that may connect them, or may prove to be the specific trigger for assassination?  Are they simply names on a list held by one or more operational centre designated for assassination when the opportunity presents?  Do any of the answers arrived at suggest the most likely next target from among so many potential targets?

There are also internal questions regarding how this happened, what was missed if anything, and if something was missed why was it missed?  What can be done to do better, (both preventative and reactionary) next time? – For there will assuredly be many more next times.

And so it goes on.


The SFS fight – Round 1 to the PM

June 26, 2017

A few weeks ago an entry appeared relating to the perceived political weight gain of Prime Minister Groisman – and the potential political weight loss looming for him.  It included a few paragraphs regarding the Ministry of Finance, Finance Minister Danilyuk, and attempts to force the State Fiscal Service from its control where it had only been (rightly) placed a few years prior.

“Mr Danilyuk has a terrible relationship with the Verkhovna Rada Finance Committee and a particularly prickly and egocentric Committee leader.  Nevertheless that has been manageable thus far.

However, in what appears to be a deliberate attempt to force his resignation, there are now moves (to which Minister Danilyuk is very much opposed) to take the SFS (also without permanent leader whilst Roman Nasirov is suspended and under NABU investigation) from the competency of the Finance Ministry – where it was placed only a few years ago.”

What the entry did not expand upon, for it was not relevant to it, was who and/or what vested interests would wish to eek the SFS from the control of the Finance Ministry (particularly in the absence of the nefarious Roman Nasirov as the institutional head, and for whom it can be expected that every domestic effort will be made to insure he is found “not guilty” – or is handed a particularly light sentence that will clearly not be proportionate to the gravity of his notorious methods).

Why would Prime Minister Groisman and Finance Minister Danilyuk choose to rub against those individuals and/or vested interests that sought to insert Mr Nasirov into the position in the first place?

There may be ideological reasons, such as a genuine desire to reform the SFS from an oppressive and punitive institution into an otherwise unpopular but nonetheless lawful entity.

It may also be that neither Prime Minister Groisman, nor Finance Minister Danilyuk have inherited nor particularly enjoy any illicit (or complimentary/enabling) revenue or favour from it.  Neither are heavily involved in import or export to enjoy favourable VAT and/or tax decisions, or require a blind eye at Customs (controlled by the SFS) for example.

The cynical will rightly state “follow the money” when it comes to the business interests and personal enrichment of the Ukrainian elite – and by extension any associated unwillingness for reform in areas that will significantly affect them.

Lo, a combination of reform ideology and a lack of direct personal vested interest may be a partial driver – notwithstanding considerable external pressure to address the SFS problem by the “friends and supporters of Ukraine”.

There are however, many within the presidential orbit, and the Presidential Administration (not the same thing) that have benefited from an understanding and compassionate (read corrupt)  SFS during the leadership of the nefarious Mr Nasirov.

The absence of Mr Nasirov has thus led to increasingly obvious and blunt attempts to remove the control of the SFS from the Finance Ministry and place it within a more compliant/manageable/understanding ministry and minister.

It seems however that Prime Minister Groisman (and Finance Minister Danilyuk for as long as he can hold on in post) have won the internal battle to keep the SFS within the empire of the Ministry of Finance.

No doubt the Prime Minister will have had some noteable external support via the “supporters and friends of Ukraine” diplomatically suggesting the SFS remain within the Finance Ministry, sufficiently weighted so as to cause the vested interests seeking to eek the SFS (and thereby customs) out from under MinFin to decide this was not a battle worth pursuing by way of current tactics.

There is after all, more than one way to skin a cat (to quote Seba Smith).

Prime Minister Groisman wants to completely restructure the SFS and Customs, and also insure the entirely cancerous Tax Police are an entity that will not see the operational light of day again in Ukraine.

Thus there will be many a tactical opportunity for vested interests to try and insure their continued nefarious gains via such restructuring.  It will be a matter of the PM and MinFin plugging concept and policy holes, legislative or regulatory, as well as fighting the insertion of corrupted souls owned or rented by vested interests within any new structure.

As for process, the more the PM and MinFin can automate the system thus removing nefarious human interference, the more success there will be.  The more vested interests can frustrate any such automation and insert nefarious human interference, the longer their schemes and scams can continue without having to seriously adapt, being forced to find new ways to undermine the system (and thereby the nation).

Thus, Round 1 to the PM, Finance Minister Danilyuk and MinFin – but it is far from a knockout.

Seconds out – Round 2 – will commence shortly.  We will then see just how clever they can box.


“Winter” is coming (and got arrested for trying to recruit SBU officers)

June 25, 2017

That Russian infiltration remains within the political class and institutions of the Ukrainian State is no secret.  Indeed Ukraine as a State is perhaps better working on the assumption that it has no secrets.

Whether Russian infiltration has increased over the past few years, remained constant, or has diminished, is far more difficult to asses – for that would require an understanding of just how many GRU, FSB and SVR officers and their agents were actually in Ukraine to begin with.

Suffice to say the entire governance and State structure was riddled with Kremlin spooks and their networks and probably remains so – at least any counterintelligence officer in Ukraine would certainly work on that assumption, for no amount of lustration, clever SBU work, or simple good luck will clear them all out – ever.

Indeed, arguably those most easily identified are not going to be the greatest threat – and even if a professional spook is identified it certainly doesn’t mean they will immediately become persona non grata and sent back to Moscow post haste.  There are reasons, political, diplomatic, and also perhaps most importantly, domestic counterintelligence, that may very well (and often does) dictate leaving such opposition personnel in place unless they seriously overstep the “acceptable boundaries” of their diplomatic cover (should they be operating under diplomatic cover).

It came as no surprise when former Consul General Valeriy Shibeko of the Russian Federation based in Odessa was PNG’d in July 2015.  Valeriy Shibeko arrived in Odessa as Consul General in March 2014 – at the height of the Novorossiya nonsense, social unrest operations such as the Potemkin “Bessarabian People’s Republic”, and remained in post throughout the bombing campaign of 2014/15 – which ceased almost immediately he was PNGd.

Mr Shibeko’s curriculum vitae, or at least the official legend offered, was particularly dull, grey and uninteresting.  Thus a sudden CG posting at that particular time and within the strategic city of Odessa immediately cast a shadow over its legitimacy for those with a curious mind.   Since being PNGd, Mr Shibenko has once again disappeared into the grey.

To be blunt, his PNG was somewhat overdue as it was common knowledge within Odessa regarding the “assistance” the RF Consulate in Odessa was giving to all manner of anti-Ukrainian activities.

Since that time the Russian Consulate in Odessa has had acting Consular General office holders only.

The illegals placed by the SVR (and occasionally others), being without diplomatic cover, play a slightly more risky game, but even so it does not necessarily follow that they will automatically be jailed or PNGd if identified (at least not immediately – and sometimes never).

This entry is not entirely about professional intelligence officers but also about their agents and networks.

Without going into too much detail, in this particular case (there are cases every other week) a man with the code name ” Зима”, or “Winter” in English, whose real name is Igor Vadimovich Tkachenko, was recruited by the Russians in Transnistria (the Russian enclave/protectorate in Moldova), to come to Odessa and engage in espionage.  Mr Tkachenko holds both Moldavian and Russian citizenship and was once the commander of the Dniestra Battalion in Transnistria.  He was also a GRU unit serviceman many moons ago.

He arrived in Odessa to recruit SBU officers to the Russia cause.  A rather interesting assignment if, as it appears, he had no history of recruiting assets and/or informants, nor of acting as a handler or controller – which would perhaps explain his undoing.

Whether or not the Russian secret services that recruited “Agent Winter” believed he was up to the task or not, who knows?  These days they seem to be taking greater risks – perhaps due to the lack of penalties when things don’t work out, and seeking reward from Moscow Centre when they do.

His motivation was financial.

His money came via Evgene Shultsev the current acting Consular General of the Russian Federation.

This is all known because Mr Tkachenko has been forthright with the Ukrainian SBU since his detention.

(Indeed “Agent Winter” has also given up another with the code name “Гравер” or “Engraver” in English.  For now nothing more will be written about “Engraver”.)

However, as details regarding this incident will turn from a drip into a torrent within the local public domain over the coming days, it remains to be seen whether Ukraine will feel it necessary and/or unavoidable to persona non grata Evgene Shultsev, thus adding another PNGd Russian Consular General to the Odessa list.

Whatever the case, the majority of those deeply embedded within the infiltrated Ukrainian State (and local) apparatus will live to undermine Ukraine another day, whilst inept distractions such as “Agent Winter” continue to offer the easy, low hanging fruit when some harvesting is deemed appropriate.


The re-militarisation of Artsyz airfield (Odessa)

June 24, 2017

1998 saw the military finally leave the former Soviet airbase of Artsyz, western Odessa.

The 840 hectare site, once known as the 206th Airbase was home to the 737 Fighter Wing, and in Soviet times was also the airbase for a military transport squadron.  It was also a reserve space shuttle site.   Popular folklore would also have it that it was a Soviet chemical weapons storage site.

Naturally since the military left the airbase it has been thorough pillaged and ransacked by “local recyclers” and otherwise thrown beyond disrepair and convincingly into ruin.

The last remotely military action at Artsyz was in 2014 when concrete blocks were laid across the runways to prevent the Russians landing if they had a mind to try.

The Artsyz 840 hectare site is now home to 6 AN-2 crop spraying aircraft operated by the company Albatross.

Ukrainian Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak when visiting Odessa has now announced that 380 hectares of the site will return to military service and be restored (hopefully beyond former “glory” and to something befitting a modern military site for the Air Force).

The designs are apparently almost complete and work will begin in 2018.

“Design will be complete and next year we will start practical measures for restoration.  Now we need this airport” – S Poltorak

So be it.

Artsyz is about as far from Russia as is possible within Ukrainian territory if discounting the ever increasingly militarised illegally annexed Crimea – except it is not possible to discount the ever increasingly militarised illegally annexed Crimea, which in contemporary military terms is but a catapult distance away when it comes to lobbing missiles at a target or flying in those very polite little green men and/or overt Russian military.

Quite what Ukrainian Air Force units and/or equipment will be based at Artsyz has not yet been disclosed, nor has the reason why this abandoned military ruin is now needed (rather than desired).

Thus without knowing what Air Force units will be stationed at the refurbished airbase, it is difficult to understand why it has become a priority for the Defence Ministry vis a vis those already used in the region.

Is it a case of being able to transfer military personnel and equipment to the Ukrainian southwest swiftly – primarily a matter of internal military logistics?

As such is it connected to the recent deployment of the National Guard to Belgorod (under the guise of “community policing”.) – or not?

Is it to provide a deterrent to any future adventurism from the expanding illegal Russian forces in Crimea?  If so, what form will that deterrent take?

Will it include a counterterrorism and/or organised crime capability monitoring the smuggling to and from Transnistria and/or along the Odessa coastline?

It is perhaps reasonable to expect complaints (that will rightfully be ignored) from Tiraspol and/or Moscow regarding Transneistra, as Artsyz is probably the closest (former military) airbase to Transneistra, Moldova and Romania that Ukraine possesses.  (Literally minutes from Moldavian and Romanian airspace.)

Is there a broader, even bilateral/multilateral dimension?  A preparatory act relating to future joint operational capacity with Romania (and/or others) perhaps?  Will it become part of a larger A2AD bubble?

Cynically, which will have a runway worthy of the name first?  Odessa International Airport or Artsyz?


StranaUA searched – Editor Igor Guzhva arrested

June 22, 2017

Many readers aware of the media outlet StranaUA will have perhaps wondered why the search of its premises by the National Investigative Police (not SBU) has taken so long in coming.

StranaUA is hardly what can be called a publication that promotes a western traveling Ukraine.

Igor Guzhva is long reputed to be a creature of Vladislav Surkov, and others close to the publication include Russian journalist Iskander Khisamov who was, and perhaps still is, within the orbit of Gleb Pavlovsky a Kremlin spin doctor.

However, a media outlet is a media outlet and freedom of speech is the shield that protects, even if propaganda and disinformation is espoused, promulgated and disseminated under the cover of freedom of speech yes?

Well actually no – albeit each case must necessarily be assessed on its individual merits.

As Dmitry Kiselev, Russia’s most (in)famous rabid “journalist” recently discovered in a European Court of Human Rights ruling when challenging his sanctions and travel ban as curtailing his journalistic right to free speech, the court stated propaganda is not covered by a journalistic masking of freedom of speech.

So Ukraine has taken action against StranaUA in light of this recent ECfHR ruling and decided to put an end to StranaUA flapdoodle?  Or Kremlin influence?  Perhaps dodgy funding?

Well no.  Prima facie the issue appears to be purely criminal.  Igor Guzhva has been arrested for demanding and recieving a $10,000 bribe to withhold from publication kompromat (incriminating material) of a Ukrainian parliamentarian.  Thus a matter of blackmail it appears.

According to Prosecutor General Lutsenko, the incident is on tape and the bribe has been recovered during the search.

Mr Guzhva will no doubt claim he has been framed, and whether or not he is taken out of circulation it is unlikely that StranaUA will simply disappear as a result – nor change its style of media content  It will claim State institutional pressure on dissenting media.  The muffling of freedom of speech.

Time will tell whether it is indeed a State an engineered incident, or simply a criminal getting caught for a criminal act – or both.


n end to ATO and a start of “temporary occupation” (legislatively speaking)?

June 21, 2017

The misnomer that was and remains the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) in eastern Ukraine, sealed in Ukrainian statute in April 2014, may very soon be about to end.  Ukraine after all is not fighting against terrorists.   It was, is and will continue to fight against an assortment of pro-Kremlin (or Soviet nostalgic) locals, mercenaries, PMCs and the Russian military – along with more Russian armour in that small occupied enclave than many European nations possess.

However April 2014 was what it was – a structural mess with a political class struggling on many fronts, a military, it was suddenly discovered, that was entirely hollowed out, infiltrated, and poorly equipped.  So too the SBU, the police, and every other institution of State holding responsibilities toward national security and rule of law.   Then, as is always the case, Ukrainians and Ukrainian civil society rallied and filled the void where governance, military, and command and control was effectively neutered.

The choice in 2014 was to either impose Martial Law which would have prevented much needed presidential, Verhovna Rada and local elections following the fleeing of the former regime, or to come up with something statutory that would allow both State and ad hoc volunteer mobilisation to temporarily fill the gaps.

Thus the ATO legislation was created at a time when the Russian military presence was far more covert than it later became after the legislation came into legal effect, and Ukrainian structures, processes and command and control were ramshackle.  What consideration was given regarding an alternative word to “terrorist”, and why other words were eventually rejected matters not – suffice to say that international and domestic legal definitions will have played a part, as will the perceptions such words will have projected among the Ukrainian constituency.

During the ensuing 3 years Ukraine with the assistance of external and internal actors has managed to improve it military capabilities and understanding of those capabilities.  It is also abundantly clear to all that the kinetic war it fights in eastern Ukraine is not one with terrorists.

Having now held the line, it is perhaps time to revisit the ATO legislation, the provisions within that provide for certain actions but not for others, and craft a legislative platform suitable for where the conflict is now, and also to provide for the likely (and less likely) scenarios in the future.

Lo, the National Security and Defence Council (NSDC) is set to address this very issue.

The term “ATO” and “ATO zone” may soon be historical and no longer statutory.  Instead a reader may see wording similar to “temporarily occupied territories”.  Such wording will possibly have legal repercussions  both within and without Ukraine – though it is unlikely to change the attitudes of those that support Ukraine.

Quite how, for example, it would affect the Minsk understandings, or veteran statuses,  or more mundane issues such as press passes, or other existing decrees, statute, resolutions and orders, that may mention ATO is unclear.

With regard to the goals of the new legislation, the current draft states – “The goals of the state policy on the restoration of state sovereignty over the temporarily occupied territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces are: liberating the occupied territories and restoring the constitutional system in all of Ukraine’s territories; protecting the rights, freedoms and legal interests of Ukrainian citizens who are suffering as a result of Russian aggression; reinforcing the independence, state sovereignty and integrity of the independent, sovereign, democratic, legal and social Ukrainian state.”

It is also apparent that this proposed legislation aims to set up an operational headquarters for personnel (as appointed by the President) directly involved in supervising national security.  Thus Olexandr Turchynov, Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, may get his own Bat Cave or mini-Pentagon – or perhaps considering financial constraints, a dank and musty bunker from which to run his national security empire (or “the Ukrainian Deep State” for the conspiratorially minded).

If finally recognising in legal statute that the areas beyond government control are indeed “temporarily occupied territories” then it makes sense to prohibit all activities that are subject to State regulation or the use of State resources within the territories.  Whilst it is fair to say that those within the management of the occupied territories are not going to pay any adherence to Ukrainian legislation, the legislation prohibiting such matters must still exist or order that it can be broken.  (The principle that everything that is not forbidden is allowed.)

The draft statute also makes clear that Ukrainians have the right to free and unobstructed entry into the occupied territory, and to exit the territory through entry-exit control points provided they present proper identity documents which confirm their Ukrainian citizenship.

However, also muted is the granting of the operational headquarters the right to determine the list of goods which are prohibited and permitted to pass between the territories of Ukraine and the temporarily occupied territories.  (Currently the movement of such goods is prohibited by the NSDC’s decision from 15th March 2017.)  As the proposed draft law looks toward the years ahead that will almost certainly witness parts of Luhansk and Donetsk remain “temporarily occupied territories” – and without a ceasefire where the fire ceases – it is perhaps reasonable to ponder this proposal further (although not to the point where rightfully updating the ATO statute grinds to a halt).

Is this a matter that should remain the competence of the NSDC, or one that can be returned to the competence of parliament?  What, other than the existing restrictions, would require the nimbleness of further swift, yet autocratic NSDC Directives vis a vis codifying them in statute via a democratically elected, albeit glacial and feckless, parliament?  Is it indeed the feckless nature of parliament that makes the NSDC the better choice?

Regardless, the days of Anti-Terrorism Operations, ATO,  and ATO zones may soon be drawing to a close.  The days of “temporarily occupied territories” may soon begin (more than 3 years after they were “temporarily occupied”).


PrivatBank (and others) assets head to auction

June 20, 2017

There are a number of electronic platforms used for auctioning off seized, arrested or defaulted assets in Ukraine.

Among them is the State Owned Enterprise (SOE) creatively titled “Electronic Trading System of Arrested Property” headed by Victor Vishnev.

Despite the very bland and clunky appearance  of the website and some lots that would equate to little more than junk, it is obviously functional.  The SOE has a track record with Oschadbank and Ukrgazbank having auctioned off assets worth UAH  130 million and UAH 150 million respectively.

Of the 3762 lots of Q1 2017 it has auctioned, it has raised UAH 386 million.  (According to the Ministry of Justice)

Mr Vishnev has let it be known that his SOE has won a competition to auction the now nationalised PrivatBank assets – about 2000 lots in total.

They include the Bukovel ski resort, Dnipr FC’s training ground, numerous shopping malls and business centers (mostly but not entirely located in and around Dnipr).  This is surely the biggest account there is and will be for some time.  It will equate to UAH billions.  There will be some solid assets to buy among the lots, but the full listing of the lots will paint an interesting picture of what pies PrivatBank (read Messrs Kolomoisky and Bogolyubov) has had its fingers in.  (Naturally not all of their interests are associated with actions via the bank.)

Interestingly, Mr Vishnev stated that  SOE Electronic Trading System of Arrested Property also expected to conclude an agreement with Russian VTB to auction 900 lots.  Quite what those lots consist of remain to be seen.  Perhaps the majority are High Street branches as the bank exits Ukraine.  Then again, perhaps it won’t be overflowing with High Street branches and some interesting assets will come to light – as well as some interesting history surrounding them.

A website, no matter how basic it looks, to keep an eye upon as PrivatBank and VTB assets for auction get uploaded over the coming months.

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