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More wetwork in Kyiv – IC Colonel assassinated

June 27, 2017

As Ukraine takes the brunt (probably as intended) 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.

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