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Ukrainian state invalidated passports of intelligence agents behind Wagner sting operation – journo investigation

Collage by RFE/RL
Ukrainian state invalidated passports of intelligence agents behind Wagner sting operation – journo investigation
The scandal surrounding Ukraine’s failed 2020 sting operation to arrest Wagner mercenaries after luring them to Belarus grows as a journalist investigation reveals that the state annulled the foreign passports of intelligence agents implementing the operation.

Some Ukrainian journalists, who back in June 2020 uncovered that this was indeed a Ukrainian intelligence operation, viewed its failure, which led to the return of 33 mercenaries of Russia’s Wagner PMC to Russia, as evidence of treason among Ukraine’s top brass. Critics of the Ukrainian government are convinced there was a leak of information to Russia.

Meanwhile, after first denying that Ukraine had ever conducted such an operation, President Zelenskyy now denies that his Office Head Andriy Yermak gave orders to postpone the intricate operation, which ultimately led to its demise, as stated by ex-intelligence chief Vasyl Burba. A protest movement demands Zelenskyy fire Yermak by 1 December.

The large-scale special operation of Ukrainian intelligence to lure out militants of Russia’s Wagner private military company has been at the top of discussions since July 2020. It was then that Belarusian security forces apprehended 33 mercenaries, who never got to Ukraine and were never arrested by Ukrainian security forces. Critics of the Ukrainian government are convinced this is due to the leak of information from the Office of President Zelensky.

The former head of the intelligence department Vasyl Burba recently stated that this is indeed one of the possible reasons the intricate plan was busted. One week after the failure of the special operation, Vasyl Burba was dismissed by a decree of President Volodymyr Zelensky. In addition to Burba, at least four other employees of the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) of the Ministry of Defense, who were preparing the special operation, were fired.

But the problems of the former officers did not end there. A journalist investigation by RFE/RL and the Schemes project has revealed that Ukrainian authorities declared the passports of all five former intelligence officers invalid. One of them, Yuriy Semeniuk, found out about it right at the border when on 1 May 2021 he was banned from leaving and his passport was confiscated and destroyed.

The investigation reveals that Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service had invalidated the passports of the five former officers of the Main Intelligence Directorate (HUR) of the Ministry of Defense based on a falsified letter of instruction of the State Migration Service.

The letter states that the foreign passports of former HUR chief Vasyl Burba, and intelligence agents Yuriy Semeniuk, Roman Chervinskyi, Ihor Dzera, and another officer, who asked journalists not to reveal his name, were declared invalid.

The sixth passport on the list is in the name of Vasyl Meskha — a cover identity of Vasyl Burba, the journalists stated.

All the agents whose passports were revoked in February 2021 were the direct organizers and participants in a special operation to detain Wagner mercenaries, which failed in July 2020.

Answering an inquiry of the journalists, the State Migration Service answered that the letter cited by the border guards does not exist: it was never prepared or sent to the Border Guard Service. It also stated that they do not have any information that the passports of the HUR agents were issued with violation of the law, which was, according to the letter, the reason for their invalidation.

The State Service for Special Communications confirmed to the journalists that such a letter was not transmitted through special communication channels or government courier services that are to be used for such documents, according to the law. Meanwhile, the State Border Guard Service reported they received the letter of instruction from the Migration Service by regular mail, but could not specify who brought this letter, its registration number, or any other postal details. They claimed they did not save the envelope from the letter.

However, Head of the Border Guard Service Serhiy Deyneka claimed that sending such letters by regular mail was not forbidden and at the time of reception employees of the service had no suspicions about a possible forgery. He added that after verification, employees reversed the invalidation of the documents in their registry.

Former intelligence agent Yuriy Semeniuk believes that the decision to invalidate his passport could be connected to his decision to meet with Bellingcat journalist Christo Grozev, who was investigating the circumstances of the operation to detain the Wagnerians:

“Maybe someone thought that either I personally, or these five men would look for opportunities to meet Christo Grozev and fly to Bulgaria or abroad, I don’t know.”

The Bellingcat investigation identified the details and timeframe of the intricate Ukrainian intelligence operation, including that it was postponed upon orders from the President’s Office.

Bellingcat finds Ukraine’s Wagner sting operation failed due to President’s Office interference

At publication date, the President’s Office did not respond to the journalists’ request for comment.

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