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Ukraine’s “Wagnergate” chief on trial for failed daring intel op; opposition slams “political repressions”

Colonel Roman Chervinskyi in the courtroom in the Kyiv Court of Appeal on 15 May 2023. Photo: Radio Svoboda
Ukraine’s “Wagnergate” chief on trial for failed daring intel op; opposition slams “political repressions”
On 15 May, the Kyiv Court of Appeal refused to bail out Ukrainian intelligence officer Roman Chervinskyi, who was put on trial for an allegedly unauthorized, daring military operation to hijack a Russian airplane. A group of opposition MPs sees the trial of the officer previously in charge of the equally daring “Wagnergate” as political revenge by the President’s Office.

On 25 April, Kyiv’s Shevchenkivskyi Court arrested former Ukrainian intelligence officer Roman Chervinskyi without the right to bail for an allegedly unauthorized military operation plotting to hijack a Russian military fighter jet, which, investigators believe, led to a Russian missile attack on Kanatove airfield in Kirovohrad Oblast on 23 July 2022.

Chervinskyi is a former employee of the Main Directorate of Intelligence  (HUR) and the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), and former acting commander of one of the Special Operation Forces units.

On 21 April, Chervinsky was served with a notice of suspicion under the Criminal Code article “Abuse of power or authority by a military official.” On 24 April, the SBU announced the detainment of Roman Chevinskyi. The Russian pilot ostensibly agreed to the proposal to defect but eventually didn’t arrive. Instead, later the airfield came under Russian fire, which resulted in the death of one soldier, 17 more were injured.

SBU representative Anatoli Bulich claimed that no intelligence agency had approved Chervinsky’s operation, neither the SBU nor the HUR.

Meanwhile, Chervinskyi’s defenders emphasized that all of his actions were coordinated at the appropriate level, and the bombing of the airfield was not a consequence of the failure of the operation, as the facility had also been shelled before.

Potential bail guarantors MP Geo Leros, former MP and military officer Andrii Teteruk, military journalist Yurii Butusov, and MP Mykhailo Bondar (Eurosolidarity) attended the hearing, but the court refused to grant bail.

Chervinskyi denies any wrongdoing:

“This case is completely forged. They accuse me that this operation was not coordinated with the HUr for some reason. In general, this operation was more of an SBU operation, the SBU did its operational component,”  he told Censor.

He called the charges against him political:

“This is the use of the death of the military for political pressure. The suspicion is based on incomplete, one-sidedly covered, falsified materials,” he told Ukrainska Pravda, adding that the case was made up as revenge for the Wagnergate scandal.

Wagnergate was an operation by the Ukrainian special services in 2020, aimed at luring Wagner mercenaries into Belarus and then detaining them in Ukraine. The operation failed after the country’s leadership postponed it, and an alleged leak of its details occurred. President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Head of the President’s Office Andriy Yermak were criticized for the disruption. The intel officer Roman Chervinskyi oversaw the Wagnergate operation.

Wagner operation was indeed postponed on Ukraine president’s behalf, ex-intelligence chief says

“Political repression in Ukraine continues,” commented MP Volodymyr Ariev  (Eurosolidarity), calling the Chervinskyi case “political revenge under cover of martial law.”

According to Ariev, the case doesn’t make sense as another person has already been sentenced for the same crime;

“One of the accusations is that Chervinsky’s ‘actions’ led to the enemy receiving the coordinates of the Kanatove airfield and a missile destroyed two planes that were there. This is complete nonsense and here’s why. Last month, a court in Kropyvnytskyi sentenced former SBU counterintelligence officer Serhiy Hovorukha to 14.5 years in prison. At the beginning of the war, it was he who provided the enemy with the coordinates of the Kanatove military airfield and adjusted the missile strike,” the MP said.

The Ukrainian online newspaper Censor called the charges “[President’s Office Head] Yermak and [PO Deputy Head] Tatarov’s forged case against Col. Chervinsky.”

MP Roman Kostenko, the Secretary of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on National Security, Defense, and Intelligence, called Chervinskyi’s arrest ”lawlessness” in his interview with NV.

At the Kyiv Court of Appeal’s closed hearing on 15 May, judges decided to uphold the measure of restraint for Chervinsky, leaving him in custody.

Journalist Yurii Butusov reported that General Viktor Hanushchak was at the hearing to give testimony in defense of his subordinate Roman Chervinskyi, but the judges refused to hear him.

MP Ariev said that judges ignored his petition to bail out Chervinskyi:

“My petition to the Kyiv Court of Appeal to release Roman Chervinsky on bail was ignored by judges Yurdyga O.S., Fris T.V., and Melnyk V.V. The officer was left in custody. The [Presidential Office]’s political revenge continues – for the names of the heads of the President’s Office, honestly named by Chervinskyi, who disrupted the special operation against the ‘Wagnerians’ in 2020,” he wrote on Facebook.

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