Jan 1, 2021
The Kyiv Post reported on December 31, “Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has claimed that he authorized the country’s security agencies to plot a secret operation to detain mercenaries working for the Kremlin-backed private military company Wagner Group who had fought in Russia’s war against Ukraine in the Donbas.
The operation was reportedly supposed to take place in late July, already under the tenure of Poroshenko’s successor, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, but was never carried out. Some allege that the President’s Office sabotaged the operation.
Poroshenko made the surprising statements during a December 30 appearance on a talk show broadcast on Channel 5, which belongs to the former president.
According to him, dozens of Ukrainian soldiers risked their lives to arrest 33 Russian mercenaries, some of whom were involved in downing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in the sky over the Donbas and Ukrainian Air Force Ilyushin Il-76 and Antonov An-26 planes near the Donbas city of Luhansk in 2014.
But the operation failed after he left office because ‘specific individuals’ sabotaged it, Poroshenko said. ‘We should bring to justice those involved in killing Ukrainians on the battlefield during the occupation (of the Donbas), as well as those who issue criminal orders,’ he said.
Poroshenko’s claims that the SBU security service and the Defense Ministry’s Main Directorate of Intelligence plotted the covert operation contradict statements by officials from the Zelenskyy administration, who say that no such plan ever existed.
The operation in question reportedly targeted 33 Russian nationals who arrived in Belarus in July 2020. Minsk believed that they had come to destabilize the situation in the country after election fraud in favor of incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko led to mass protests across the country.
But Ukrainian journalist Yuriy Butusov had another version. On Aug. 18, he reported that Ukrainian security agencies wanted to locate and arrest 28 out of the 33 Wagner mercenaries for fighting against Ukraine in the Donbas in 2014-2015.
According to this plan Ukrainian secret service agents pretending to be the Russia-based private military company MAR offered them a job as contractors ensuring the security of oil refineries in Venezuela.
On their journey to Venezuela, the militant group was supposed to travel to Istanbul via Minsk, Belarus on July 25 on a commercial passenger flight. During the flight, an SBU agent posing as a passenger would simulate an epileptic seizure to force the aircraft to make an emergency landing in Ukraine. Then, the mercenaries would be arrested by the SBU’s special Alpha task force, and the plane would fly onward to Turkey.
But on July 24, the eve of the operation, Zelenskyy’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, reportedly demanded that it be delayed until July 30. He claimed that it could derail the upcoming ceasefire in the Donbas, which was due to enter into force on July 27. Zelenskyy supported him. Both Yermak and Zelenskyy have denied that ever happened.
As a result of the delay, the operation failed. The Wagner militants were spotted and detained by Belarusian authorities. Ukraine then asked Belarus to extradite the mercenaries to Kyiv to stand trial. But Belarus refused and handed 32 of them over to Russia instead.
After the plan failed, Vasyl Burba, the chief of Ukraine’s military intelligence who first reported on the plan to Zelenskyy, demanded that all officials informed about the plan undergo a lie detector interrogation to determine if they had committed treason. Zelenskyy fired Burba the next day, on Aug. 4, without providing an explanation.
Everyone supposedly informed about the plan also denied that it existed. The SBU security service called it ‘a regular fake’ and ‘an imaginary script.’ But on Sept. 23, the agency admitted to a court that Ukraine had indeed gathered evidence against the Wagner mercenaries before they were arrested in Belarus.”