String of bomb attacks on pro-war figures tied to Kremlin
May 18, 2023
The head of Ukraine’s military intelligence service has admitted that his agents have assassinated Kremlin propagandists in the 15 months since Russia invaded. He also said that Kyiv aimed to establish a demilitarised border zone up to 60 miles inside Russia to deter any future attacks, comments that will stoke fears of escalation in the war. “We’ve already successfully targeted quite a few people. There have been well-publicised cases everyone knows about, thanks to the media coverage,” Major-General Kyrylo Budanov, 37, said when asked whether Ukrainian security services had killed Russian propagandists.
Several influential pro-war figures have been killed or wounded by explosives planted on Russian soil since February last year. In the latest such incident, on May 6, Zachar Prilepin, 47, a celebrated writer who had boasted of killing Ukrainians “in large numbers”, suffered two broken legs in a car bombing that also killed his bodyguard. The attack took place near Nizhny Novgorod, 265 miles east of Moscow.
Russian investigators said they were questioning a suspect named Alexander Permyakov, whom they accused of working with Ukrainian intelligence.
Vladlen Tatarsky, 40, a military blogger and an acolyte of the Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, was killed by explosives hidden in a bust of himself given to him in a St Petersburg café during a pro-war event on April 2.
The Russian internal affairs ministry said an arrest warrant had been issued for Yuriy Denisov, a Ukrainian citizen they claim surveilled Tatarsky for two months from an apartment near his home. It alleged he had travelled from Latvia under instruction from the “Ukrainian special services”.
In August last year Darya Dugina, 29, a pro-war pundit for the state-controlled RT television channel, was killed by a car bomb thought to have targeted her father, Alexander Dugin, the ultranationalist ideologue, said to have influence over President Putin.
Drone strikes on the Kremlin on May 3, apparently intended to kill Putin, had taken place “because of Russian aggression”, Budanov claimed.
Speaking on Different People, a Ukrainian YouTube channel, Budanov said that recent acts of sabotage inside Russian territory, including a cargo train derailment and attacks on oil and gas infrastructure close to the Ukrainian border, had been carried out “almost 100 per cent by citizens of the Russian Federation”.
In a separate interview with Island, another YouTube channel, Budanov said he had “a minority of Russians” co-operating with his Ukrainian military intelligence agency, the GUR. They were motivated by “patriotic reasons” and “ready to change Russia”, he said.
Budanov emphasised that although Putin was a legitimate target, Ukraine was not making attempts to kill him.
His agents would continue to target those Russians who committed war crimes against Ukraine, he said. “These cases have happened and will continue. Such people will receive a well-deserved punishment, and the appropriate punishment can only be liquidation and I will implement it.”
Budanov blamed Russian propagandists for the Kremlin’s increasingly brutal tactics in Ukraine, trapping Putin in a vicious cycle from which he could not escape with his life. “[The Kremlin] has invested so much in this propaganda machine that it began to influence them in the end.”
He said that Moscow’s business elite was opposed to the war and was looking for ways to end it. Russian oligarchs have lost billions of dollars because of western sanctions and economic pressure, but criticism of the invasion has been rare and muted.
Dissidents who have spoken out against it have been imprisoned or poisoned. Natalia Arno, the founder of the Free Russia foundation, who fled to the US in 2014, said that she too was the victim of foul play during a recent visit to Europe: her hotel room was broken into and sprayed with what smelt like “cheap perfume”, but may have been a nerve agent that left her in “acute pain”.
If the Russians themselves overthrew Putin, Ukraine would still need to establish a demilitarised zone 60 miles inside Russian territory to prevent future conflict, Budanov argued. “This should be our goal. If they are not going to attack and don’t decide they want revenge in a couple of years, this shouldn’t be an issue.”
Maxim Tucker was Kyiv correspondent for The Times between 2014 and 2017 and is now an editor on the foreign desk. He has returned to report from the frontlines of the war in Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February. He advises on grantmaking in the former Soviet countries for the Open Society Foundations and prior to that was Amnesty International’s Campaigner on Ukraine and the South Caucasus. He has also written for The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Independent, Newsweek and Politico.