Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

tel. +38 (044) 287 52 58

‘Wagnergate’: Russian agents as an element of hybrid war against Ukraine

It has been a long time since the detention of Wagner militants in Belarus, but this story continues to worry Ukrainian society, both ordinary citizens and politicians. Ukraine is trying to find out who is to blame for the disruption of special operations? According to journalist Yuriy Butusov, the so-called 'Wagnerians' ended up in Minsk not because the Russians sent them to Belarus to prepare protests against Alexander Lukashenko, but as a result of the long-term special operation of Ukrainian special services. It was planned that the plane with the militants would make an emergency landing in Ukraine under the pretext of an epileptic seizure of one of the passengers, after which the mercenaries who fought in the Donbas were to be detained. However, the special operation failed. And it seems that the road to those guilty of disrupting the grandiose plan of the Ukrainian special services leads to the highest officials in the President's Office.

Yuriy Butusov blames the head of the OPU, Andriy Yermak, for the failure of the special operation. After the publication of his article, the press departments of The Security Service of Ukraine and The Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine denied the very fact of the special operation, saying it was a Russian fake. Andriy Yermak himself commented on the situation as follows: ‘A well-thought-out and planned disinformation campaign.’

Opposition politicians have begun demanding an immediate investigation. The 'European Solidarity' parliamentary faction is calling for the establishment of a temporary commission of inquiry to investigate the involvement of Ukraine's top officials in the extradition of Wagnerians from Belarus to Russia. A criminal investigation into the situation has not yet been launched, but on September 9, the Shevchenko court ordered the Security Service of Ukraine to open proceedings under Article 111 (espionage) of the Criminal Code against Ermak. On the one hand, the investigation is unlikely to have any real consequences for the perpetrators, but the very fact of initiating proceedings will speak for itself. The fact is that President Zelensky's entourage is becoming increasingly toxic to himself. It is unlikely that Ermak's constant presence in negotiations with Western partners adds advantages to the head of the state's position.

According to ZN.UA sources, the special operation was organized in cooperation with Ukrainian and American special services. It is clear that the disruption of plans that have been worked on for about a year undermines trust between the parties and jeopardizes further cooperation. However, columnist Volodymyr Kravchenko does not rule out that the American side was informed about the intentions of Ukrainian "moles" to disrupt the special operation: ‘Our interlocutors said that the Americans had another priority: to snatch Zelensky from the pro-Russian "bubble" where he found himself, and force him to dismiss the head of the OP and the deputy secretary of the National Security and Defense Council’[1]. However, as we can see now, Andriy Yermak manages to avoid the consequences - his resignation is not in question now. The lack of reaction discredits the Ukrainian authorities, both inside the country and abroad.

Moreover, the situation has revealed lines of internal political confrontation that are splitting the Ukrainian secret services. One can trace the open confrontation that is taking place between the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Oleksiy Danilov and his Deputy Ruslan Demchenko. It seems that Danilov was not involved in this special operation from the beginning, as indicated by his restrained statements. It seems that the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council is trying to distance himself from the situation, but the current events threaten the coherence of the work of the National Security and Defense Council and trust within the agency.

Thus, Wagnergate shows that the hybrid war against Ukraine continues. As before the Revolution of Dignity, Russian agents of influence are free to penetrate the highest echelons of power, posing threats to national security. An adequate response to this situation should be a transparent investigation. Obviously, it will take time to find out the circumstances of the "data leak". It may happen that in the case of a change of political situation, the punishment for treason will catch up with the perpetrators, although not as soon as society demands.