The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), the country’s chief counterintelligence and counterterrorism agency, announced Wednesday that it captured a Russian intelligence “hit squad” attempting an assassination on Ukrainian soil. According to reports, the intended target was a Ukrainian military spy.
The alleged Russian-led team attempted to plant a bomb beneath the car of its intended target when it detonated prematurely, severely injuring one of the men involved in the plot and leading to the entire group’s capture.
Eight people were taken into custody following the assassination attempt, two of whom are Russian citizens, according to statements made by Ukraine’s military prosecutor, Anatolii Matios. While these Russians aren’t identified, Matios indicated they were “staff officers” belonging to Russia’s infamous GRU, the nation’s military intelligence wing.
“Those detained were involved in the attempted murder of an employee of the Ukrainian defense ministry’s intelligence service in Kiev in April,” Matios told the press.
Russia used its military to annex Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, and the fighting is ongoing between Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists and Ukrainian government on the nation’s eastern border. Concerns about Russia, and how best to address this conflict, are among the most important topics of discussion in Ukraine as it approaches its presidential election this Sunday. Incumbent Petro Poroshenko has campaigned on the idea that he’s the leader Ukraine needs in this time of conflict.
This is far from the first time Ukrainian officials have accused Russian operatives of attempting to carry out politically-motivated assassinations. In May 2018, Ukrainian security officials admitted they faked the death of a dissident Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko as a part of their efforts to capture the GRU team that was trying to kill him.
“We have prevented an attempted murder of Babchenko by carrying out a special operation,” said Vasyl Hrytsak, the head of Ukraine’s SBU, according to press reports. “Thanks to this operation, we were able to foil a cynical plot and document how the Russian security service was planning for this crime.”
According to statements made by Ukrainian officials, the SBU acquired sensitive information indicating Russian plans to assassinate 30 people in Ukraine last year, though they declined to say who the rest were after publicly acknowledging their unusual strategy to save Babchenko.
“As far as I know, this operation was prepared for two months. A result of that was this special operation,” Babchenko told the media. “They saved my life. I want to say thanks. Larger terrorist attacks were prevented.”
To date, Moscow hasn’t commented on Ukraine’s claims.