Mykhailo Podolyak, an anti-crisis communications advisor to Head of the President's Office Andriy Yermak, has called out as "fiction" the reports about the alleged disruption of what media said was a secret operation of Ukrainian special services to detain Wagner PMC mercenaries who had committed crimes in Donbas warzone.
"The information absolutely does not correspond to reality... The report by the [occupied] Crimea's Komsomolskaya Pravda was the primary source of this version," he told UNIAN.
According to Podolyak, there were no meetings held at the President's Office in the composition that has been claimed in the report.
Read alsoUkraine decries allegations of "special operation" to arrest Wagner PMC troops as "fake story""Consequently, there was no discussion of any hypothetical operations. And, of course, none of the leaders of the President's Office, including its head, could or had the opportunity to postpone or cancel anything," he said.
Moreover, Podolyak said it was physically impossible to do that since "logistics and details of any operation at the final stage are never discussed." He called out as fiction the operation aimed "to abduct three dozen military professionals from the territory of Belarus on a Turkish plane."
When asked whether, as media put it, the president fired military intelligence chief Vasyl Burba for allegedly demanding a probe into the possible leak from the president's office, Podolyak said: "The reasons for Burba's dismissal have a completely different justification. Burba made no demands of this kind. Of course, all this was already a media thing following his dismissal as an attempt to defend himself if new intelligence leadership were to conduct a major audit of his work in office."
Essence of allegations
On August 18, editor-in-chief of the Censor.Net outlet, Yuriy Butusov, took to Facebook to allege, citing unnamed sources, that the situation with the emergence of Wagner PMC's mercenaries in Belarus was part of a secret operation conducted by the SBU Security Service of Ukraine and the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense, aimed to arrest and prosecute the men who committed crimes in the Donbas warzone.
The plan allegedly was to first trick them into boasting of own crimes and then lure them into one group under the pretext of another contract job overseas where they would travel transiting Belarus before eventually make a plane carrying the group land in Ukraine to detain the men.
The mission, Butusov alleges, has failed after Belarusian law enforcers arrested the whole group as the men were allegedly waiting for a transit flight.
The SBU Security Service of Ukraine has refuted the allegations, saying the agency "does not comment on rumors, does not support media information operations of the enemy, and does not participate in public discussions of various fictional scenarios. Especially when such spins are aimed at harming Ukraine."
At the same, the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine (SZR) in a statement posted on its website on Wednesday pointed to the Russian origin of the special information operation titled "Wagner Group in Belarus".
As per the SZR, the goals of such operation are as follows:
Destabilizing Belarus on the eve of and during the presidential election;
Accusing Ukrainian special services of involvement in plotting and conducting an operation on the Belarusian soil and, as a result, dragging Ukraine into an international row and undermining its international image; and
Compromising Ukrainian leadership to undermine popular ratings of the incumbent authorities on the eve of local elections.
Wagner PMC troops detained in Belarus
On July 29, 2020, a group of militants with the Wagner PMC were detained in Belarus, 32 – outside Minsk, another one – in the south of the country.
Among them were those who fought against Ukraine in the Donbas war.
According to Belarusian law enforcement, they had been tipped about the deployment of over 200 militants to destabilize the country amid the election campaign.
Belarus turned to the Ukrainian authorities to verify the involvement of the detainees in crimes committed in Ukraine. On July 30, Ukraine began consultations with Belarus on the extradition.
On August 7, President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus said Ukraine must prove the guilt of the detained mercenaries to seal extradition.
On August 9, Lukashenko said he had received a five-page letter from Vladimir Putin with information on the situation around the detention of Wagner troops.
On August 11, the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine sent inquiries to their Belarus counterparts appealing for the extradition of 28 fighters with the Wagner PMC.
All 28, including nine citizens of Ukraine, had been charged with participation in a terrorist organization.
On August 14, Belarus handed 32 Wagner troops over to Russia.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called Belarus' move a "strange, politically incorrect, and definitely unacceptable thing to do in friendly interstate relations."