Allegations about the "disruption of a special operation" by Ukraine's intelligence aimed to arrest Wagner PMC militants are nothing but "media provocation", says an advisor to the Ukrainian President's Office chief, Mykhailo Podoliak.
Nature 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.
Read alsoBloody trail of Russian military in Libya – mediaThe mission, Butusov alleges, has failed after Belarusian law enforcers arrested the whole group as the men were allegedly waiting for a transit flight".
The raid was allegedly a result of a leak to a foreign power that came from the President's Office following a last-minute report by Ukraine intel chiefs on operation plans.
The story this way fits Russia's line of defense claiming Moscow had no plans to destabilize Belarus in the heat of election campaign, using mercenaries with combat experience to do provocations and sow chaos.
In response to allegations, the advisor wrote: "Firstly, the logistics and deployment to any war is a very complex procedure so there can never be some random recruiter there... Secondly, the new head of the GUR [military intelligence] Budanov, who barely got rid of [former chief Vasyl] Burba (not completely, I figure), says there is no paperwork in the agency on such mission... Thirdly, the entire media part of this story was initially launched by the Russian site of the KP [Komsomolskaya Pravda]. Details, conclusions, essence of the story... For what aim?... Fourthly, certain outlets here [in Ukraine] started happily spinning the story without any verification. First of all, these are the outlets that in one way or another were focused on 'leaks' coming from Burba," Podoliak wrote on Facebook.
According to the advisor, "it is quite possible to say that the externally-designed media provocation was picked up in Ukraine by an offended individual with certain media capabilities."
"Fifthly, what would be the ultimate goal of that operation if it were real? The capture of the Wagner men would definitely mean a direct conflict with Belarusians, Europeans, Turks (who would also be suspected of complicity) [the plane carrying the group was allegedly bound for Turkey]. And this would be the pretext for Russia to abandon the [Donbas] truce. With the Republic of Belarus (at that time it was not yet engulfed in protests) it would almost be like declaring an act of war," Podoliak noted.
As he added, "it is obvious that all this media 'evil' was invented by Russians, and the goal was to turn everyone against us."
"The emphasis is solely on the media component and the loser attitude of a part of our society. Sometimes we crave so much to offend certain leaders that we don't care about the logic... There's no doubt that as a result of all this brilliant act, designed by someone from beyond, we would get in parallel lines (to Belarus) our own burning streets situation in our country," emphasized Podolyak.
Latest intelligence reshuffle
On August 5, President Volodymyr Zelensky dismissed Vasyl Burba from the top post in military intelligence, appointing Kyrylo Budanov to replace him.
In his post, Yuriy Butusov alleged that the president had sacked the intelligence chief for his demands to investigate the possible leak.
Wagner PMC troops in Belarus: background
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."