Extortion, threats, worry, traitors: How Russia recruits Ukrainian spies | EUROtoday

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KYIV — The Ukrainian soldier had been combating the Russians on the battlefield once they got here for his mother and father in occupied japanese Ukraine. They had been taken from their dwelling and tortured, based on Ukraine’s safety service. Then, a Russian agent contacted the soldier with an ultimatum: Switch sides and spy for Russia, or his household would endure extra hurt.

The soldier ultimately agreed to assist Russia, based on the Security Service of Ukraine, or SBU. Acting on directions from his Russian handler, the SBU mentioned in a press launch, the soldier deliberate so as to add a toxic substance to the water provide of the laundry complicated utilized by senior officers.

The company mentioned it had thwarted the soldier’s plot to poison the Ukrainian navy command within the southeastern Zaporizhzhia area after the Russians had threatened his household. He has been charged with treason and faces life imprisonment.

The incident sheds gentle on a tactic Russia’s safety providers are utilizing to recruit Ukrainians.

Moscow’s preliminary plan was to have its brokers infiltrate the best ranges of Ukrainian society forward of its invasion after which seize energy from inside. But most of these individuals had been both weeded out by Ukrainian regulation enforcement or fled on their very own within the first months after Russia’s invasion.

Now, greater than two years into the conflict, there are fewer Ukrainians with pro-Russian sympathies, particularly in positions of affect, prepared to assist Moscow.

Videos, paperwork and textual content message exchanges offered to The Washington Post by SBU officers and Ukrainians contacted by people claiming to characterize Russia’s particular providers revealed that in lots of circumstances the Russians used extortion to pressure Ukrainians to work for them — by threatening relations who nonetheless dwell underneath Russian occupation or who’ve been taken prisoner.

The Post just isn’t totally figuring out the SBU officers or the opposite people as a result of publishing their names might put them in peril, and would additionally danger the protection of relations in Russian captivity or dwelling underneath Russian occupation.

While some Ukrainians have entry to prime officers and helpful info, such because the soldier in Zaporizhzhia, many are simply on a regular basis individuals with no coaching or expertise in espionage. Instructions from the Russian handlers have included reporting on the motion of navy gear or confirming {that a} missile struck its goal.

In a conflict through which the battle traces have moved little previously yr, any kernel of knowledge can present an edge.

The Ukrainian soldier — the SBU has not disclosed his id — communicated with somebody from the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB, via the Telegram encrypted messaging app. In textual content messages that the SBU has made public, the FSB agent requested the soldier to supply info on his navy unit — what its duties had been, who was a part of the command construction and images of their positions.

“We don’t ask the sort of information we don’t have to know,” the soldier replied in a single message. “It can cause suspicion.”

“You don’t have to ask anything,” the FSB handler replied. “Take photos of the materiel your unit has.”

Extortion isn’t a brand new technique utilized by Russian safety providers, nevertheless it has develop into extra widespread as Russia has occupied roughly 20 % of Ukraine and brought 1000’s of prisoners. SBU officers mentioned the Russians will ship images and movies to relations of prisoners of conflict, generally exhibiting the prisoner with a gun to their head.

One sufferer of such threats was Yana, whose mom was a Ukrainian border guard within the northeast Kharkiv area when Russia invaded. The mom was instantly taken prisoner, however months later, Yana acquired unusual messages from her mom’s cellphone. At first, the particular person on the opposite finish was well mannered, Yana mentioned, promising that her mom wouldn’t be harmed. But in alternate they needed info, and requested if Yana noticed any navy gear in her Kharkiv neighborhood.

The tone modified after Yana refused to reply.

“The Russians are angry,” one message mentioned. “There’s one woman, many men,” one other mentioned.

Yana then acquired a name from her mom. She instructed Yana that she wanted to answer the messages.

“She said her life depended on it,” Yana mentioned.

Yana’s mom was ultimately launched and not lives underneath Russian occupation after Ukraine recaptured a lot of the Kharkiv area in September 2022.

In different circumstances, nonetheless, the Russians took Ukrainian prisoners with them as they retreated. One was an aged man. Months after he was taken captive, his son acquired a Telegram message from an unknown quantity with an image of the outdated man. The sender deleted the message seconds later. The Post just isn’t figuring out the son as a result of his father stays a Russian prisoner.

“He looked so thin, like he’d been in a concentration camp,” he mentioned. “The next message was, ‘If you want your father to live, you’ll work for us.’”

The son stalled, asking for extra time to suppose. But the SBU caught wind of what the Russians had been making an attempt and contacted the person earlier than he might go any info, a counterintelligence official mentioned. Now, the SBU screens the son’s communications with the Russians and directs his replies so it looks like he’s cooperating.

Had the SBU not intervened, the son mentioned, he would have carried out what the Russians requested. He lives in worry now, anxious that he’s being watched and that the Russians will discover out that he spoke to Ukrainian regulation enforcement.

“It was all a shock,” he mentioned. “I didn’t know what to tell them so that they wouldn’t hurt him.”

Even if they’re reacting to brutal extortion, Ukrainians who comply with spy for Russia face harsh jail time.

An SBU counterintelligence officer who has investigated such circumstances mentioned he “feels sorry” for individuals whose relations are threatened, however mentioned they need to contact the authorities as quickly as Russian particular providers make contact, “to make it impossible or minimize the damage from the barbaric actions” of the Russians.

In that case, they are going to be handled as victims, not traitors. “If a person does not act in this way, he or she should understand that his actions are subject to criminal liability,” the officer mentioned.

Despite Russia’s assaults on peaceable Ukrainian cities, some Ukrainians don’t must be pressured to betray their nation. Dmytro Logvinov, 60, had lengthy been a “Russophile,” his father mentioned, regardless of having been born and dwelling in Kharkiv. In 2009, he even turned a Russian citizen.

When the invasion began, Logvinov contacted a cousin, a former Russian navy officer in Belgorod, simply throughout the border, and provided to assist the invaders. The cousin ultimately related him to “Maksim,” who turned Dmytro’s FSB handler. At one level, Dmytro despatched Maksim a selfie video speaking concerning the fantastic climate in Kharkiv as a constructing burned within the background from a missile strike — affirmation for the Russians that their goal had been hit.

Another time, Dmytro, who labored as a safety guard, mentioned foreigners had been dwelling in a Kharkiv lodge, making the location a goal.

Dmytro was arrested by the SBU shortly after that. Outside a courthouse in Kharkiv the place Dmytro was on trial for treason, his father, Eduard Logvinov, dialed a quantity for Maksim, the handler. He didn’t decide up.

An SBU counterintelligence official had offered the quantity. “Maksim’s” actual identify was Andrei Salitsev, based on the SBU, which additionally offered The Post a replica of the faux passport with a unique surname that the SBU mentioned he used. The FSB didn’t reply to a request for remark.

Salitsev had assured Dmytro that Russia would shield him even when he was caught, Eduard Logvinov mentioned. But after Dmytro’s arrest, the handler stopped answering.

The SBU officer gave Eduard a quantity for Salitsev’s mom and inspired him to name. Maybe she might go a message to her son, the officer mentioned. She picked up.

“His only way out now is if Russia tries to do a prisoner exchange for him,” Eduard instructed the girl. “He was working on behalf of Russia, and he was in contact with your son as his agent. Can you tell your son to help move this process along from the Russian side?”

“What is Andrei’s last name?” Eduard requested the girl.

“I won’t tell you that,” she answered. “He gets angry with me — he says I shouldn’t tell that to people.”

“Is it Salitsev?” Eduard requested.

“Well, yes,” she mentioned.

He’s in “a different country,” she mentioned, including she has barely had contact with him for the previous six months.

Less than every week after the decision, Dmytro was sentenced to fifteen years for treason.

“After those people are arrested, they basically forget about them,” mentioned the SBU officer, who spoke on the situation of anonymity in line with safety service protocols. “The Russians just move on to looking for someone else.”