The scandal over last year’s foiled attempt to capture Russian mercinaries in Minsk takes a new turn after CNN reports new details behind the notorious sensitive operation.
Zelensky statements on Wagner group capture operation
In his June interview with ‘1+1’ TV channel, Volodymyr Zelensky argued Ukraine was not involved in the covert operation targeting Wagner mercenaries in Belarus. Healso denied alleged involvement of Andriy Yermak, his top aide, in failure of the capture plan arguing ‘Ukrainian security service has no questions for Yermak’
Zelensky drew the parallels between Wagner mercenaries capture and arrest of Roman Pratasevich who was detained after a Ryanair flight carrying the Belarus dissident was forcefully landed in Minsk.
He stressed, ‘We all have seen what happened in Belarus when they landed the plane, and what things ensued’ claiming that countries can face ‘isolation’ after such sensitive operations.
‘I understand that the idea of this operation was the idea of, let’s say, other countries, definitely not Ukraine. And it is true that Ukraine has been maximally dragged into.’
In his TV interview, Zelensky also confirmed he reached out to Belarus president Oleksandr Lukashenko to discuss the Wagner mercenaries issue.
‘ When Wagner men were in Belarus, I called Oleksandr Grygorovych to tell him, warn him that we were ready to turn over the information on those persons. We already knew their names, who they were.’
‘Bukvy’ earlier ran a fact-check on Zelensky statements to see if his telephone call with Lukashenko broke any broke criminal laws.
Here is what CNN says about the foiled operation in Minsk
CNN investigation counters claims of Zelensky citing several former Ukrainian military intelligence officials who claimed ‘the Ukrainian-led operation got US cash, technical assistance and advice from the CIA on how to draw the Russian mercenaries in’.
Dismissing the claims as ‘false’, a senior US official told CNN that US intelligence was ‘aware of the operation but denied any involvement’.
‘The official, who requested anonymity as he was not authorized to speak publicly, suggested efforts to implicate US agencies may be an attempt to share, or even pass, blame for what was a high-risk Ukrainian operation that went wrong.’
What we know about ‘Wagner mercenaries’ capture plan
In late April, Belarus law-enforcement agencies reported arrests of 33 ‘Wagner’ paramilitary group members in Minsk who allegedly arrived in the country to ‘destabilize the situation before the elections’.
The journalist Yuriy Butusov and “Ukrainska Pravda’ news site informed that the Ukrainian intelligence service agencies were planning an own capture plan for the mercenaries earlier detained in Minsk.
According to media reports, the secret operation had been in works for a year and was supposed to lure the Wagner mercenaries to Venezuela offering to employ their services for oil rigs protection. In return, the Wagner group members would provide evidence on their ‘presence’ and ‘unlawful’ acts in Ukrainian Donbas.
Chief Intelligence Directorate head Vasyl Burba and SBU deputy head Ruslan Banaretsky reported to the president’s office on the upcoming plan. The confidental information was reportedly made known to president Volodymyr Zelensky, his top aide Andriy Yermak , Intelligence Committee chair Ruslan Demchenko, and President’s Office deputy head Roman Mashovets. The plan subsequently stalled after Zelensky’s top aide Andriy Yermak asked to put it off citing problems with a planned prison exchange.
In a few days time, the scheme suffered a complete failure after the Wagner mercenaries’ group arrest in Minsk.
Ukrainian intelligence professionals cite leaks from the Zelensky top officials as a probable cause for the operation failure.