In an interview with The Economist, Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, former head of Ukraine’s Secret Service (SBU), admitted that the country engages in an active program of political assassination.
According to Nalyvaichenko, the SBU's special assassination unit dates back to at least 2015 and was formed by the elite Fifth Counterintelligence Directorate after the country’s then-leaders decided that it was not enough to simply arrest people. “We reluctantly came to the conclusion that we needed to eliminate terrorists,” Nalyvaichenko told the British magazine.
The Balkan has previously reported on the Ukrainian Peacemaker website, which has been reportedly a tool of the Ukrainian Secret Services in targeting people for assassination, including journalists, foreign political leaders, and hundreds of children.
According to the article in The Economist the special assassination unit is linked to the murders of Donbass commanders such as Mikhail Tolstykh, aka “Givy,” who was killed in a missile attack in 2017, Arsen Pavlov, aka “Motorola,” who was blown up in elevator in 2016, and Alexander Zakharchenko, the first leader of the Donetsk People's Republic, who was killed in a restaurant bombing in 2018. The article claims that dozens of people have been “targeted in clinical operations across occupied Ukraine and inside Russia itself. They have been shot, blown up, hanged and even, on occasion, poisoned with doctored brandy.”
Ukrainian intelligence insiders also reportedly told the outlet that the SBU's Fifth Directorate currently plays a central role in operations against Russia and has carried out attacks such as the Crimean bridge bombing.
The Economist noted that Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky personally “authorizes the most controversial operations,” while other decisions are sometimes delegated.
Zelensky’s security services are also believed to be responsible for several murders of Russian journalists and government officials, including the August 2022 car bomb assassination of Darya Dugina – the daughter of Russian philosopher Alexander Dugin – and the assassination of military blogger Maxim Fomin (aka Vladlen Tatarsky) in a bombing in St. Petersburg in April.
Some Ukrainian insiders interviewed by The Economist admit they are troubled by the targeting of “mid-level” targets. “These are marginal figures. It makes me uncomfortable.” said a former SBU Fifth Directorate official, claiming that some killings were intended to “impress the president, not to bring victory closer,” a quote The Economist later retracted to appease Ukrainian authorities. Nalyvaichenko also acknowledged that Kiev’s assassination campaign appears to be “driven by impulse rather than logic."
Regretably, The Economist failed to ask some tough questions about the role of the controversial Peacemaker website, known to target political opponents for assassination, or inquire as to why Kiev is targeting children.