Putin’s spy ring suffers a blow

Ukraine’s intelligence agency on Tuesday announced it had recently “neutralized” a major Russian spy network located in southern Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has long been accused of making extensive use of spies, and a report earlier this year from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think tank detailed how Russia allegedly recruited a large network of secret agents inside Ukraine in the lead-up to Putin’s February 2022 invasion of the country. According to the RUSI report, Russian forces used these agents to recruit under false flag operations to build these “large networks quickly.”

A press release from the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) said Ukrainian intelligence forces conducted the recent “large-scale” operation in the Mykolaiv oblast, where 13 local residents were found to be allegedly working for Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). Newsweek could not independently verify the charges made by the SBU.

According to the Kyiv Post, the SBU’s work resulted in “the discovery of one of the most significant intelligence networks operated by Russia since the beginning of the full-scale invasion in February 2022.”

Vladimir Putin speaks in Veliky Novgorod
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during the State Council’s Presidium on September 21, 2023, in Veliky Novgorod, Russia. Ukraine announced Tuesday that it recently uncovered a network of alleged spies working for Putin’s intelligence services.

The SBU wrote that members of the alleged spy network had been gathering intelligence related to the location of Ukrainian bases and the movements of Kyiv’s military in the Mykolaiv region.

The network is also accused of providing information to Russia that was used for attacks on Ukrainian civilians and infrastructure. One Russian strike that reportedly resulted from intelligence from the informants occurred in the autumn of 2022. Per the SBU, Russia’s military used coordinates from the spies to hit a high-rise building in Mykolaiv with an S-300 anti-aircraft missile system, resulting in the killing of seven civilians, including one child.

Newsweek reached out to the SBU and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs via email for comment.

The local residents allegedly working as informants for Russia were said to be supplying information to a pro-Kremlin blogger named Serhiy Lebedev, who writes under the pseudonym “Lokhmaty” (Shaggy). Lebedev was allegedly working as an intermediary to Russia’s FSB and had set up his own network in Mykolaiv, where he allegedly recruited agents through his Telegram channel.

The SBU said its agents had identified and apprehended all 13 members of Lebedev’s network. The Kyiv Post reported nine suspects are currently in custody after being issued notices from SBU investigators on accusations of “unauthorized dissemination of information related to the transfer, movement, and placement of weapons, armaments, and military supplies to Ukraine.”

Four other alleged members of the network have already been found guilty of crimes and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 8 to 15 years.

Lebedev already faces a charge of treason announced in June for allegedly committing activities against Ukraine. The Kyiv Post said he is currently believed to be in hiding in the Russian-occupied region of Donetsk.

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