On 6 August 2020, the Russian media Komsomolskaya Pravda (KP) published an article indicating that the SBU (Ukrainian secret service) would be involved in organizing the provocation that led to the arrest of 33 Russian citizens in Belarus. The next day, Vladimir Putin called Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian President, to discuss the fate of the arrested Russian citizens. By calling Lukashenko only after KP published this information, Vladimir Putin actually offered him a way out of the quagmire the Belarusian President had got himself into.
“Strange” recruitment of arrested men
Yesterday, 6 August, Alexander Kots, the well-known journalist from Komsomolskaya Pravda, published an article showing the potential involvement of the SBU in the case of the Russians arrested in Belarus.
According to his sources in the Russian security services (this is important, remember it for later), the group was recruited among former employees of the Wagner company (this too is important) by a certain “Sergey Petrovich” to ensure the security of oil installations in Syria.
The man contacts them with a telephone number whose international dialling code is indeed that of Syria (+963 931 42 562), but it turns out that the number is virtual. It is impossible to locate the phone connected to this number, which does not appear in the mobile network. You should be aware that buying such a virtual number is very simple. There are many mobile applications that allow you to buy a virtual number from another country.
With this number, he contacts these former Wagner employees and asks them to provide their CVs, i.e. their combat experience and level of training. The man seems to be a rather fine psychologist and manages to make the men he contacts believe that he is either a boss of the Wagner company or a high-ranking official of the Russian Ministry of Defence. As a result, none of them are worried when he asks them about their skills in operating BUK systems (that’s important to remember too), or if they know Russian soldiers in the Donbass.
This Sergei Petrovich did so well that a Donbass veteran, Artiom Milyayev (code name “Shaman”), volunteers to help him recruit a group to work abroad.
He is all the more convinced that since mid-May a man named Sergey Viktorovich Bezinsky, presenting himself as Rosneft’s head of security, has joined the negotiations for the recruitment of this group. The man has an e-mail address in “@office-rosneft.org”, to give more credibility to his cover. Except that the domain name does not belong to Rosneft, is not registered in Russia and “strangely” stopped working on July 31, two days after the arrest of Russian citizens.
But in the meantime, “Shaman” looked for volunteers, turning to a friend, a former lieutenant colonel in the Russian army, Krivenko. They had to find 90 fighters, and each brought a part of the group, by personal recommendation or interview with volunteers.
At the end of May, the desired number of people increased from 90 to 180, and “Shaman” executed, sending the personal information, with photo and credit card data to the famous “Rosneft” e-mail address, for the future payroll sending.
Strangely enough, “Shaman” used letterhead documents from the defunct Mar Company (liquidated in 2018) to recruit his men. And the first version, dated April 3, 2020, has a mistake at the bottom, with the word “Painting” instead of “Signature”. Error that was corrected later.
Mar company recruitment questionnaire
On 6 July, bad news, Sergey Petrovich is said to have died in Libya, and a new intermediary, named Arthur, comes to “Shaman” with a Venezuelan number (+5 841 291 01 091), claiming it was the number of the consular section of the Russian embassy in Caracas. Of course, as with the Syrian number, it is only a virtual number.
The man suggests to “Shaman” to reorient himself exclusively towards the Rosneft projects and for this purpose to divide the 180 men into five groups, which is done. Each group had its own commander (one was led by “Shaman”, another by “Yurich” i.e. Krivenko, one by “Sanytch”, Belik of his real name, a fourth was led by a man nicknamed “Paradox”, and the last by “Admin”).
Four of the five groups were scheduled to travel to Minsk on 24 July, 26 July, 4 August and 6 August. The “Yurich” group was to be sent to Venezuela by sea. The “Shaman” group consisted mainly of Donbass veterans, who therefore had Ukrainian citizenship in the past. He was joined by Andrey Bakunovich, who was already in Minsk. The intermediary services of “Shaman” were paid $14,000, deposited by a bearded stranger via an Alpha Bank ATM.
Photo of the man who transferred money to “Shaman”
SBU involvement in the provocation in Belarus
Then on July 15, “Shaman” receives by email the tickets for the flights leaving Minsk on July 25 for Istanbul, with a stopover in Havana, then Caracas. And that’s where the Ukrainian track appeared during Kots’ investigation.
The plane tickets appear to have been purchased on the website of Must Go, a company registered in Kiev with the phone number +380 50 94 68 296, but with information from the travel company Coral Travel. Alexander Kots therefore contacted the office of Turkish airlines in Moscow who stated that the tickets were indeed purchased through an authorized agency registered in Ukraine!
Answer of Turkish airlines
The company Travel Set, located in Kiev, mentioned in the documents of the Turkish airline, was registered in January 2020. But it is not the only Ukrainian company involved in the purchase of these tickets. The Ukrainian company Easy Travel, registered in Lvov, was included in the process of purchasing the tickets, under the brand Must Go. All the phone numbers of these companies are Ukrainian. However, the Must Go contact details given are those of the Russian travel company Coral Travel in Moscow and Ekaterinburg. Except that Coral Travel has no record of these tickets in their booking system.
Tickets for the “Sanych” group were also purchased by a Ukrainian company, named Air Life Logistic, based in Kiev. There too, in a strange way, the company was registered in January 2020.
Electronic ticket showing the mention of the company Must Go
If this all seems very strange to you already, wait for the rest.
While the group of “Shaman” was already on their way, the tickets to Istanbul were cancelled and postponed to July 30, except that the first concerned (the men of the group) were not aware of it. And while they were on their way to Minsk, the July 30 reservation of most of the group members was also cancelled.
At the Belarusian border, members of the group showed copies of their contracts on behalf of the company RN-Zapad. The tickets, printed at the nearest petrol station, were brought to them by a Belarusian citizen,Gennady Kompan, who was sent to them by the person behind the fake Rosneft email address. The man picked them up at the border and then brought them to Minsk in two minibuses.
It goes without saying that the contracts are forgeries, from the legal information to the stamps and the signature of the company’s so-called director, Rustamov, who left the company a year ago, has in fact been living in Samara and not in Minsk for a long time, and whose signature has nothing to do with it.
Contract and sample of Rustamov’s real signature
To add credibility to all this, a certain Larisa Samarina, presented either as an employee of the Russian embassy in Istanbul or a Rosneft manager, was supposed to take care of the Russians’ accommodation in Minsk.
Except that while investigating her, Alexander Kots discovered that the photo of the woman appearing on the copy of the badge provided to the group’s leader, was actually that of a woman living in Donetsk, in DPR (Donetsk People’s Republic), and who worked in the field of tourism! The latter indicated that the photo used was that of her Ukrainian passport, that she had not travelled much since the beginning of the war, and that she was now very afraid of getting involved in this story that she knew nothing about.
How could ordinary crooks have had access to this photo of an official document? It’s typically the kind of file that secret services can access. And what could be better than using the identity of a woman from a territory no longer under the control of Ukraine? That way they implicate a “terrorist” in the case. The icing on the cake.
The person hiding behind this false identity reserved the sanatorium where the Russians were arrested, from July 24 to 29, telling the director that it was a group of passengers whose flight had been rescheduled, a fact of which they were not even aware! It was only on July 25, the day of the originally scheduled departure, that “Shaman” was informed of the flight cancellation. He was then ordered to destroy the old tickets, thus eliminating important evidence that would have allowed Belarus to quickly track the trail till Kiev and Lvov, certainly to an SBU building. Another strange fact is that all payments for this “project” were made exclusively in cash.
And to finish convincing you of the SBU involvement in the provocation in Belarus, just listen to Lukashenko himself. In his interview with Gordon, he himself admitted publicly that the Ukrainian secret service had warned Minsk of the presence of another group of fighters in the south of the country. How odd…
This operation in Belarus typically resembles the subversive psychological operations conducted by Ukraine against the Donbass and Russia described by Vasily Prozorov, a former SBU agent. The aim seems obvious: to sow discord between Russia and Belarus, and to damage the reputation of the Wagner and Rosneft companies in the process. But not only that.
The fact that the fighters were asked whether they knew how to operate a BUK also shows that the SBU had another purpose, if the extradition of these Russian citizens to Ukraine was obtained from Belarus, namely most certainly to implicate them in the MH17 crash, perhaps by presenting them as the ones who would have fired the missile that would have shot down the Boeing.
Vladimir Putin offers Lukashenko a way out
And that’s where I come to my second piece of news. The one announced today by the Kremlin. Namely, that Vladimir Putin has called Alexander Lukashenko to discuss, among other things, the fate of the 33 Russian citizens arrested.
The two presidents “expressed their confidence that the situation will be resolved in the spirit of mutual understanding that is typical of cooperation between the two countries”.
Vladimir Putin also stressed “that the Russian side is interested in maintaining a stable internal political situation in Belarus and in holding the forthcoming presidential elections in a calm atmosphere”.
If we decipher this discussion transcribed in a very official, therefore very diplomatic manner, Putin reminded Lukashenko that Russia does not use this kind of methods, and that it was therefore necessary to calm down the hysteria and far-fetched hypotheses.
As for the “spirit of mutual understanding”, this is in fact the transmission of the information published by Alexander Kots to Belarus in order for it to reach the right conclusion on this affair (moreover, this information was also transmitted to the Russian investigation committee in order to shed light on this sordid affair).
Hence, the fact that Vladimir Putin waited for the public release of this information BEFORE calling Lukashenko. This is the difference between a head of state who acts before thinking, and one who thinks before acting.
With this information, Vladimir Putin offers a way out to his Belarusian counterpart, who can blame the SBU for this provocation and somehow save the face in the midst of this debacle.
Now you’re wondering, but if this information came from Russian intelligence, why didn’t they just discreetly transmit it to Minsk? Why publish it on the Internet?
Well, for several reasons. The first is that these 33 Russian citizens and Russia itself have been publicly dragged through the mud, so it makes sense that Moscow washes their honour and its own publicly.
The second reason is to expose publicly the methods of the SBU, and to show that not only are the Ukrainian secret services attacking Russia and the Donbass, but that they are also shamelessly attacking other countries such as Belarus, which they claim to help with their “information”.
And the third reason is that by making this information public, Russia is offering a potential (I won’t say honourable, but let’s say the least bad) way out for Lukashenko.
Indeed, as I wrote yesterday, Lukashenko got himself into this delirium. Whatever he does, there will be consequences. The only choice he has left is between the plague and cholera. Either he drops the charges against the Russian citizens and loses face, or he goes through with his delirium and extradites them to Ukraine. In that case, Belarus will suffer the disastrous consequences of its President’s extremism, and Russia will make it pay a high price for this betrayal.
By publicly proving the SBU involvement in this provocation, Russia is offering Lukashenko an ideal scapegoat, allowing Belarus to drop the lawsuit against Russian citizens without losing too much face (a bit for being fooled like rookies, but it’s less serious than having to admit that they are solely responsible for having made an issue from a totally empty file).
It remains to be seen now whether Lukashenko will use this offered exit door or whether he will sink into his diva-like delirium. Only time will tell.