Blackmail, threats, fear, traitors: How Russia recruited Ukrainian spies

KYIV — This Ukrainian soldier was on the battlefield fighting the Russians when they came to occupied eastern Ukraine looking for his parents. They were taken from their homes and tortured, according to Ukrainian security services. The soldier was then contacted by a Russian agent and given an ultimatum: Spy for Russia instead or his family would suffer more harm.

According to the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), the soldier eventually agreed to help Russia. The SBU said in a statement that it was acting on instructions from its Russian superiors Press releaseThe soldier planned to add toxic substances to the water supply of a laundry room used by senior officers.

The agency said it foiled a plot by a soldier to poison a Ukrainian military command in the southeastern Zaporozhye region after Russians threatened the soldier’s family. He was charged with treason and faced life in prison.

The incident sheds light on Russian security services’ tactics to recruit Ukrainians.

Moscow’s original plan was to have its agents infiltrate the highest levels of Ukrainian society before the invasion and then seize power from within. But most of them were either cleared by Ukrainian law enforcement or fled on their own in the first months after the Russian invasion.

Now, more than two years into the war, fewer pro-Russian Ukrainians are willing to help Moscow, especially in positions of influence.

Videos, documents and text messages provided to The Washington Post by SBU officials and Ukrainians who claimed to represent Russian special forces show that in many cases the Russians used blackmail to force Ukrainians to commit suicide by threatening surviving family members. They work. People under Russian occupation or captured.

The Post is not fully identifying the SBU officials or other individuals because releasing their names could put them in danger and also jeopardize the safety of family members imprisoned by Russia or living under Russian occupation.

While some Ukrainians were able to gain access to high-ranking officials and obtain valuable information, such as the soldiers in Zaporozhye, many were just ordinary people with no training or experience in espionage. Instructions from Russian handlers include reporting the movement of military equipment or confirming that missiles hit their targets.

In a war where the battle lines have changed little over the past year, any core information can provide an advantage.

The Ukrainian soldier, whose identity the SBU has not revealed, communicated with officers of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) via the Telegram encrypted messaging application. In text messages released by the SBU, the FSB agent asked the soldier to provide information about his military unit – what its mission was, who was part of the command structure and photos of their location.

“We don’t ask for information we don’t need to know,” the soldier responded in one message. “That might arouse suspicion.”

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

Extortion is not a new method used by Russian security services, but it has become more common as Russia has seized about 20% of Ukraine and taken thousands of prisoners. SBU officials said Russia would send photos and videos to the families of prisoners, sometimes showing prisoners with guns pointed at their heads.

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One of the victims of such threats is Yana, whose mother was a Ukrainian border guard in the northeastern region of Kharkov at the time of the Russian invasion. The mother was immediately captured, but a few months later Yana received strange messages from her mother’s cell phone. Yana said that at first, the person on the other end of the phone was polite and promised that her mother would not be harmed. But in exchange they wanted information and asked Yana if she had seen any military equipment in her Kharkiv neighborhood.

After Yana refused to answer, her tone changed.

“Russians are angry,” one message said. “There is one woman, there are many men,” said another.

Then Yana received a call from her mother. She told Yana she needed to respond to the messages.

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

After Ukraine regained much of the Kharkiv region in September 2022, Yana’s mother was eventually released and no longer lived under Russian occupation.

In other cases, however, the Russians took Ukrainian prisoners of war with them as they retreated. One of them is an old man. A few months after his captivity, his son received a telegraph message from an unknown number with a photo of the old man attached. The sender deleted the message after a few seconds. The Post is not identifying the son because his father remains a prisoner in Russia.

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

The son paused and asked for more time to think. But a counterintelligence official said the SBU learned of the Russians’ intentions and contacted the man before he passed on any information. Now, the SBU monitors the son’s communications with the Russians and directs his responses to make it appear he is cooperating.

The son said that if the SBU had not intervened, he would have done what the Russians asked. He now lives in fear that he is being monitored and that the Russians will discover he has spoken to Ukrainian law enforcement.

“It’s all shocking,” he said. “I didn’t know what to tell them in case they hurt him.”

Ukrainians who agree to spy for Russia face stiff prison terms, even if they are responding to brutal blackmail.

An SBU counterintelligence officer who has investigated such cases said he “felt sorry” for people whose families had been threatened, but said they should contact the authorities immediately once contacted by Russian special forces “to prevent such an incident from happening or to losses to a minimum.” The barbarity of the Russians”.

That way they will be seen as victims rather than traitors. “If a person fails to do so, he or she should understand that his or her actions will be subject to criminal liability,” the official said.

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Despite Russia’s attacks on peaceful Ukrainian cities, some Ukrainians need not be forced to betray their country. Dmytro Logvinov, 60, had long been a “Russian pro”, his father said, even though he was born and lived in Kharkov. In 2009, he even became a Russian citizen.

When the invasion began, Logvinov contacted a cousin, a former Russian officer in Belgorod across the border, and offered to help the invaders. This cousin eventually connected him with “Maxim”, who later became Dmytro’s FSB manager. At one point, Dmytro sent Maxim a selfie video talking about the beautiful weather in Kharkov, with a building burned down by a missile attack in the background — confirming to the Russians that they The target has been hit.

On another occasion, Dmytro, who works as a security guard, said foreigners were staying at a hotel in the city of Kharkiv, making the location a target.

Demytro was arrested by the SBU shortly thereafter. Outside the Kharkiv city court where Dmytro was being tried for treason, his father, Eduard Logvinov, dialed the phone number of Maxim, the man in charge. He didn’t answer.

An SBU counterintelligence officer provided the number. According to the SBU, “Maxim’s” real name is Andrei Salitsev, and the company also provided The Washington Post with a copy of a fake passport bearing the same last name as the SBU’s. Said differently. The Financial Stability Board did not respond to a request for comment.

Eduard Logvinov said Salitsev assured Dmytro that Russia would protect him even if he was captured. But after Demytro was arrested, the person in charge stopped answering the phone.

SBU officials gave Eduard Salitsev the phone number of his mother and encouraged him to call. The officer said maybe she could send a message to her son. She picked up.

“His only way out now is if Russia tries to exchange prisoners for him,” Edward told the woman. “He works on behalf of Russia and he is in contact with your son as his agent. Can you tell your son to let the Russian side help promote this process?”

“What’s Andre’s last name?” Edward asked the woman.

“I won’t tell you that,” she replied. “He was very angry with me – he said I shouldn’t tell anyone this.”

“Is it Salitsev?” Edward asked.

“Well, yes,” she said.

He was in “another country,” she said, adding that she had had little contact with him over the past six months.

Less than a week after the call, Dmytro was sentenced to 15 years in prison for treason.

“Once these people are arrested, they basically forget about them,” said the SBU official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with security services protocols. “The Russians just kept looking for others.”

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By Ali Raza

I am a dedicated and skilled News Content Writer with a passion for delivering accurate and engaging stories to a diverse audience. With a solid background in journalism and a keen eye for detail, I bring a commitment to excellence and a deep understanding of the evolving media landscape.

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