Before the start of the war in Ukraine, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) reported to the Kremlin that residents of the neighboring country would herald the arrival of the Russian military, regardless of the service’s available survey results to the contrary. According to Western intelligence agencies, all Russian law enforcement agencies underestimated the scale of the resistance, but it was the FSB more than others who believed that “the path of the Russians would be strewn with flowers” and was assured Putin, Kyiv will be captured in a matter of days, Volodymyr Zelensky’s government will be overthrown, and he himself will flee, be killed or captured.
This is what the American c.Washington Post in extensive material on the behavior of the FSB in the period of preparation for the invasion. The information is based on conversations with unnamed Ukrainian and Western sources, including the special services.
According to Ukrainian representatives, the FSB branch in Ukraine has started to expand since 2019. – its number increased from 30 to 160 people. His associates recruited collaborators and, in addition, compiled lists of principled ideological opponents in the Ukrainian leadership.
Initially, this was perceived in Ukraine as a plan aimed at “restoring Russian influence in Ukraine”, although it is now clear that these were the first steps in preparation for the invasion.
The Russian special service had a wide network of paid agents in the security structures of Ukraine. “Washington Post” notes that after the start of the war, they acted differently – some sabotaged their duties, as dictated by the arrangements with the FSB, but others stopped carrying out orders from Moscow altogether, regardless of the fact that they had already received money for it.
A few days before the military invasion, the FSB began equipping conspiratorial quarters in Kyiv. The Russian special service was so confident of the speedy capture of the city that she counted on greatly increasing her staff there in the near future.
According to the original plan, the Russian army was supposed to quickly capture Kyiv, after which, as the FSB expected, this would cause a “domino effect” and the fall of regional authorities throughout the country.
Within this plan, the FSB was prepared with two puppet government plans, which will take over after the overthrow of Zelensky. It is not clear why there were two plans – as the Washington Post notes, they probably just wanted to give Putin a choice.
One of the candidates was the former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovychwho fled to Russia in 2014. He headed a group that, after the start of the war, went to Minsk and, according to Ukrainian intelligence, was in contact with the Ukrainian cell of the FSB from there.
The second group was composed mainly of former members of the pro-Russian Party of Regionswhich was located in southeastern Ukraine occupied by Russian troops.
At the beginning of 2022, the Ukrainian special services received information that operatives of the FSB were in direct contact with the Russian airborne troops. This kind of interaction is highly unusual and intelligence saw it as a direct sign of a planned attack. But they did not attach much importance to this against the background of other intelligence data, and in particular the reports from Ukrainian intelligence agents in Russia, who observed the military units and reported on their unpreparedness.
There were many pro-Russian collaborators in the Ukrainian special services. This led to the dismissal of the head of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) after the start of the war.
The SBU, like the FSB, are direct descendants of the Soviet KGBrecalls the American edition and adds that many people from the leadership of the Ukrainian special services held positions even in the Soviet departmentswhich has always raised concerns about loyalty to Russia even among high-ranking officials.
Ukraine has repeatedly attempted to purge the ranks of the SBU from pro-Russian cadres, but due to the large size of the state, this was not easy. After the start of the war, it became clear that quite a few Russian agents remained in the Ukrainian special services – both those who worked for Moscow for money and others who “always hated Ukraine and were waiting for the restoration of the USSR”.
As a Ukrainian representative recounts, when on the second day of the war he picked up the phone to give orders to his subordinates, he was afraid that no one would answer him and was amazed when it turned out that everyone was ready to carry out the orders with precision and resolve that was rare before the conflict began.
“It was believed, including among the Ukrainians themselves, that there was a high degree of corruption and penetration of Russian agents into the power structures”a source told The Washington Post, stressing that after the invasion they started “to work more efficiently than ever before”.
Zelensky’s determination and his personal example when he stayed in the capital, on the outskirts of which fighting was taking place, largely contributed to this.
After the Russian invasion, purges begin in the Ukrainian security forces. Over 800 people suspected of collaborating with Russia have been detained. The highest ranking of them is Oleg Kulinich, head of the main department of the SBU for Crimea. According to the prosecution, as early as two years before the war, he was tasked with exporting secret internal SBU files that would be of interest to the Russians, and on the night before the invasion, he blocked the dissemination of intelligence that the attack on Kherson region from the Crimea direction will start in a few hours.
The head of the SBU was also dismissed Ivan Bakanov – childhood friend of Volodymyr Zelensky. The reason is the president’s dissatisfaction with the fact that Bakanov did not manage to clear the office of pro-Russian cadres in a timely manner.
Before the start of the war, the special services of practically all parties involved in the conflict had gaps. So for example The American intelligence services, which had information about the impending military invasion, did not sufficiently assess the possibility of Ukraine to resist it. For that reason at the initial stage, the US refrained from sending heavy weapons to Ukraine, assuming that there was no point.
Ukrainian special services, in turn, have underestimated the readiness of Russian troops for combat operations, despite Western warnings about the planned invasion. In Ukraine, the build-up of Russian troops on the borders before the invasion was thought to be largely a psychological ploy. They assumed that Moscow could, through missile strikes and limited amphibious assaults, try to topple the government, which it considered unsustainable due to Zelensky’s extremely low rating.
“We didn’t expect that there would be a classic World War II-style attack, with tanks and infantry. And they didn’t expect any resistance and they were waiting for someone to open the door for them.”says a high-ranking representative of the Ukrainian special services.
The failures of Russian intelligence, the publication notes, appear to be much more systemic, this was also connected with the poor choice of sources who, for their own personal political and financial reasons, were interested in the invasion and could pass on incorrect information.
The main one of these sources was Victor Medvechuk, writes “Washington Post”. His voice stood out loudest among those who assured Moscow that Zelensky’s government was weak and would quickly fall, and that the people of Ukraine would welcome the Russian army. The dismissive Russian reaction to Medvechuk’s arrest since the start of the war became one of the few visible signs of Vladimir Putin’s irritation. According to Ukrainian representatives, Medvechuk is now for the Kremlin“a traitor who took money and produced no results”.
According to Ukrainian intelligence, the FSB had data from closed polls that showed that Putin was extremely unpopular in Ukraine and that Russia’s offensive would not meet popular support.
Already in April 2021, the FSB received data that 84% of the residents of Ukraine would perceive as “occupation” any movement of Russian troops outside the borders of the territories controlled in the self-proclaimed DPR and LRN, and only 2% would perceive it as ” liberation”.
A few weeks before the start of the war, when asked if they were ready to fight for Ukraine in the event of an attack, 48% of respondents answered yes.
It remains unclear why, despite this data, the FSB continued to convey to the Kremlin the idea that the attack would be supported. It is possible that on the basis of this 48% the FSB has come to the incorrect conclusion that only a minority of Ukrainians are ready to defend the country. Moreover, it is not clear how accurate the results were transmitted to the Kremlin.
As the “Washington Post” notes, in the conditions of insufficient information, it is extremely difficult to assess the consequences for the leadership of the FSB due to the incorrect assessment of the situation before the military invasion. At the same time, judging by everything, Putin has refrained from any serious purges in the FSBin contrast to Zelensky’s actions in the SBU.
American intelligence is skeptical of reports that appeared in the spring that the head of the Fifth Service of the FSB (Service of Operational Information and International Relations) Sergei Beseda was demoted and sent to prison.
There is also no indication that the head of the FSB has been held accountable Alexander Bortnikov. The Ukrainian intelligence considers as unfounded the claims that the FSB has been left on the back burner and that now the intelligence activity in Ukraine is conducted in the first place by the Russian military intelligence – GRU.
According to Ukrainian intelligence, now the main activity of the FSB is concentrated in the captured territories in southern and eastern Ukraine. Its purpose is to establish political and economic control over elites and criminal groups and to prepare referendum for the accession of these territories to Russia.