Russia launches next deadly phase of hybrid war on Ukraine

Newsweek reports: Pushing his baby daughter in a pram in front of him, 37-year-old Dmitriy Komyakov paused as marchers ahead adjusted their positions around a huge Ukrainian flag. It was a bright day in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city. A good day for the hundreds in attendance to celebrate one year since Euromaidan demonstrators ousted president Viktor Yanukovych.

Just as the march moved off again, an explosion ripped into the crowd. Komyakov was close enough to feel the heat of the blast wave. As bloodied victims slumped to the floor, he searched for his wife and 12-year-old daughter among the panicked crowd. “I could see pieces of metal flying and people starting to fall,” he says. “First I checked the baby to see if she was injured, then myself, looked around and that’s when my wife and daughter ran to me.” Miraculously, the whole family had escaped unscathed. But four people, including two teenage boys, were killed in that blast and another nine seriously wounded.

Ukraine’s state security service, the SBU, says Russia has entered into a new phase of its campaign to destabilise Ukraine, with the 22 February attack in Kharkiv just one of a series of bombings orchestrated by Russian spy services, the FSB and the GRU. “It starts with the FSB’s security centres 16 and 18, operating out of Skolkovo, Russia,” says Vitaliy Naida, head of the SBU department responsible for intercepting online traffic. “These centres are in charge of information warfare. They send out propaganda, false information via social media. Re-captioned images from Syria, war crimes from Serbia – they’re used to radicalise and then recruit Ukrainians.”

He takes a suspected three-man terror cell from Dnipropretovsk who are currently on trial as an example and walks Newsweek through the evidence, including photographs and video of weapons with Russian serial numbers and intercepted communications. Passed instructions and weapons via dead-drops, the cell never met their handlers.

“They were recruited by the FSB. Instructions were initially given in private messages via internet and in some cases Vkontakte [a Russian social network],” Naida says. “When they were detained and arrested, in their houses we found explosives, grenades, means of communications and printed messages – where to set explosives, where they should be placed to create panic.” Naida’s unit monitors roughly 600 “anti-Ukrainian” social network groups with hundreds of thousands of members. So far it has intercepted communications between 29 prolific group administrators and individuals using accounts linked to the Russian security services. [Continue reading…]

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