Putin spy plot to bust HIMARS advance rumbled by Ukrainian intelligence as Russia stalls

Ukrainian crews reload a HIMARS launcher

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The informant was a resident of Mykolaiv, according to a recent statement by the Security Services of Ukraine (SBU), who passed information “on deployment, movement and armament” of soldiers in the south of the country. However, his “main task” was said to be to identify the coordinates of where the HIMARS launchers were.

The missiles have proven very effective in knocking out key targets in Russian-occupied areas of the south, most notably the Antonivsky bridge over the Dnipro River.

The agent was uncovered operating in the Mykolaiv region – currently being defended by Ukrainian troops, with the southern front line between the city and Kherson.

SBU counter-intelligence officers were able to establish that he had been recruited by a serving officer of the Russian military intelligence (GRU) after the invasion of Ukraine had commenced.

He came to the GRU’s attention through his “active support” of pro-Kremlin views, which included posting “anti-Ukrainian” messages on social media.

Ukrainian intelligence agents were also able to establish that the informant had been recruited via a messaging app on his phone.

It was through messaging on the Telegram messaging app that he would call his Russian handler and send him pictures of maps detailing the locations of Ukrainian military installations. He would then “destroy” the maps after sending the images of them.

Evidence released by the SBU shows a section of a Telegram chat. At 3.35pm, an incoming message reads: “ZZZ” – perhaps a reference to the Russian military “Z” symbol that has come to represent the war to supporters of Russia.

This is followed by an outgoing call at 4.12pm, which is 19 minutes long. It is then followed by what appears to be some drawn schematics, which have been blurred apart from the Cyrillic letters for VSU – an acronym of the Ukrainian armed forces.

The SBU said the Russian forces “planned to use such information to prepare and carry out sabotage and missile strikes” on Ukrainian military targets.

After the informant had been detained, intelligence officers carried out a search of the man’s house, where they found a mobile phone which had been used to coordinate with his Russian handler, the intelligence agency said.

SBU officers have notified the man of their suspicion, and a court has ruled that he will remain in custody until a trial can be held.

The SBU has been increasingly public about its role in rooting out potential spies since the invasion began, and its chief was removed after being accused of failing to counter its activities within Ukraine.

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In July, President Volodymyr Zelensky dismissed Ivan Bakanov, a childhood friends, alongside prosecutor general Iryna Venediktova. In a video address, he said there were 650 cases involving officials suspected of treason by aiding Russia, including sixty who were “working against our state” behind enemy lines.

Yesterday (Thursday), the SBU announced that a member of Secretariat of Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers had been sentenced to 12 years in prison for treason after he was found to be spying for the Russian FSB.

Before that, Ukrainian intelligence seized two Russian agents operating in the Donetsk region to the east of the country, who were “collecting intelligence on HIMARS positions on the eastern front”.

As the invasion of Ukraine becomes a war of attrition, the defending armed forces have touted the Western high-precision weaponry it is being supplied as vital to a wave of successful counter-attacks in the south Ukraine has been able to inflict in recent weeks.

With just a handful of the launchers, Ukrainian forces have struck dozens of ammunition depots in Russian-occupied territories, warehouses and strategic infrastructure.

On July 11, Ukrainian forces struck a large warehouse the Russian armed forces were using to house supplies in Nova Kakhova.

CNN analysts suggested the “precise” attack – which left just one small crater – created a secondary explosion which caused “widespread damage”.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin’s plan for a quick invasion appears to be floundering, as the war drags into its sixth month. Ukrainian forces have been able to hold off many advances, with Russian troops depleted after a bungled opening invasion plagued by disorganisation and miscommunication.

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