Russian secret intelligence is going through a “Stalinist” purge after more than 100 agents were fired and the head of the department that looked after Ukraine was sent to prison.
About 150 Federal Security Bureau (FSB) officials have been sacked, including those who have been detained, as a symbol of President Putin’s rage over the invasion’s failings.
All of those fired worked for the Fifth Service, a section created in 1998 by Putin as director of the FSB to carry out operations in former Soviet Union countries in order to keep them in Russia’s circle.
Sergei Beseda, the former chief of the service, was transferred to Moscow’s Lefortovo prison after being placed under house arrest last month. During Stalin’s Great Purge of the 1930s, the NKVD, the KGB’s forerunner, used the facility for questioning and torture.
Christo Grozev, executive director of Bellingcat, the investigative organization that revealed the two Salisbury poisoners in 2018, reported on the FSB purge. He refused to disclose the source of his information.
According to him, the officer was fired for “reporting false information to the Kremlin about the real situation in Ukraine before the invasion.”
“I can say that although a significant number of them have not been arrested they will no longer work for the FSB,” Grozev told Popular Politics, a YouTube channel about Russian current affairs.
FSB officers also searched more than 20 addresses in Moscow last month for colleagues suspected of having contact with journalists.
Beseda is being jailed on an official charge of embezzlement, which is still under investigation. In actuality, his detention stems from the failed invasion, which was blamed on faulty intelligence about the political situation in Ukraine.
Grigory Grishaev, his deputy, is thought to have taken his place.
According to Andrei Soldatov, a Russian security specialist, Putin delivered a “very strong message” to other Russian oligarchs by deploying Beseda to Lefortovo.
“I was surprised by this,” he told The Times. “Putin could have very easily just fired him or sent him off to some regional job in Siberia. Lefortovo is not a nice place and sending him there is a signal as to how seriously Putin takes this stuff.”
The subterranean shooting range in Lefortovo, which is run by the FSB, is riddled with bullet holes from Stalin’s purges, when the room was used for mass executions.
Soldatov suggested in an article for The Moscow Times that Beseda could be suspected of passing information to the CIA.
Beseda worked in counter-intelligence before taking over the Fifth Service, which required tight coordination with the CIA post in Moscow. If he is a double agent, it will explain the Kremlin’s worries about how reliable US information was in the run-up to the invasion.
Soldatov stated that he does not believe Beseda is a double agent, but it would suit Putin’s goals if he was.
“It’s good to be able to blame things on a traitor. It’s a very Russian thing to do,” he said.
The Fifth Service had been engaged in destabilizing Ukraine in the years leading up to the invasion, cultivating pro-Russian political personalities and attempting to stir unrest among far-right organizations in western Ukraine.
In the run-up to the war, Grozev said that Russian security agencies had squandered “billions of dollars” on futile attempts to obtain support from Ukraine’s “shady political class.”
“From 2014 to the present day, between 140 and 150 FSB officers had an unlimited budget to spend on recruiting Ukrainians of any level,” he said in a discussion with two journalists from Novaya Gazeta last month.
Grozev went on to say that a large portion of the money was spent on costly excursions to Thailand, Cyprus, and the Maldives to entice Ukrainian recruits. “It was money they never earned,” he added, referring to the FSB’s complete failure to incite instability in Ukraine.
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