British Spies Training Ukrainian Insurgent Army in Crimea, Leaks Show
15:05 GMT 04.11.2022 (Updated: 15:25 GMT 28.05.2023)
© Sputnik / Elena IvanovaA view shows a smoke rising from a fire on Crimean Bridge connecting Russian mainland and Crimean peninsula over the Kerch Strait, in Crimea, Russia.
© Sputnik / Elena Ivanova/
British intelligence agencies are already prime suspects in two recent provocations in the Crimean peninsula, which voted overwhelmingly to reunite with Russia in the 2014 referendum. But investigative journalists have unearthed a plan to train a 'stay behind' guerrilla army in the region.
Leaked documents have revealed that British spies are training an army of Ukrainian insurgents to attack Russian military and civilian targets in Crimea.
Russia has already accused the UK of responsibility for the September 26 bombing of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines across the Baltic Sea, the October 8 truck bombing of the Kerch Strait bridge to Crimea and the October 29 attack on the Crimean port of Sevastopol with seven marine and nine aerial drones.
“According to available information, representatives of this unit of the British Navy took part in the planning, provision and implementation of a terrorist attack in the Baltic Sea on September 26 this year – blowing up the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 gas pipelines,” the Russian Ministry of Defence said.
The British MoD responded by claiming that Moscow was "peddling false claims of an epic scale" in order to "detract from their disastrous handling of the illegal invasion of Ukraine."
However, the UK, Germany and the Netherlands are the only countries known to have supplied Kiev with underwater and surface drones.
Other incidents in the Crimean peninsula are suspected to be the work of covert units, including an explosion at a military airfield in August and an attack using a small drone to drop explosives. Some have speculated that the sinking of the Russian Navy cruiser Moskva in April was caused by a saboteur, rather than by shore-based anti-shipping missiles as Kiev claims.
Investigative news website The Grayzone named the key players working with the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) in Odessa, the Black Sea port to the west of Crimea, to set up the covert force.
They include military consultant Hugh Ward, who works for private security firm Rezolutionz, MI6 veteran Guy Spindler, former Lithuanian defence minister Audrius Butkevicius and veteran intelligence agent Chris Donnelly.
Donnelly is a former advisor to late British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and co-founder of the Institute for Statecraft in 2009. He and his think-tank were later behind the sinister information warfare outfit the Integrity Initiative.
Leaked internal memos showed that Donnelly was concerned that even Kiev's staunchest backer, US President Joe Biden, feared an endless proxy war with Russia following recent statements from Washington sounding vague support for a negotiated peace.
"This US position must be challenged, firmly and at once," Donelly wrote, calling Biden's warning that war with Russia could lead to "Armageddon" as "so unwise as to beggar belief."
“I’m not sure what the opposite word to ‘deterrence’ is, but Biden is actively doing that, alas,” he added.
The Grayzone also reported that British private military contractor Prevail Partners, founded by former Royal Marines Brigadier and Special Boat Service (SBS) commander Justin Hedges and other ex-commandoes, had been hired to train the new guerrilla force.
"Branded 'support for maritime raiding operations,”' the planned assault on Crimea aims to 'degrade' Russia’s ability to blockade Kiev, 'erode' Moscow’s 'warfighting capability', and isolate Russian land and maritime forces in Crimea by 'denying resupply by sea and overland via Kerch'," the website reported.
It said Spindler and Butkevicius lobbied governments to stump up funding for the programme. But internal emails seen by the site asked: "will Uncle Sam pay for this?" while a "costed proposal" to the British MoD had been "turned down for risk reasons."
Alex Finnen, of the British army Specialist Group Military Intelligence section of the 77 Brigade cyber-warfare centre and the Foreign Office's Russia Unit, said in one email from March that the proposal — tendered at $600,000 per insurgent per year — was “very expensive for what it is,” although the firm was in a "seller's market".
“I suspect that they have taken the first figure they thought of and then doubled it. So, there needs to be more discussion as to how and what these people are going to do,” Finnen wrote. “Partisans live in and amongst the people. That suggests that you need people from across Ukraine, in small teams to take part as Prevail suggest ‘oblast by oblast’. How are they going to achieve this?”
Hedges was also scathing in his assessment of the mare 12 days of training provided to Ukrainian conscripts before they were thrown into the front lines against the Russian army. After a visit to the Yavoriv training ground near the Polish border, he wrote that most recruits “know that when they deploy to the frontline… it will be carnage.”
Hedges claimed that his firm could do a much better job by training 40-strong groups of in guerrilla warfare tactics.
He said funding could be “provided by flowing ‘donations’ through Prevail’s established NGO, Rhizome Insights Ltd,” without leaving a clear trail from governments to the mercenary firm.
In a May 25 email, Spindler wrote that Butkevicius had “done an excellent job of unpicking Ukrainian hesitation over training support, and has now caused Prevail’s name to be fed” to the British government as a "potential supplier."
He said Hedges was "feeling positive,” an British defence ministers were “reportedly no longer in principle against private sector training solutions.”
Dark History Replayed
The operation to build up the insurgent force has obvious parallels with the Ukrainian Insurgent Army* (UPA), the armed wing of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists led by Second Word War Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera. The UPA is most infamous for the the Wolyn genocide of up to 100,000 Polish-speaking civilians in the western Galicia region — now the hotbed of fascist ideology in Ukraine.
Despite defeat at the hands of the Red Army, the UPA did not disband at the end of the war but continued to wage a campaign of terror against the Soviet Union with the backing of Western intelligence agencies. Its activities petered out after Roman Shukhevych was killed in an ambush in 1950, but by then tens of thousands of civilians had been murdered along with several thousand soldiers and police officers.
Bandera has been rehabilitated and revered in Ukraine since the Western-backed 2014 EuroMaidan coup by far-right militias, who openly display the black-and-red flag of the UPA alongside other Nazi symbols.
Canadian deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland, whose ethnic-Ukrainian Polish grandfather Michael Chomiak worked as an anti-Semitic propagandist for the Nazi occupiers, tweeted and then deleted a photo of her holding a scarf in the UPA colours at a demonstration in support of Kiev just days after Russia launched its military operation.
*UPA is an extremist organization banned in Russia.