Michael Weiss and James Rushton report:
“I’d like to underline here that it is unpleasant for me to recognize the following, but it’s the truth,” [Maj. Gen. Kyrlo] Budanov [the chief of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense] said. “Unfortunately, the Russian Federation knows how to work with the information space. That is why any event — imagine a rocket that falls into the Kremlin — they will show it as a victory for Russia. They will claim that they’ve prevented the biggest catastrophe to mankind by having that rocket fall into the Kremlin, that this missile has actually demolished the building it was supposed to and has even helped them. It sounds like a joke, but indeed, Russian society is accepting of such stupidities.”
Yahoo News’ interview with Budanov took place on April 24, more than a week before two drones were recorded striking the Kremlin, lightly singeing its domed roof. The Russian government has blamed Ukraine for the attack, which it hyperbolically characterized as an assassination attempt on Putin. Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky denied his government’s involvement. “We don’t attack Putin or Moscow,” he said while on a trip to Finland. “We fight on our territory. We are defending our villages and cities.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington could not validate reports of the drone attacks, adding, “I would take anything coming out of the Kremlin with a very large shaker of salt.”
Budanov is calculating and curt. He speaks English well enough to field questions in the language but prefers to answer more precisely in Ukrainian. Often he begins replying before the question has fully been articulated, and throughout the hour Yahoo News spent with him, he at times betrayed an impatience bordering on hostility.
Some of his more eyebrow-raising claims — that Putin is “terminally ill with cancer” and other ailments, or that the Putin shown in photographs or on television is a body double — have a whiff of psychological warfare to them. In that regard, they are hugely successful, fueling tabloid speculation to the point that even Western intelligence has had to sprinkle cold water on them.
“Back in 2021, there was a statement, I believe it was mine,” Budanov said, “that Putin is greatly sick with cancer. It has been two years since then and now everyone starts saying something might be wrong with him. Time will show who was right.” (Bill Burns, the CIA director, characterized Putin as “entirely too healthy” at a public event in July 2022.)
Whatever the veracity and intent of Budanov’s big assertions, there is no doubt he has at his disposal a vast intelligence-gathering capability, if not an extensive agent network operating inside Russia, as is obvious from what the HUR has managed to do. Behind his chair hangs a large portrait of an owl grasping a bat in its talons. This is in homage to the HUR’s official emblem, whose motto in Latin is sapiens dominabitur astris, “The wise man will rule the stars.” The nocturnal bird of prey was selected by a previous HUR director because the bat features in the emblem of the special forces of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency and the HUR’s counterpart. “And owls eat bats,” that director said.
About four months before the Russian invasion, one of his deputies showed Yahoo News a website HUR put together featuring the personal photographs, passport, even the results of a prostate ultrasound, all belonging to Maj. Gen. Andrey Averyanov, commander of Russian GRU Unit 29155. Also featured were the passports of the various young Russian women with whom Averyanov has traveled on “business trips” to Sochi and Crimea. Unit 29155 is an elite murder-and-sabotage squad that Western intelligence has blamed for poisoning GRU defector Sergei Skripal, along with his daughter Yulia, in Salisbury, England, in 2018; mounting a failed coup in Montenegro; and blowing up a series of weapons and ammunition facilities in the Czech Republic and Bulgaria.
How did the HUR manage to quite literally see up the backside of a senior Russian intelligence operative? This question prompted a rare bit of laughter from Budanov. “We are not a consuming body,” he said, “we are a collecting body. That is why everything we say oftentimes is very much different from what others say. We base our assessment on things that are real and some other people watch a lot of TV or just talk to other people and that’s how they build their assessments. The fact that we are geographically close to Russia — let’s put it this way: We have capabilities in the Russian Federation, quite powerful ones.” [Continue reading…]