Are sympathetic Russian agents tipping off Zelensky to assassination plots?

There’s no way to feel confident about this report in the Times of London, as it tracks a little too closely with something Ukrainians would want the world to believe even if it weren’t true. The focus of Ukraine’s highly effective online propaganda effort has been to make the world believe that Russian morale is collapsing. Their troops don’t want to fight; they’re begging for their mothers when they’re taken prisoner; their movements in the field are confused and uncoordinated; their dead are being abandoned rather than retrieved for a proper burial.

The idea that Zelensky has escaped death at least three times thanks to saboteurs within Russian intelligence fits neatly into that narrative. Putin’s deputies are so ashamed of his war, the story goes, that they’re willing to risk death by foiling assassination plots against Ukraine’s leader.

Do we buy that or do we think it’s a Ukrainian psy op?

Or, alternately, do we think Zelensky is being tipped off — but not by the Russians?

President Zelensky has survived at least three assassination attempts in the past week, The Times has learnt.

Two different outfits have been sent to kill the Ukrainian president — mercenaries of the Kremlin-backed Wagner group and Chechen special forces. Both have been thwarted by anti-war elements within Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB).

Wagner mercenaries in Kyiv have sustained losses during their attempts and are said to have been alarmed by how accurately the Ukrainians had anticipated their moves. A source close to the group said it was “eerie” how well briefed Zelensky’s security team appeared to be.

Supposedly there are two groups inside Ukraine looking for him, pre-positioned there in January to start killing Ukrainian leaders once the order came. One is Chechen special forces; John wrote a few days ago about one of their plots against Zelensky being neutralized. The other is the “Wagner group,” an outfit of mercenaries that’s seen action across many countries in which Russia is involved militarily and that’s bankrolled by one of Putin’s cronies. They’re used for dirty jobs that the Russian government doesn’t want its fingerprints on, like, say, assassinating a foreign leader. They were sanctioned by the State Department three months ago for “serious human rights abuses, including torture and extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and killings.”

Allegedly they were prepared to strike in Kiev until Zelensky’s team got a tip:

A few days ago, the highly-trained operatives were said to be waiting for the green light from the Kremlin to pounce, with their hit list also including Ukraine’s prime minister, the entire cabinet, mayor of Kyiv Vitali Klitschko and his brother Wladimir – both boxing champions who have become iconic figures on the front lines of the capital.

The plan was sabotaged after they reached the upper echelons of the Ukrainian government on Saturday morning, prompting Kyiv to declare a 36-hour ‘hard’ curfew, ordering everyone indoors so that soldiers could sweep the streets for Russian saboteurs.

“I can say that we have received information from [Russia’s Federal Security Service], who do not want to take part in this bloody war,” Ukraine’s defense secretary told a television audience. Do we believe him?

Anything’s possible. Internally, Russia seems to be spiraling. The Russian parliament just passed a bill mandating 15-year prison terms for spreading “fake news” about the military; what little remains of a free press in Russia is folding or being shut down; and thousands are leaving for fear that martial law will soon be declared. Some anti-war operative in Russia’s intelligence bureau, seeing his country come to ruin over Putin’s folly, may have decided to thwart him by feeding the Ukrainians information about plots against Zelensky.

But that person would presumably need to be high up the chain to know details as specific as when the Wagner group intends to strike. Read the first excerpt up top again. Somehow, Ukraine had details about the group’s movements to an “eerie” degree. Is that a crafty lie designed to spook Putin or is it the truth?

And if it is true, do we think it’s more likely that Russian intelligence is tipping him off … or that American intelligence is?

Revisit this post from a few days ago. For several months, there’s been evidence that U.S. intel has achieved an unusual degree of visibility into Putin’s intentions, even to the point of supposedly knowing how he’s behaving behind closed doors. It’s possible that they have a spy close to him but unlikely. More likely is that they’re intercepting even high-level Russian electronic communications and are relaying what they’re finding to Zelensky. Hmmmm:

That would also help explain why Ukraine’s forces have been surprisingly effective at staging ambushes on Russian troops. Maybe they know how the Russians are moving around in the field because we’re tapping their phones and relaying the information in “real time.”

Obviously, if it’s the U.S. that’s tipping off Zelensky to plots against him, we would want that information kept secret. So why not have the Ukrainians claim that Russian intelligence is supplying the tips instead? That’ll get in Putin’s head while obscuring the extent to which American intel may have penetrated Russian communications.

Either way, whether’s an earnest effort to kill Zelensky or if it’s just Ukrainian hype, an assassination plot is a microcosm of Russia’s entire misbegotten war inasmuch as there’d be no good outcome for Putin. If the plot fails, Zelensky survives and continues to rally the world against Russia. If it succeeds, he’s a martyr and the already intense international outrage towards Russia will intensify further.

In lieu of an exit question, read this proposal for how to leverage poor Russian morale to a useful end. What if NATO declared that any Russian soldier who lays down his arms inside Ukraine will be granted temporary refugee status in the west, permitted to remain until Putin is deposed (or to apply for permanent residency)? How many takers do you suppose we’d get with Russia’s economy in ruins and martial law in the offing?

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