Spy games under guise of state secrets: How intelligence services supervise 'death squads'?

Author : Ksenia Tsyvirko

Source : 112 Ukraine

Officially, the authorities of all countries almost always deny their involvement in the "death squads" operating in a conspiratorial regime. It is only known for certain that Latin American countries were prolific in "squadrons" in the second half of the last century. Could the 'wind of revolutions' have brought this phenomenon to our region?
21:38, 28 September 2020

Open source

From time to time, sensational confessions of former members of illegal or semi-legal armed groups are heard from prison dungeons and political emigration, shedding light on the circumstances of unsolved and mysterious murders of politicians, journalists, businessmen.

According to them, in the fight against crime and revolutionary sentiments, state bodies fade into the background. Having united around beautiful slogans, former and current security officials allegedly judge the common population. This does not significantly improve the crime situation, but fertile ground for the flourishing of dictatorial regimes arises.

Officially, the authorities of all countries almost always deny their involvement in the "death squads" operating in a conspiratorial regime. It is only known for certain that Latin American countries were prolific in "squadrons" in the second half of the last century. Could the "fair wind of revolutions" have brought this phenomenon to our region?

From Latin America to the post-Soviet space

Traces of the activities of "death squads" in one form or another are found in almost all third world countries: in El Salvador, Colombia, Paraguay, Iraq, Palestine, CAR, Kenya, and others. Historians believe that such armed gangs acquired a massive character in Latin American countries of the second half of the 20th century, focusing on the fight against communism and underground revolutionaries. However, later, not only the ultra-right groups, but also the official security forces, which were suspected of allegedly carrying out the physical elimination of political and business opponents by order of the authorities, began to be called "death squads".

"They come in black trucks without number plates, break into houses and attack women." These are the eyewitness accounts mentioned in last year's UN report on the situation in Venezuela.

Nights in Caracas have long been deprived of romance and dreamy speculations about a bright future, and the locals have lost a calm and healthy sleep. For a year and a half, about 7 thousand people were killed here. According to international speakers, such actions are part of the strategy of President Nicolas Maduro to "neutralize, suppress and criminalize political opponents and people who are critical of the government."

Venezuelans argue that the "death squads" are made up of Special Police Force (FAES) fighters who eliminate all dissenting power under the guise of fighting crime. To simulate the legitimate "abuse of authority", the victims of state terror are “noticed” with weapons and drugs, attackers shot into the air and at the walls to create the appearance of "resistance to law enforcement agencies."

Despite the fact that international observers brought the existing problem to the attention of the world community, no one has direct authority to interfere in the country's internal politics. The Venezuelan government claims that the UN report is built on lies, while local residents, meanwhile, in awe of "justice", prefer not to complain about their lives once again.

However, Venezuela is not the only country in the world where, in the "prosperous era" of the 21st century, one can come across a "death squad" controlled by the authorities. In the Philippines, for example, this is not hidden at all and is even put on display with dignity.

President Rodrigo Duterte at one time called on concerned citizens not to be afraid to administer justice over drug addicts on their own and stated that "quick executions of criminals remain the most effective way to combat kidnapping and drug trafficking." The "death squads" acting on his submission administered justice at their own discretion, killing hundreds of citizens, but in the end were able to almost completely overcome drug addiction in the region.

By the end of 2017, the total number of deaths in this "war" reached 8 thousand. Despite his cruelty and illegal methods of fighting crime, Duterte became a popular favorite: he was elected seven times (for the maximum possible term) as mayor of Davao city, in 2014 he was nominated for the World Mayor Prize (but refused to receive it), and as a result got to the presidential chair.

One of the former members of the "death squad from Davao" Edgar Matobato admitted in the Senate that more than a thousand Filipinos became their victims, among whom, on the orders of the mayor, his personal enemies and political opponents were also included. However, this publicized story did not find its development. Less than a month after Matobato's speech, he was arrested.

The existence of "squadrons" is also spoken of in the post-Soviet space. International human rights organizations regularly report on manifestations of state terror against their citizens in Chechnya, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan.

And last year, the ex-fighter of the Belarusian SOBR spilled a secret on the massacres of 20 years ago. After receiving political asylum in Europe, he told in an interview for DW how, at the instruction of the government, the murders of prominent oppositionists took place: Yuri Zakharenko (ex-head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus), Viktor Gonchar (head of the Central Election Commission), businessman Yuri Krasovsky, journalist Dmitry Zavadsky. Also, a number of evidence was provided to the then Minister of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus Yuri Sivakov. However, they were not considered significant: the head of the special forces, Dmitry Pavlichenko, to whom the deaths were attributed, were released a few days after the arrest, and the head of the KGB and the prosecutor general were fired.

The existence of Ukrainian "death squads" also looms questioningly in the media, not disregarding obvious gaps in the work of law enforcement agencies.

Murderous intricacies in Ukraine

In the late 90s - early 2000s, Ukrainian newspapers were full of criminal chronicles: the murder of the largest Donetsk oligarch Yevgeny Shcherban, ex-head of the National Bank Vadym Hetman, politician Vyacheslav Chernovol, journalist Georgy Gongadze ...

The exposing "Melnichenko tapes" that were allegedly recorded in Kuchma's presidential office made it clear that people from the highest echelons of power could be involved in a number of high-profile murders.

A special place in this story is occupied by the "werewolf gang" that operated in 1997-2001 under the strict guidance of a retired lieutenant colonel of the Organized Crime Control Department and an employee of the SBU Igor Goncharov. As it became known later, almost all the murders were commissioned "from above", and werewolves-policemen bribed their colleagues for "not solving" cases, financially encouraging low indicators of the effectiveness of the investigation. After his arrest, the leader of the gang was beaten to unconsciousness in the Lukyanivska prison, and a few months later he died in the hospital.

Related: Russian special services spread fake information about disruption of SBU operation

The circumstances of his death are shrouded in mystery: in the official certificate, the cause of death was "not established", and the body was hastily been cremated. However, as his contemporaries testify, Igor Goncharov was distinguished by his caution: he sent a letter ahead of time to the editorial office of the Institute of Mass Information, marked “to open after my death,” in which he wanted to “reveal all the cards” of his criminal case. From the text of the manuscript, among other things, it followed that the oral order to liquidate Gongadze came directly from the Minister of the Interior, and the bandits from the Kisel gang were also involved in the execution.

Despite the provoked "Kuchmagate" and the Orange Revolution, the investigation into the Gongadze case dragged on for a long ten years. The main defendant, ex-Minister of Internal Affairs Yuri Kravchenko, was found dead in his own house in Koncha-Zaspa on March 4, 2005, when he was supposed to appear for interrogation at the Prosecutor General's Office. He was stopped from cooperating with the investigation by two gunshots to the head. And although the nature of the first injury did not allow for another "control" one, the official cause of death was suicide.

However, it was no longer possible to hush up the case that received a wide response. In 2013, the then head of the criminal investigation department, Oleksiy Pukach, was finally sent to jail. He, on Kravchenko's orders, choked the journalist with a belt by his own hands.

From the point of Euromaidan begins a new round of suspicion of lawlessness on the part of law enforcers. There is indirect evidence that the "squadrons" may be involved in the abduction of activists during the Maidan and shooters from the "Black Hundred" of the Berkut. But only a limited circle of intelligence officers and "advisers on social research and social problems" knows the truth.

In 2016, a room was found in the Kharkiv prison, which was dubbed the "secret prison of the SBU." The terrorist and separatist suspects claim they were detained without any court decisions or criminal records and without the possibility of contacting the outside world.

"While the former prisoners of the secret prisons of the SBU are still waiting for the truth, justice and reparation to be established, the department continues to deny confirmed facts and accuses" Russian propaganda "of spreading allegedly false statements that the Ukrainian side does not want to admit," Amnesty International said in its report.

In crime reports, the names of SBU officers who have been exposed of treason and cooperation with enemy special services are increasingly flashing. For example, Major General of the SBU Valery Shaitanov, recruited in 2014 by Colonel of the FSB of Russia Igor Yegorov.

Confession of a political emigrant

No matter what astounding conclusions logical reasoning might suggest, there is no direct evidence of the existence of "death squads" in Ukraine. Given the wide arsenal of "special means" that are used in the framework of informational operations, one cannot count on a "solid evidence base".

Only numerous oral testimonies of persons involved in criminal proceedings can indicate the presence of groups, since it is the government agencies that use the prerogative of conducting investigative and operational actions and examinations.

Some Ukrainians, after working for the SBU, go into the hands of foreign special services in an attempt to obtain political asylum. They say that they are fleeing persecution in Ukraine, which is allegedly possible because of their knowledge of the work of "sweep squads".

One of these "escaped" agents of the SBU named a former resident of Odesa Yevgen Vasylkevych. The guy with an extravagant appearance is already familiar to the general public: he was the leader of the FEMEN movement and actively participated in various protests. And even for some time he worked as a journalist, publishing his materials under the pseudonym Evgeny Dovlatov. Realizing the resonance of his statements about the last years of his life in Ukraine, he does not urge to take his word for it, but asks the law enforcement agencies to carefully check all the facts presented: according to him, this will help to move the situation in the country off the ground.

“In the summer of 2015, I was detained in the center of Mykolaiv,” 29-year-old Yevgen Vasylkevych begins his story being in a refugee camp in the Netherlands. “Alfa squad of the SBU, in full combat gear, tied my hands, put me in a car and brought home. In front of the attesting witnesses, an F-1 grenade was found in the closet. It turned out to be without a firing fuse, of course, there were no prints on it: that is why during the investigation the explosives technicians first of all "neutralized" it in order to destroy the fabricated material evidence. They convicted me under several articles at once, including for "encroachment on territorial integrity", allegedly I was the leader of the separatist organization "People's Rada of Bessarabia".

Further Vasylkevych describes the terrible torture that allegedly happened to him at the local SBU office. According to him, the narrator was brought there with a bag on his head.

"They shot over their heads, burned the body, tortured, and in the end they raped. They offered to complete the task - to poison Dmitry Soin, who is well-known in Transnistria (in 1993-2007 - an employee of the Ministry of State Security of the unrecognized PMR, now lives in the Russian Federation, advises State Duma deputies on sociology - Ed.), with whom I was in close relations and who trusted me. The current president of the PMR declared a hunt for him and even paid for the murder to the Ukrainian special services, but Soin managed to escape to Russia, "the source said.

Vasylkevych claims that under a number of articles of criminal proceedings he was threatened with life imprisonment. And although he managed to get an acquittal, the SBU allegedly wanted to hook the interlocutor and offered to become an agent. In July 2015, he passed a polygraph test in the SBU building, agreeing to become an employee of the Counterintelligence Department.

"I was in a group of 15 people, exactly the same recruited agents of the SBU, which had its own supervisor from the" K "department for counterintelligence. I often visited the Kyiv safe house, which was visited by quite famous personalities in Ukraine. Our group included different specialists, each engaged in its own business to achieve a certain task. Some – in directly physical liquidation, someone - intelligence, wiretapping and surveillance, and I was in charge of the information security of the group. To put it more clearly, I wrote scenarios of attempted murders, and he also carried out work on disinformation, prepared relevant publications in the press so that a "Russian trace" could be clearly found in a person's death," Yevgen admits.

The political émigré claims that the special services, allegedly committing crimes, are trying to be more varied in directing at radical nationalists. In one of the episodes, according to him, they left an inscription "14/88" on the corpse.

"It is not enough to blame everything on" Kremlin intrigues "- we need to think over what evidence needs to be prepared and provided. If we talk about the murder of lawyer Yuri Grabovsky, even the date of death was fabricated in this case. For this purpose, they specially burned the pads of the fingers and the face in order to accelerate the natural process of decomposition of the body and provide the appropriate material for histological examination," Yevgen Vasylkevych shares the secrets of his work.

According to Vasylkevych, the SBU agent network numbers about 25 thousand people, almost as many as full-time employees. The interlocutor emphasizes that it is not the first time that he brings out all the ins and outs to the public, but in Ukraine authorities do not react to these statements.

Vasylkevych claims that he worked for the SBU for more than three years, after which he learned that an attempt was being made on him. Colleagues helped to leave the country on time. Having made an appointment near the building of the Ukrainian Theater, he was given documents and an air ticket. So he ended up in Holland.

“Almost all of the people in my group managed to leave for other countries and get political asylum in Europe, but two people were killed, presenting it to society under the guise of suicide. The only thing I want is for the organizers of these death squads to be punished, and people paid attention on this problem. After all, our guys-agents still remain in Ukraine and are on the hook of the SBU. And they need to be rescued, "the political emigrant says.

In a world where the fact of reality can be falsified, it is very easy to get lost forever in the conspiratorial jungle. Testimony and factual inconsistencies in the materials of the investigation may signal either that someone is interested in the "dead end" of investigations, or banally in the low efficiency of law enforcement agencies. It’s not for us to judge where the truth is, and where is conspiracy. It remains to be hoped that, in the end, a deep conviction about the triumph of justice will one day be able to gain a foothold in the ordinary life of an ordinary Ukrainian.

Related: SBU exposed illegal logging of valuable trees in Transcarpathia

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