Russia claims arrest of Ukrainian assassin network

Russia says it has arrested 18 Ukrainian ‘agents and accomplices’ who plotted to assassinate pro-Russian figures.

Police inspect the site of a Russian missile strike in Kyiv, Ukraine, December 11 [Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters]
Police officers inspect the site of a Russian missile strike, Kyiv, Ukraine, December 11 [Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters]

Russia says that it has arrested a network of Ukrainian assassins targeting pro-Russian figures in the annexed Crimea peninsula.

Moscow’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said on Monday that it has arrested 18 “agents and accomplices” of Ukraine’s special services. Several pro-Russian figures in Crimea and the occupied east of Ukraine have been attacked since the Kremlin launched its invasion of its neighbour in February 2022.

The FSB said it made the arrests after discovering a weapons cache. Moscow accuses the Ukrainian agents of plotting to kill several pro-Russian government figures, as well as attacking Russian energy and rail networks.

Among those pro-Russian figures targeted was the Moscow-appointed head of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov. Oleg Tsaryov, a former member of the Ukrainian parliament, survived being shot twice in October 2023, in an attack Russia blamed on Kyiv.

Claims of sabotage are rife on both sides of the war, and such operations are thought to have killed or wounded hundreds of thousands of soldiers and damaged both countries’ energy and transport infrastructure.

On December 7, Russia said it arrested a foreign agent working for Ukraine’s secret services who blew up several Russian trains in Siberia believed to be carrying ordinances to the front lines.

Targeting Kyiv

Russia’s claim that it has broken up the Ukrainian sabotage network comes amid fresh military strikes on Kyiv and fierce fighting in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine said on Monday that it had shot down eight ballistic missiles fired by Russia at Kyiv, in the first attack on the capital city in months. Four people were injured by shrapnel in the southeastern Darnitskyi district, police said.

Meanwhile, Russian forces have reportedly stepped up their offensive on the eastern city of Avdiivka, which they have zeroed in on as part of their campaign to overtake the Donbas region.

Ukraine said Russia’s military had launched “massive assault actions” on the city on Sunday, but that its defences held and the front lines hardly budged.

The Russian military has focused on eastern Ukraine since abandoning an advance on Kyiv in the first days after the February 2022 invasion. Now, heading into the harsh winter, Ukrainians fear Russia will strike at their energy system for a second straight year.

Plea for aid

To shore up their defences, Ukrainian officials are pleading with Western partners for more military aid. However, there appears to be growing reluctance in the US and Europe to dole out the funds.

In the US, Ukraine’s top single-country donor, the White House is struggling to convince Congress to approve a mammoth military aid package that includes $60bn earmarked for Ukraine.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will travel to Washington on Tuesday to make the case for more aid to US lawmakers.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies