This spring, a Provisional Investigatory Commission (PIC) was established in Parliament that was entrusted with the task of examining the operation of the Ukrainian special services to remove the PMC Wagner mercenaries from Russia. Mariana Bezuhla, the Head of the PIC and the MP from the Servant of the People party, Mariana Bezuhla, announced the first conclusions earlier this month. In an interview with Ukrayinska Pravda (Ukrainian truth from Ukrainian), she said that the Commission managed to determine who had been involved in disrupting the planned operation, what the Ukrainians would be told, and where President Volodymyr Zelenskyy went wrong.
What is the PIC’s version
First of all, Bezuhla admitted that there was a special operation. However, she called it a "special measure", explaining that this was correct from a legal point of view. The process of its preparation began in 2014, when the intelligence service of Ukraine began collecting data and documenting Russian mercenaries. After that—in 2018—the process of recruiting them started. Two years later, the intelligence, together with the Security Service of Ukraine, began the direct preparation of the operation.
As stated in the Commission’s conclusion, according to the plan, the mercenaries were to be lured out of Russia and detained in Turkey. There was no clause on the forced landing of the plane with the Wagner mercenaries in Ukraine. Although one of the alternative plans did not rule this out.
The PIC does not believe that the special measure was disrupted. The Parliament explains this by the fact that the Ukrainian intelligence only postponed the flight of the Wagner mercenaries from Belarus to Turkey due to the "threat of failure".
What will the public be told about the case
Bezuhla noted that the PIC’s mission is to "file the records that will be in the Parliament", with which the work will continue. This, according to her, will be a package of documents classified as "top secret." It will include details regarding meetings and special measures, as well as hearing records of persons who do not hold positions, but are informed.
"That is why I briefed what could be conveyed to society," Bezuhla noted.
There will be public materials as well. This will include "a media coverage study, an automated study organized by the SSU."
Considering that Ukraine put the mercenaries on the wanted list only after they had been detained in Belarus (July 30), a logical question arose about how they should have been detained in Turkey. The Head of the PIC said that this point would be clarified at the next hearing. However, she added that on the basis of already prepared suspicions, Ukrainian law enforcement officers could ask for extradition.
"These are the flaws in the planning, to put it mildly. In addition, if we talk about Turkey, then most of them (mercenaries—ed. note) participated in the war in Syria, and are recorded in the databases, in particular, of Turkey... That is, this is a mixture of both shortcomings in planning a special emeasure and quite objective reasons... Turkey would have predictably detained them. Although I would not have planned it like that," Bezuhla said.
Hints at the predecessors’ guilt
During the briefing, Bezuhla recalled the names of former officials, namely: former Head of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine Vasyl Burba and former First Deputy Chairperson of the SSU Ruslan Baranetskyi. Their names were sounded in the context of drafting an alternative plan for landing an aircraft on Ukrainian territory "that could set up Ukraine."
"First of all, we based it on the most objective data. That is, first of all, we drafted the files that are in the departments, and interviewed people who are directly involved in this. After that Roman Kostenko (People's Deputy from the party Voice—ed. note) also made a proposal to hear some officials who had been involved, but after that had been dismissed. We checked that yes, they had been involved, and we also heard them under the protocol," the Head of the PIC noted.
She added that at first Burba had been uncooperative, but recently had changed his mind. He will be heard "tomorrow or the day after tomorrow." Bezuhla also added that some of the persons who are called are trying to evade the questions posed to them.
Where Zelenskyy went wrong
Another obvious question related to the discrepancy between the statements of the PIC and the authorities. For instance, Bezuhla called the operation Ukrainian, and Zelenskyy—a foreign one.
"I can comment on this issue. I have addressed the President and held consultations in the Office of the President regarding the interpretation of his statement. It was about the Russian Federation and about Belarus. That is, the situation was already uncontrollable and imposed on their part. This is probably an expression of the position of the President as the most informed person in the state. That is, based on the results, at least, he knew that we had lost control and actually lost in this counterplay between several special services of neighboring countries. Unfortunately," she explained.
However, the Head of the PIC noted that "the plan was bold." And according to her personal conviction, it did not end in "complete failure."
"If we talk about the broader picture, it was a special measure to record and document information on a much larger number of persons. And it was successful, and we have this information, and we still use it. Such an attempt of a separate special measure—we lost, but learnt from it," Bezuhla concluded.
Influence of the Office of the President
When asked whether she was given instructions from the Office of the President, what and how to speak about the operation with the Wagner mercenaries, Bezuhla answered negatively.
"This is a sensitive matter. Of course, I held certain consultations with them, but in terms of, for example, explaining the comments, the President's comments, and the like. There are no questions, what I can talk about, what I cannot talk about, there are none, there will not be and never have been," she noted.
According to her, this is "a matter of the parliamentarian’s freedom."
Context. On July 29, 2020, the Belarusian authorities detained 33 Wagner PMC militants. Ukraine requested their extradition, because some of them fought in the Donbas. However, Minsk did not press charges and released all of them to Russia.
On August 17, 2020, the media reported that the special services of Ukraine had been planning a special operation to lure the Wagner mercenaries who had fought against Ukraine in the Donbas that "foiled after a meeting at the Office of the President." Andriy Yermak was called the culprit of the information leak. In September, the court even ordered the SSU to initiate a case against Yermak.
At first, the Ukrainian authorities denied the existence of this operation, then called what was happening "a disinformation attack." President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called this information nonsense, Yermak stated it had been a disinformation attack. SSU and FIS denied their participation in the operation at first.