SBU exposes involvement of Russian 'Wagner PMC' headed by Utkin in destroying Il-76 in Donbas, Debaltseve events – Hrytsak
(Text after fifth para added in news item issued on Oct 7)
Head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), Vasyl Hrytsak, has said that the SBU established the involvement of Russia's so-called private military company called Wagner headed by Dmitry Utkin, in destroying Il-76 aircraft in Donbas, attacking Luhansk airport and events in Debaltseve (Donetsk region).
"What was the Wagner group engaged in? It downed Il-76 aircraft with our paratroopers on board, attacked Luhansk airport and Debaltseve," he said at a briefing in Kyiv on Saturday.
According to him, 72 militants of this PMC took part in the first two operations, 15 of them were killed. "We know their names," Hrytsak said.
"Some 205 Wagner militants took part in the attacking of Debaltseve, during which 21 members were killed. We know each of them," he said.
The SBU chief also said that 36 militants were killed on the line of demarcation.
The group was first sighted in action on May 21, 2014, he said. The geography of its operations covers the breakaway parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and Syria. In Syria, there were 1,350 Wagner members (near Latakia and Homs), Hrytsak said.
The SBU knows of 277 Wagner group members who fought both in Donbas and Syria, 67 of them were killed, he said.
Hrytsak said he considers the Wagner group to be fighters of the Russian Federation armed forces. "On December 28, 2016, Russia passed legal changes allowing to recruit non-servicemen for military counterterrorism missions outside of Russia. Such individuals are regarded as those in active military service... thus, starting from December 28, 2016 we consider members of the Wagner private military company to be servicemen of the Russian Federation armed forces," Hrytsak said.
"This project allows Russian politicians to confidently say that they are not there or that 'we did not send them there'," he said.
The group receives secret funding from the Russian national budget, and in 2017 the funding was increased by 185 million rubles, he said. As for its ethnic composition, the SBU has identified about 40 fighters as Ukrainians and 95% of the members as Russian citizens, Hrytsak said.
At the same time, Russia keeps denying that some of Wagner members were Russian citizens after reports of them emerged, he said.
The SBU has issued a notice of suspicion to Wagner chief Utkin, he said. "Our investigators have issued a notice of suspicion for Utkin... We will hand it over to the Ukrainian Prosecutor General's Office on Monday, we hope the Office will support us," Hrytsak said.
He did not say what the charges are against Utkin. "Let us first endorse the suspicion before we give any further information," Hrytsak said, noting the voluminous text of the document.
The SBU passes data regarding the group on to security agencies in Europe and other countries, given that this "private army" might be used "to destabilize the situation in any part of the world," Hrytsak said.
Ukraine's Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Information Policy will jointly hold a special briefing in Brussels on October 19 regarding the "Wagner campaign," the Ukrainian security chief said.