Russia's modern-day KGB started massively expanding its Ukraine unit years before the invasion, hinting at a Putin plot long in the making: report

·3-min read
Russian President Vladimir Putin with top Russian officials
Russian President Vladimir Putin, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, and FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov.Ivan Sekretarev/Associated Press
  • Russia's main security and spy agency, the FSB, began expanding its Ukraine unit in 2019, per The Washington Post.

  • The unit grew more than five times in size by last summer, from 30 offers to about 160.

  • This suggests that Putin may have begun plotting aggression against Ukraine years ago.

The FSB, Russia's primary security and intelligence agency and the successor to the KGB, began a major expansion of its Ukraine unit as far back as 2019, according to a report from The Washington Post. The revelation suggests that Russian President Vladimir Putin may have began plotting an invasion and the "seizure" of Ukraine years ago, a security official in Kyiv who tracks the FSB told the Post.

The FSB unit grew from 30 members to roughly 160 by last summer, per the report, which detailed Russian intelligence activities and failures in the lead-up to the war. The FSB offered incentives to pull in officers from other branches — including free housing in Moscow.

The unit – the Ninth Directorate of the Department of Operational Information — is led by Sergey Beseda, who began his career in the KGB, the Post said. The unit's main objective is make sure that Ukraine is subservient to the Kremlin and Russian interests.

Files the Post obtained showed that in the lead up to Russia's unprovoked invasion in late February, FSB operatives cultivated a vast network of paid agents inside Ukraine, some of which attempted to sabotage the country's defenses, though others proved useless to Russia's ambitions.

Top experts on Russia have repeatedly underscored that Putin has long been preoccupied with Ukraine and believes it belongs to Russia.

Putin has ruled over Russia for two decades, coming to power in 2000. In 2014, Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea. That same year, the Kremlin began supporting separatists in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region in a war against Ukrainian forces that in many ways was a precursor to Russia's full-scale invasion

"As long as Putin's in the Kremlin, he's not going to give up on Ukraine," Angela Stent, who served in the Office of Policy Planning at the State Department from 1999 to 2001 and as national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia at the National Intelligence Council from 2004 to 2006, told Insider in April.

"He is not going to give up on his goal of subordinating Ukraine" and "having a government there that's pro-Russian," she said.

"That's his goal. He obviously hasn't achieved it now and he probably won't in the near future, but he's not going give up on that," Stent added.

She said that ensuring Ukraine's servility is something that's driven Putin for years and "something he's obsessed with."

Putin, an ex-KGB officer, has referred to Ukrainians and Russians as "one people." He also recently compared himself to Peter the Great as he defended Russia's invasion of Ukraine, offering a glimpse into his imperialistic goals in the former Soviet republic. The Russian leader has offered an array of unsupported justifications for the invasion, including blaming NATO — an alliance Ukraine is not a member of — and making the completely unfounded claim that Nazis rule the country.

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