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Western agents stopping Russia disrupting Ukraine weapon supplies

Gen Kyrylo Budanov, chief of Ukraine military intelligence, speaks to Col Gen Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander in chief of the Ukrainian armed forces, in Kyiv on Feb 9
Gen Kyrylo Budanov, chief of Ukraine military intelligence, right, speaks to Col Gen Oleksandr Syrsky, commander of the Ukrainian armed forces, in Kyiv on Feb 9 - UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE/REUTERS

Western special agents are making it hard for Russia to block supplies of weapons to Ukraine, the head of Kyiv’s military intelligence has said.

In the semi-darkness of his headquarters somewhere in the Ukrainian capital, Gen Kyrylo Budanov wouldn’t be drawn on whether he was referring to the oft-rumoured presence of Western special forces - including from the UK - both inside Ukraine and in neighbouring countries, but said the threat to the supply lines running in from Poland and elsewhere was contained.

“We know for sure that [Russia] planned to destabilise and disrupt the system of military supplies from the West. The plans were developed and existed. They tried to implement them several times but it was all in vain.

“Special agencies from Western countries are actively working as well, making it hard for them to implement those plans.”

Ukrainian soldiers order ammunition boxes at their fighting position near Bakhmut, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, on Tuesday
Ukrainian soldiers order ammunition boxes at their fighting position near Bakhmut, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, on Tuesday - ANADOLU

Speaking exclusively to The Telegraph, Gen Budanov, 38, was more open about the intelligence support Ukraine is receiving from, principally, Nato countries, in locating the launch sites of the missiles Russia is launching on an almost nightly basis.

“It’s critically important for us to receive information about the missiles launched from the areas that we cannot cover with radio electronic and technical intelligence,” he said.

“This kind of help is priceless for us.”

Much of this support is provided by Britain, the US and other nations operating drones and surveillance aircraft in international airspace over the Black Sea and across eastern Europe.

These SIGINT platforms (Signals Intelligence), such as the RAF’s RC-135 Rivet Joint electronic surveillance planes, hoover up telemetry and other electromagnetic ‘‘noise’’ from radars and missiles. It is one reason they have been targeted by Russia.

In September 2022 a Russian pilot fired two missiles at an RAF Rivet Joint over the Black Sea, after believing he had permission to fire. Russia claimed at the time the incident was caused by a “technical malfunction” - an explanation Britain publicly accepted at the time - but there have long been suggestions at least one missile missed, rather than malfunctioned.

Enigmatic and unflappable Gen Kyrylo Budanov has built up a legendary reputation in Ukraine with a series of daring operations against Russia
Enigmatic and unflappable Gen Kyrylo Budanov has built up a legendary reputation in Ukraine with a series of daring operations against Russia - AFP

In a similar incident, in March last year a US MQ-9 Reaper drone was intercepted and damaged by a Russian Su-27 fighter, causing the US asset to crash in the Black Sea.

Such threats continue. On Thursday, French media outlet RTL reported Sebastien Lecornu, minister of the armed forces in Paris, as saying that just last month Russia had threatened to shoot down French planes in the same area.

Gen Budanov’s wife, Marianna, is still recovering having been poisoned last year with heavy metals in an attack widely thought to have been carried out by a Russian special operations unit.

The mastermind of Ukraine’s covert war against Russia said he knew who was responsible for the attack and offered the following threat: “These kinds of things need some time to be resolved. In time everybody will see what that means.”

A Ukrainian serviceman of the 65th Mechanised Brigade near a damaged car at the frontline village of Robotyne, in Zaporizhzhia region, on Wednesday
A Ukrainian serviceman of the 65th Mechanised Brigade near a damaged car at the frontline village of Robotyne, in Zaporizhzhia region, on Wednesday - REUTERS

Asked about partisan attacks launched from Russian soil, Gen Budanov said: “It’s clear that during the war, intelligence is responsible not only for gathering data, but also conducting special operations.

“Working with big groups of people – you can call them partisans – is just a small part of our activities.

“We help them, support them and interact with them, sometimes we ask them to perform some tasks.”

Drone strike on Kremlin roof

However, hinting that these attacks - assassinations and launching drone strikes on Russian energy facilities deep inside the country, and even, in May 2023, on to the roof of the Kremlin itself - may not be irregular local forces, but Ukrainian special operations, Gen Budanov said: “I wouldn’t call it partisan movements, that is something very different to what is actually happening.”

“Mostly it’s the traditional work of intelligence agencies.”

Gen Budanov’s opposite numbers in Russia’s military intelligence department, the GRU – the spies behind the novichok poisonings in Salisbury in 2018 – have as their emblem a bat, and the motto “Only the stars are above us”.

As The Telegraph left his headquarters to emerge, blinking, back into daylight, there was a glimpse of the flag used by Gen Budanov’s department. It showed an owl, a predator of bats, and the motto ‘‘Sapiens dominabitur astris’’: The Wise Will Rule Over The Stars.

In the covert war against Russia, everything is a psychological operation. Even the flags.