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5 Jan, 2021 17:53

Kiev says Belarusian KGB chief allegedly recorded plotting to blow up Ukraine-based journalist Sheremet, later killed in car bomb

Kiev says Belarusian KGB chief allegedly recorded plotting to blow up Ukraine-based journalist Sheremet, later killed in car bomb

Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs has acknowledged recordings in which agents of Belarus’ KGB security service allegedly planned the assassination of Kiev-based journalist Pavel Sheremet, who died in an explosion in 2016.

In comments to UK state broadcaster BBC on Monday, the ministry’s spokesman Artem Shevchenko said that the release of a 24-minute tape, reportedly capturing a plot to kill the reporter, supports Kiev’s version of events. 

Published by the Brussels-based EUobserver news site, the recording is said to have been taken from a bug placed in 2012 in the Minsk office of Vadim Zaitsev, who was then chairman of the secretive spy agency. A voice on the tape, reported to be Zaitsev’s, supposedly discusses Sheremet with officers of the KGB’s Alpha Group, an elite anti-terrorist unit.

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Describing the reporter as a “pain in the ass,” the voice on the tape says that “we’ll plant [a bomb] and so on and this f***ing rat will be taken down in f***ing pieces - legs in one direction, arms in the other direction. If everything [looks like] natural causes, it won’t get into people’s minds the same way.”

In a further comment that will likely increase scrutiny on authorities in the country, Zaitsev reportedly said that “the President is waiting for these operations.” Belarus’ long-time leader, Alexander Lukashenko, is already facing condemnation from the EU and US over his handling of mass protests. Tens of thousands have taken to the streets in the country since he declared victory in August’s presidential election, which opposition groups, and many international observers, insist was rigged in his favor.

Sheremet died after a car belonging to his partner, who founded the Ukrainska Pravda news site, exploded in downtown Kiev in July 2016. At the time, Zoryan Shkiryak, an aide to Ukraine’s interior ministry, told journalists that investigators suspected an improvised explosive device had caused the blast. He added that authorities could not rule out the “involvement of Russian special services” in Sheremet’s death.

Three people already face criminal charges in Ukraine relating to the case, including rock musician Andriy Antonenko, pediatric surgeon Yulia Kuzmenko, and armed forces nurse Yana Dugar. Investigators say that Dugar had assisted with preparations in the plot, while Antonenko and Kuzmenko had carried out the bombing. Lawyers of the accused told the BBC that the new disclosures “completely destroy the crazy version” of events put forward by prosecutors. However, Shevchenko insists that the case will not be affected by the new disclosures, as there was already a belief that they had been acting under orders from elsewhere.

The veracity of the recordings are likely to be called into question by some, given that Kiev has previously pointed the finger at foreign capitals with less-than-robust evidence. In 2018, Ukrainian journalist Arkady Babchenko was widely reported to have been assassinated outside his home in the capital. The country’s then-prime minister, Volodymyr Groysman, claimed that his killing was linked to his reportage on “Russian aggression,” in remarks widely reported by pro-Western media.

Only one day later, Babchenko made a surprise appearance on Ukrainian television, alongside agents from the country’s security services. They claimed that he had been part of a sting operation designed to out Russian ‘agents’ working in the country.

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