Graham Stack in Volnovakha, Ukraine -
As Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko promises dismissals among top security officials following battlefield defeats, investigators identified two top-ranking sets of brothers that they fear may be sabotaging Ukraine's "anti-terrorist operation" against pro-Russian separatists.
Poroshenko promised far-reaching personnel changes on September 1 at the very top of Ukraine's so-called "anti-terrorist operation," following military setbacks that have seen hundreds of pro-government fighters encircled, many of whom have been killed, wounded or captured.
As bne has reported, Ukrainian volunteer battalions and army draftees regularly allege that the Russian-backed rebels they are fighting have precise information about their movements – pointing to moles in the general staff. Head of the Donbass volunteer battalion, who goes by the name of Semen Semenchenko, blogged on August 29 after his men were entrapped near the Donetsk region town of Ilovaisk that, "the encirclement of the voluntary battalions is the result of treachery."
Ukrainian investigative NGOs hromadske.tv and Nashi Groshi, in fresh investigations into allegations of treachery in the general staff, have identified two sets of high-ranking brothers holding top commands in Ukraine's military and security structures – both with strong ties to the previous regime of ousted president Viktor Yanukovych, as well as to Russia. The investigators suspect them, if not of actually passing on information, of impeding the war effort against the Russian-backed rebels – and likely candidates for the exit in any reshuffle at the top.
Startlingly, according to hromadske.tv, deputy head of Ukraine' s "anti-terrorist operation," Major General Vyacheslav Nazarkin – commander of the general staff's special operations department – is the brother of a high-ranking Russian officer, the deputy head of Omsk garrison. Homradske.tv quoted staff officers as saying that Nazarkin is "constantly on the phone" to his brother, relating to him events on the field of battle. Hromadske.tv also reported that special forces units believe Nazarkin passed on information about their operations to the enemy in an episode where 12 men died as a result.
According to homradske.tv, Nazarkin is a longstanding close associate of the chief of the general staff, Viktor Muzhenko, overall head of Ukraine's "anti-terrorist operation." Nazarkin has been Muzhenko's deputy in a number of posts, ever since Muzhenko headed an army base in Zhitomir region of central Ukraine and Nazarkin worked as his deputy.
Nazarkin, promoted to his current position in December after the start of the Euromaidan protests that led to the ousting of Yanukovych, was deeply hostile to the pro-European movement, according to the publications he liked on Russian social network Odnoklassniki. Contacted by homradske.tv by telephone, Nazarkin refused to answer questions about his brother, swore and hung up.
According to the investigative outfit Nashi Groshi, another band of brothers in high positions could also be sabotaging Ukraine's war effort. These are the three Litvin brothers, the most famous and oldest of which, Volodymyr Litvin, is head of Ukraine's parliamentary committee on national security.
During the corrupt era of former president Leonid Kuchma from 1994-2005, Litvin headed the presidential administration, including at the time that opposition journalist Georgy Gongadze was kidnapped and murdered for his opposition to Kuchma. Litvin subsequently served as speaker of parliament until 2012. Since Kuchma exited politics in 2004, Litvin has been an ally of Yanukovych's Party of Regions, but switched his allegiance to the new pro-European regime when Yanukovych was ousted in February, and thus retained his position as the influential head of the national security committee.
Critics of his activity in the post have since pointed out that, for instance, Litvin in April opposed the recall from foreign assignments of 18 military helicopters leased abroad on operations, but urgently needed at home for use against rebels. Litvin did not respond to attempts to contact him via his parliamentary office.
Both of Litvin's younger brothers hold top military and security posts, in part dating from when their big brother headed the presidential administration. Both men now hold crucial influence over Ukraine's security sector.
Mykola Litvin has been head of Ukraine's state border guards since 2001, when Volodymyr Litvin was chief of staff to then president Kuchma. Mykola's performance in recent months has attracted considerable criticism. When Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in March, opponents said his lethargic reaction allowed Russian forces without insignia to seize border patrol boats and bases. "Litvin should be fired immediately for not lifting a finger to save his forces," MP Gennady Moskal, former governor of Crimea, blogged at the time. Litvin blamed his subordinate, the head of the Crimean division of the border guards who defected to Russia, for the debacle.
Ukraine's failure to control its border with Russia – despite consistent claims from the border guards that they were in control – has been its Achilles' heel in the fight against the Russian-backed insurgency across the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, as bne has reported. There have been frequent accusations that Ukrainian border guards collaborate with their Russian counterparts in smuggling schemes. According to Nashi Groshi, a number of Litvin's immediate subordinates have been indicted on corruption charges in recent months.
Petro Litvin, the youngest of the Litvin brothers, is commander of Ukraine's 8th infantry division, currently deployed on the front line against Russian-backed rebels. Gennady Korban, deputy head of Dnipropetrovsk region and prominent in organising volunteer battalions to fight the rebels, accused Litvin on August 24 of having quit his command and fled the theatre of operations, after fighting intensified. "This was treachery and if we had been in a state of war he [Petro Litvin] would have been brought before a military tribunal," Korban said in an interview at obzrevatel.com.
Litvin's division in a statement on August 27 called Korban's words "a lie". The statement said that the division had completed its tasks, when it came under attack from land-land rockets fired from Russian territory, which killed five servicemen. "The decision was then taken to move the division's command to a safer location," reads the statement.
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