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From war crimes, to spies and cyberattacks: Ukraine’s domestic spy chief on fighting Russia across all fronts

Exclusive: The head of the security service of Ukraine speaks to Bel Trew from Kyiv about how Moscow ‘will never break us down’

Tuesday 28 February 2023 09:57 GMT
Maj Gen Vasyl Malyuk, right, with President Volodymyr Zelensky
Maj Gen Vasyl Malyuk, right, with President Volodymyr Zelensky (Presidential Office of Ukraine)

Maj Gen Vasyl Malyuk, Ukraine's domestic spy chief, makes it clear that the threat from Russia comes from all sides, not just the physical battlefield. His Security Services of Ukraine (SBU) has launched more than 64,000 criminal proceedings across Moscow's forces – nearly half of them war crimes cases. He says the SBU have also uncovered or detained 360 enemy agents since the invasion erupted last February. And the country has fended off thousands of cyberattacks.

Speaking exclusively to The Independent, Maj Gen Malyuk said that the SBU’s investigation department has launched public investigations and also covert operations into alleged war crimes committed by Russia’s forces and their proxies in the country.

Russia has been accused by the UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres of “the most massive violations of human rights” at the start of a UN Human Rights Council session into alleged war crimes by Moscow.

Maj Gen Malyuk, 39, said: “We have launched more than 64,000 criminal proceedings related to Russian military aggression against Ukraine. More than 24,600 of them are based on violations of the laws and customs of war,” he continued.

“It is of great importance for us to show the world not just emotions, but procedural evidence of Russia's illegal actions,” he added.

Maj Gen Malyuk, who has led the Ukrainian equivalent of M15 since July, says the war-ravaged nation has been increasingly fighting on two fronts: “Countering the enemy in cyberspace”, as well as on the battlefield.

Ukraine is fighting an increase in cyberattacks, with Russia launching at least 10 a day, the country’s domestic spy chief has warned. In 2020 the SBU had recorded 800 cyberattacks, in 2021 it was about 2,000. But after the invasion they have recorded more than 4,500.

“These are different types of the attacks, sometimes really massive, sometimes quite sophisticated,” the spy chief says from Kyiv.

“Currently Russia provides on an average more than 10 cyberattacks daily... Their targets are different: state resources, critical infrastructure facilities, etc. But we are successfully countering the enemy in cyberspace as well,” he says.

Some of the massive damage the eastern city of Bakhmut has suffered from Russian forces (RIA )

Ukraine is hunkering down expecting a fresh wave of violence from Russia in the wake of the first anniversary of the war which was launched on 24 February last year.

Over the last few weeks Vladimir Putin has increased ferocious assaults in the east and north of the country, in an attempt claw back territorial losses and save face back home.

When war broke out last year, Maj Gen Malyuk had briefly left the security services to become deputy minister of internal affairs. He was reinstated and made acting chief of the powerful domestic security agency in July by Volodymyr Zelensky when the Ukrainian president abruptly sacked the previous chief amid a slew of accusations that top spy officials had collaborated with Russia. On 7 February, parliament voted him in as head of the SBU.

Rooting out Russian agents has since become a major part of Maj Gen Malyuk’s focus. He says the SBU had uncovered or detained 360 enemy agents.

Targets have ranged from prominent figures like Vicktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Kremlin Ukrainian politician and personal friend of President Putin, to citizens that collect information on the location of the Ukrainian forces, he adds.

Maj Gen Malyuk in front of the Ukranian parliament earlier this month (Presidential Office of Ukraine)

“For decades Russia has been saturating our country with its agents in the state bodies, in the church, in the military-industrial complex,” he continues.

He says against the unprecedented diversity of attacks from Russia that the SBU has had to be “completely reorganised” to counter the threat.

“[SBU] officers literally live on the front line,” he says. “Our cyber specialists work vigorously day and night to repel enemy cyberattacks,” he says, adding that the work in cyberspace “has significantly increased”.

The country’s cybersecurity agency said earlier this month that the number of recorded cyber incidents had tripled in 2022 in comparison to 2021. They said hacking was deployed in conjunction with missile strikes.

The SBU says that energy, logistics, military facilities, as well as databases of state bodies and information resources have all been attacked.

Maj Gen Malyuk says despite the attacks across various fronts, both physical and digital, Ukraine will win. “I, as any Ukrainian, have no illusions concerning Putin and his motives in this war.”

“Therefore, my message [to him] is simple: you will never break us down or annihilate us,” he says. “We are fighting not just for the future of Ukraine, but for the safe future of the entire civilised world.”

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