Ukraine Intelligence Chief Claims Russian Soldiers in Charge of Pro-Russian Groups in East

The Atlantic Council hosted a Google Hangout with Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, head of Ukraine’s State Security Service (SBU), to discuss the ongoing violence between pro-Ukrainians and pro-Russians in east Ukraine. It was the first time he spoke publicly about the situation. He told the audience there are at least 100 Russian soldiers in charge of the uprisings.

As many as thirty special forces troops or officers of Russia’s military intelligence service, the GRU, are working in the Slaviansk region, Nalyvaichenko said. Slaviansk and the adjacent district of Kramatorsk are the strongest point of the Russian operation, he said. Ukraine is seeking in particular to arrest two other GRU officers who are coordinating “the most dangerous and hostile activity” in that region, Nalyvaichenko said. The SBU has named one of those as Colonel Igor Strelkov, who it says also coordinated preparations for Russia’s seizure of Crimea.

Nalyvaichenko also said Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) built networks within Ukraine over the years. These groups are helping the pro-Russian forces take over government buildings.

For the last – we now understand — two or three years,” officers of Russia’s GRU “have created very covert but well-structurized networks with agents, with pro-Russian organizations, involving in such illegal activity many Ukrainians,” he said. Those networks are most developed in Crimea, which Russia seized and annexed in March, and in eastern Ukraine, Nalyvaichenko said. “Russian military officers … are the main provocateurs and main organizers” of the uprisings in the east, recruiting sympathizers and paying local criminal gangs to help attack local governments. “We for sure know now who are they, I mean those Russian officers,” Nalyvaichenko said. “They are very dangerous, well armed, [and] for years before prepared to do what they are doing now.”

Three GRU officers are being interrogated in Kyiv and SBU also arrested 21 members of the GRU.

The cities of Sloviansk and Horlivka in Donetsk Oblast are the centers for violence and kidnappings.

The Kyiv Post is keeping a tally of kidnapped people, including journalists in two cities. As of 11:30 a.m. EST the total is up to 16. One of the kidnapped journalists is VICE’s Simon Ostrovsky, a man many journalists turn to for information and videos in Ukraine.

On Tuesday, the body of Ukrainian Deputy Volodymr Rybak was found with signs of torture. He was reported missing last Wednesday in Sloviansk. The murder caused interim President Oleksandr Turchynov to restart the anti-terrorist operation, which was suspended for the Easter weekend.

Nalyvaichenko also addressed the concerns of the protesters in Kyiv at Independence Square. The majority of these people have been there since November to protest against now ousted Russia-backed President Viktor Yanukovych, but said they will stay until there are real reforms. The people have been frustrated and angry over Kyiv’s slow movement in east Ukraine.