An alleged ‘too hot’ FSB ‘girlfriend-for-hire’ is at the centre of a spy operation in which both Russian and Ukrainian intelligence agents were evidently seeking to outsmart each other.
Russia today went public claiming it had foiled an audacious plot to entice Vladimir Putin’s air force pilots to defect and fly their warplanes to Ukraine.
The FSB alleged the scheme was hatched by British and Ukrainian intelligence aimed at embarrassing the Kremlin.
Yet a new claim from a respected media investigator who says he was monitoring the operation for a documentary is that the Russians suffered a significant failure.
Maria, an alleged Russian plant found out because she’s too attractive, pictured at a shoot
The sudden appearance of Maria – an alleged ‘too hot’ plant by the FSB – proved to the Ukrainians that a clumsy Lubyanka sting operation was underway, says the journalist Christo Grozev, a leading sleuth of the British Bellingcat internet investigation bureau.
Kyiv military intelligence officers ‘tried to recruit Russian military pilots for a monetary reward and guarantees of obtaining citizenship of one of the EU countries,’ said the FSB, once headed by Putin.
Reports said Russian pilots could have made $2 million (USD) for defecting with their military aircraft.
Putin’s security apparatchiks claimed to have intercepted text and voice communications between ‘an employee of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ukrainian Defence Ministry’ and ‘a Russian pilot’.
The sudden appearance of glamorous model Maria (left and right) suggested to the Ukrainians that a clumsy sting operation led by the Russian FSB was underway. Russia claims the foiled operation is a British and Ukrainian attempt to humiliate the Kremlin
The plan allowed for $4,000 advance payments in a bid to persuade a Russian pilot to fly his Su-24, Su-34 or Tu-22MZ to Ukraine, giving a huge propaganda coup to Kyiv.
The unnamed Russian pilot appeared to know nothing about his supposed girlfriend Maria
The Tu-22M3 is a strategic nuclear bomber.
Money was transferred by female couriers who were allegedly detained in Russian city Kazan.
Passports from Romania and Slovenia were prepared for the lover of one pilot, guaranteeing them a future in Europe, it is claimed.
But Grozev – accused by the Russians of involvement in the alleged Ukrainian-British plot – has a different account.
Using a traditional mix of forged ‘evidence’ and loosely interpreted facts, the FSB… accused me personally of being involved in the plane-hijacking plot,’ he alleged, saying that a message from him on a UK number was totally fake.
‘What is true, however, is I was involved in this crazier-than-fiction story of triple-agents, fake passports and faux girlfriends – as a documentary filmmaker.
‘Yes, we were chronicling one of the wackiest counter-counter-intel operations of all time….
‘While Russia is presenting today this as a coup for its counter intelligence, in fact the operation was a serious blunder for the FSB, disclosing unintentionally identities of dozens of counter intel officers, their methods of operation, and their undercover assets.’
Ukrainian intelligence services became suspicious about the plot after realising how attractive one pilot’s ‘girlfriend’ (left and right) was – and how little he seemed to know about her
He promised to reveal all when the documentary is aired.
But he said: ‘In April, Ukraine adopted an ‘weapons-surrender-incentive law’.
‘A team of Ukrainian operatives decided to approach Russian pilots with an offer based on this law.
An FSB agent (pictured) claimed they foiled what was a British and American plot to humiliate the Kremlin – but had little proof
‘We found out about the initiative, and assured ourselves a front seat – to make a documentary about this brazen operation.
‘Several Russian military pilots were approached and even sent ‘proof-of-access’ videos from inside their planes, in each case bearing a separate number hand-written on pieces of paper.
‘Some of the footage from the inside of the planes was quite detailed and enlightening.
‘Note that now FSB are presenting these videos as ‘controlled leaks’ – while at the same time blurring the inside of the cockpit on TV.
‘The ‘negotiations’ between the Ukrainian recruiters and the pilots, which we filmed, started out as expected, but their tone changed quickly, suggesting the pilots were no longer talking on their own behalf but were ‘coached’ – likely by FSB military counter-intelligence officers.
‘A clear clue that the FSB had intercepted the communications came when one of the pilots suddenly said he no longer wanted to get his lover out of the country, but his ‘lover’ instead.
Ukrainian intelligence claim they caught on video a female courier taking an advance payment
‘It took me about five minutes to discover that the pilot’s ‘lover’ (waaay too hot for him, FSB) was an FSB asset, working as a fitness trainer by day, but moonlighting as an FSB girlfriend-for-hire the rest of the time.’
Ukrainian secret services were also aware of this, he said.
‘Nor did the pilot seem to know anything about his ‘girlfriend’s’ background (he was earnestly surprised she even had a travel passport, and that she had been in Istanbul a few months ago, and to Barcelona a year earlier).
‘But I also found out that throughout the process of her ‘boyfriend’s’ negotiations with the Ukrainians, she had been talking to an FSB military counter-intel officer.’
Grozev said: ‘Another clue came when a different pilot suddenly asked his Ukrainian counterparts for advice in incapacitating his co-pilot with a sedative.
‘At this point, it became clear to me that the original luring operation was over – and had turned into a double ‘operational game’ in which both sides were trying to extract maximum information from the other, while feeding them maximum [disinformation].’
The Ukrainians fed the ‘pilots’ fake maps of their anti-aircraft deployments, as well as disinformation on the operational airstrips.
The pilots sent the Ukrainians ‘probably equally fake approach and descent maps of their own. We kept filming.’
Ukrainian spooks’ footage shows what appears to be dollars piled to be handed to the pilot
Messages sent by one of the pilots accompanied images supposing to prove he could really fly
‘At one point, the Ukrainians even convinced the FSB to send the lover of one of the pilots – along with a whole FSB tailing team – to Minsk, waiting for a promised ‘meet up’ with the Ukrainians handlers.
‘The FSB waited in vain for four days.
‘This bizarre mutual-deceit game came to an end when the FSB realised no-one will show up at any of the suggested meet-ups.’
The FSB by then understood they had been ‘burned’.
‘And the Ukrainians realised they’re likely not getting a real pilot either.
‘Despite the unexpected ending (so far), we still plan to finish this crazy film.’
The FSB had said earlier: ‘Ukrainian intelligence tried to stimulate Russian pilots with promises to send their wives to EU countries and provide citizenship or a residence permit…
The Ukrainians also obtained images of fake passports made for the pilot’s too-hot ‘girlfriend’
Footage set to feature in the Bellingcat documentary also shows bottles of clonidine poison
‘British intelligence agencies provided the main support to Ukrainian military intelligence in its operation to hijack Russian military aircraft’.
A source was reported as saying: ‘It is obvious that the operation itself was carried out with the support of Western, primarily British, intelligence services.’
A Ukrainian intelligence officer allegedly told a potential defecting pilot: ‘I gave you a route. So that you would fly outside populated areas, because populated areas have the highest concentration of MANPADS.’
The Russians say this gave them useful information about Ukrainian defences.
‘Among the secrets revealed were air defence zones in south-eastern Ukraine, charts of airfields in Khmelnytskyi and Chernihiv regions, altitude maps and locations of the largest concentration of units with portable anti-aircraft missile systems,’ reported Zvezda TV channel, controlled by the Russian defence ministry.
‘All this data was provided to the allegedly hijack-ready Russian pilot so that he could fly safely over Ukraine.
‘A certain Ukrainian air force officer named Oleg called him.’
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