He told about it in an interview in ‘VIP with Natalia Moseychuk’ on channel ‘1+1’.
The President addressed the issue of so-called ‘Wagner mercenaries’ capture scheme calling it the idea of other countries. He also rejected the involvement of his top aide Andrii Yermak in the leak of information and failure of the special operation. The President draw a parallel between the expected outcomes of the Wagner mercenaries capture to the recent unlawful detention of a Belarussian dissident Roman Protasevich taken off a Ryanair jet forced to land in Minsk.
‘Ukraine’s security and intelligence services do not have any questions to Mr. Yermak. We saw what happened in Belarus, how the airplane had been forced to land, and how the whole thing ended. We saw how such incidents end […], to what kind of isolation such special operations may lead. Definitely, it was not our special operation. I am sure that […] it was other countries’ idea to conduct such an operation […]. It is true that other countries were dragging Ukraine into this situation. Thanks God that we displayed our subjectivity in this important issue, and the special operation failed,’ the President of Ukraine said.
Moreover, Zelensky mentioned that his last phone conversation with Aleksandr Lukashenka concerned the group of Wagner mercenaries detained in Belarus. Volodymyr Zelensky hoped that Minsk would hand them over to Ukraine.
What we do know so far about ‘Wagner mercenaries’ capture operation
In late April 2020, Belarus law-enforcement agencies reported arrests of 33 ‘Wagner’ paramilitary group members in Minsk who allegedly arrived in the country to ‘destabilize the situation before the elections’.
Later, a journalist Yuriy Butusov on his Facebook page, and ‘Ukrainska Pravda’ news site informed that the Ukrainian intelligence service agencies were planning an own capture plan for the mercenaries detained in Minsk.
According to media reports, the secret operation had been in works for a year and was supposed to lure the Wagner mercenaries to Venezuela offering to employ their services for oil rigs protection. In return, in order to prove their proficiencies and be hired, the Wagner group members would provide evidence on their ‘presence’ and ‘unlawful’ acts in Ukrainian Donbas. The mercenaries already had the tickets on the flight to Venezuela from Minsk.
Presumably, within the above-mentioned Wagner group there were mercenaries involved in the shooting down a passenger airliner of Malaysia Airlines performing the flight MH17, a Ukrainian military transport plane Il-76 near Luhansk airport, and a Ukrainian military transport aircraft An-26 near Luhansk.
On July 24, 2020, Chief Intelligence Directorate head Vasyl Burba and SBU deputy head Ruslan Baranetsky reported to the president’s office on the upcoming plan. The confidental information was reportedly made known to president Volodymyr Zelensky, his top aide Andriy Yermak , Intelligence Committee chair Ruslan Demchenko, and President’s Office deputy head Roman Mashovets. The plan subsequently stalled after Zelensky’s top aide Andriy Yermak asked to put it off citing problems with a planned prison exchange between Ukraine and the Russian Federation.
In a few days time, the scheme suffered a complete failure after the Wagner mercenaries’ group arrest in Minsk. Finally, Belarus handed them over to the Russian Federation.
Ukrainian intelligence professionals cite leaks by Zelensky top officials as a probable cause for the operation failure.
Investigating the failure of the ‘Wagner mercenaries’ capture case
On September 4, 2020, an MP from the ‘European Soldarity’ Volodymyr Ariev presented the evidence that the SBU had been conducting a special operation aimed at capturing Wagner mercenaries. ‘European Solidarity’ called the MPs to support the parliamentary probe on failed ‘Wagner mercenaries’ capture and to create a temporary commission for investigating this case.
On September 9, 2020, the court ordered the SBU to start a criminal investigation of the information leak on the failed ‘Wagner mercenaries’ capture by the President’s top aide Andriy Yermak.
On September 29, 2020, Verkhovna Rada considered an electronic petition on creating a temporary investigation commission on the failed ‘Wagner mercenaries’ capture.
Deputy Head of ‘European Solidarity’ Artur Herasymov stated that the Parliament shunned the probe on failed Wagner mercenaries capture according to the President’s order.
In February 2020, it was reported that Vasyl Burba, the former Head of the Defense intelligence of the Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, who testified the failure of the special operation was evicted from his house (tied accomodation) and was no longer protected by the state security guards. However, the National Police rebutted that fact.
On May 19, 2021, the Ukrainian Parliament failed to back the resolution no.4105 that offered a parliamentary probe into the ‘alleged involvement of state officials in the unlawful acts’ that ‘damaged Ukraine’s national interests’, and led to failure of ‘Wagner mercenaries’ capture operation. The resolution was brought into the parliament by “Golos’ MP Roman Kostenko and got 97 votes, with only 12 ‘yes’ votes coming from Zelensky’s ‘Servant of the People’ MPs. Instead, the MPs voted for the resolution initiated by ‘Servant of the People’ on creating a temporary investigation commission having wider powers than just the ‘Wagner mercenaries’ capture case.
Moreover, the investigators of Bellingcat are conducting their own investigation of the special operation failure. Head of the Ukrainian President’s Office Andriy Yermak refused to give an interview to Bellingcat investigators and comment on the failure of ‘Wagner mercenaries’ capture scheme.