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President on Yermak's role in 'Wagnergate' scandal: He has no authority to approve special intelligence operation

KYIV. Nov 26 (Interfax-Ukraine) – President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky has said that head of the President’s Office Andriy Yermak does not have the authority to give instructions in the framework of special operations.

"What could Yermak approve involving the special operation [Wagnergate]? He has no authority. And if he [Burba] took orders from him, how could he obey him? He has no credentials. The Minister of Defense and the President [have grants of authority]," he said at the press marathon 30 questions to the President of Ukraine in Kyiv on Friday.

In the context of revealing by the head of Defense Intelligence Agency of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine (2016-2020) Vasyl Burba of information that he has no right to disseminate, the president said: "I’m just tired of this whole story. I am getting rid of certain people for years, unfortunately. But when the media started to defend such people, I’m sorry. … The fact that he [Burba] is now spreading this information is not good at all."

"I’m not telling you how the Russians reacted to this [Wagnergate], how happy they were that they ‘defeated us.’ I am ashamed of this episode in the life of intelligence, prominent intelligence officers of Ukraine. I am ashamed, and I state that we were weak in this operation," the president said.

As reported, on July 29, some 33 members of the Wagner PMC were detained near Minsk. On August 12, the Prosecutor General’s Office (Ukraine) applied to the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Republic of Belarus with requests to extradite 28 people from the Russian Private Military Company Wagner. The Ukrainian side said that these persons "took an active part in hostilities on the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk regions as part of the terrorist organizations ‘LPR’ and ‘DPR (Luhansk and Donetsk Peoples’ Republics’)."

However, on August 14 it became known that Belarus handed over to Russia 32 of the 33 detained Wagner members.

On August 18, a number of Ukrainian media reported that SBI and the Defense Intelligence Agency of Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense were preparing an operation to detain members of the Wagner PMC. According to the media, they were supposed to fly from Minsk to Istanbul, but during the flight one of the passengers had to simulate deterioration in health, as a result of which the plane had to make an emergency landing in Kyiv, where the Wagner members were to be detained.

On November 17, 2021, a report was published by Bellingcat, which was conducting its own investigation into the failure of the operation to seize Wagner PMC members in July 2020. According to the report, prepared by the Defense Intelligence Agency of Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense, an operation plan to detain a group of mercenaries suspected of participating in hostilities in Donbas was approved by the political leadership of Ukraine in July 2020.

On November 19, 2021, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency of Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense (2016 – 2020) Vasyl Burba said that the command to postpone the capture of the so-called Wagner PMC members was given by the President of Ukraine in July 2020, as reported by head of the President’s Office Andriy Yermak.