The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) announced that it has uncovered a Russian military intelligence group code-named “Sapphire” operating in Luhansk.
Information about the Sapphire group was disclosed by SBU head of military counterintelligence Serhiy Levchenko during a press briefing. The SBU believes that the intelligence group was established by Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU).
According to Levchenko, the Sapphire group was involved in preparing and carrying out anti-Ukrainian information campaigns. Members of the group also gathered to analyze information about Ukraine’s leaders, armed forces, and intelligence in the Donbas conflict zone. “We identified a significant increase in this group’s activity leading up to Ukraine’s presidential elections,” Levchenko observed.
The SBU believes that the group is supervised by GRU Colonel Alexander Sazonov operating under the alias “Pavel Bodrov”. “We have determined that he is the leader of the operative group as part of the Russian military intelligence center in Luhansk,” the SBU official noted.
As proof of this information, the SBU published a photo of Sazonov, a copy of his passport, and a military order that talks about first lieutenant A.A. Sazonov obtaining a military specialization qualification as the head of a communications division. The document is dated July 2011, and concerns military unit No. 01957.
The SBU states that the group includes 15 members of the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) “People’s Militia”, and is led by the Ukrainian citizen Yekaterina Vasylyna. The group’s activity is coordinated with the LPR authorities through the region’s state advisor, Andrey Timokhin.
“In order discredit the top military and political leaders of our state, members of the Sapphire group compiled and distributed fake materials on social networks, including a fake order by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry to supposedly suspend all additional payments to Armed Forces soldiers,” the SBU notes. The Sapphire group also published “fake calls, supposedly on behalf of patriotic forces, for anti-government protests aimed to fight corruption and impeach the president of Ukraine, even ahead of elections”. Another of the group’s tasks was to “incite interconfessional discord” in connection with the autocephaly (independence) of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Sapphire members created fake social network pages in order to further their goals. The group has registered more than 50 accounts and 130 groups. “Throughout the entire period of their existence, they have fabricated and published on online social networks nearly 12,000 fake information articles of an anti-Ukrainian nature,” the SBU observes. Groups created by Sapphire include “The Donbas is our native land”, “Russian-speaking America”, “I want to go home to Russia” and “The A.B. Mozgovoy GHOST mechanized brigade”.
The SBU reported that its counterintelligence department has arrested several GRU informants. “During searches at the perpetrators’ places of residence, law enforcement officers confiscated more than twenty communication devices used for spying activity, photo and video devices with information on them about military equipment, protected engineering facilities of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and other information of a military nature, as well as nearly twenty SIM cards of Ukrainian and Russian operators and flash drives,” the report states. The agents also kept “symbols of the Russian Federation and the so-called people’s republics” in their homes.