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Putin cuts FSB from lead intelligence role in Ukraine for man ‘who orchestrated Salisbury poisoning’

The military intelligence officer believed to have orchestrated the 2018 poisoning of former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury has now been tasked with leading Russia’s intelligence operation in Ukraine.   

Vladimir Alekseev, a leading officer of a heavily militarised branch of the GRU – Russia’s military intelligence directorate, has now assumed command of Russia’s spy operations in Ukraine after Putin reportedly dropped the FSB – Russia’s domestic intelligence service – from its role following the disastrous start to the war.

The strategic change represents a significant shift in the leadership of Moscow’s ‘special military operation’, and was publicly acknowledged for the first time last week when the pro-Putin Tsargrad TV channel identified Alekseev as the top spy general overseeing intelligence operations. 

Lieutenant General Alekseev, who is Ukrainian-born, was a former Spetsnaz special forces operative and has a reputation for brutality during Russian military action in Syria and the Donbas region, according to Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) senior fellows Irina Borogan and Andrei Soldatov.

The Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence lists Alekseev as a  ‘Ukrainian-born international criminal involved in the massacre of Syrian children and women who continues to faithfully serve the Putin regime and is directly involved in the destruction of his homeland’.

But the Lieutenant General was awarded the title of ‘Hero of the Russian Federation’ by Putin in 2017 for ‘courage and heroism displayed in the course of military duties’.

Alekseev’s appointment to head of intelligence operations in Ukraine is the latest in a series of personnel changes.

His promotion comes almost a month after the ‘Butcher of Syria’ – Captain General Aleksandr Dvornikov – was drafted in to lead Russia’s faltering war effort in early April.

Vladimir Alekseev, a leading officer of a heavily militarised branch of the GRU – Russia’s military intelligence directorate, has now assumed command of Russia’s spy operations in Ukraine after Putin reportedly dropped the FSB – Russia’s domestic intelligence service – from its role following the disastrous start to the war

Alekseev is now leading intelligence-gathering operations in Ukraine, where Putin's forces are launching an all-out assault to seize territory in the eastern Donbas region (Ukrainian firefighters putting out a fire after Russian missiles hit a school in eastern Ukraine's Luhansk region in the Donbas on May, 7, 2022)

Alekseev is now leading intelligence-gathering operations in Ukraine, where Putin’s forces are launching an all-out assault to seize territory in the eastern Donbas region (Ukrainian firefighters putting out a fire after Russian missiles hit a school in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk region in the Donbas on May, 7, 2022)

Women stand next to a damaged apartment building after the recent Russian airstrike, in Kramatorsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, 06 May 2022

Women stand next to a damaged apartment building after the recent Russian airstrike, in Kramatorsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, 06 May 2022

Captain General Aleksandr Dvornikov, dubbed by some as the 'Butcher of Syria', has been ordered by the Kremlin to seize the whole of Ukraine's eastern Donbas

Captain General Aleksandr Dvornikov, dubbed by some as the ‘Butcher of Syria’, has been ordered by the Kremlin to seize the whole of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas

Servicemen of Russian Army and Donetsk People's Republic militia guard the camp where local residents who left a shelter in the Metallurgical Combine Azovstal temporary staying in Bezimenne, in territory under the government of the Donetsk People's Republic, eastern Ukraine, Friday, May 6, 2022

Servicemen of Russian Army and Donetsk People’s Republic militia guard the camp where local residents who left a shelter in the Metallurgical Combine Azovstal temporary staying in Bezimenne, in territory under the government of the Donetsk People’s Republic, eastern Ukraine, Friday, May 6, 2022

Besides his fearsome reputation for brutality in Syria and military operations in the Donbas region from 2014 onwards, Alekseev is widely believed to have ordered the poisoning of Russian double agent Skripal with the now-infamous chemical weapon Novichok in Salisbury in 2018.

Three GRU operatives, going by the aliases of Sergei Fedotov, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, were accused of attempted murder when they smeared Novichok on Skripal’s front door.

Skripal and his daughter Yulia both survived but were taken seriously ill following the attack.

British police officer Nick Bailey and Salisbury resident Charlie Rowley also sustained injuries, while Rowley’s partner, 44-year-old Dawn Sturgess, died from exposure to the nerve agent.

Who is Lieutenant General Vladimir Alekseev?

Vladimir Stepanovich Alekseev is the First Deputy Chief of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service.

He was born on April 24, 1961 in the Ukrainian village of Golodki in the Vinnytsia region.

But he went into build a military career in the former Soviet Union and is now a leading figure overseeing Russia’s war in Ukraine.

He graduated from Russia’s V.F. Margelov Ryazan Higher Airborne Command School in 1984, before entering into service as an operative with the Spetsnaz – Russia’s feared special forces.

He later served as head of the intelligence departments of the Moscow and Far Eastern military districts, before being appointed head of the GRU’s 14th department and becoming the First Deputy Chief of the organisation in 2011.

Fedotov, Petrov and Borishov – whose real names are Denis Sergeev, Alexander Mishkin and Anatoly Chepiga – were all high-ranking GRU officers but operated under the command of Alekseev at the time of the March 2018 attack. 

CEPA senior fellows Borogan and Soldatov said Alekseev and the GRU were brought in to replace the FSB as the lead intelligence-gathering service for the war in Ukraine because Putin was dissatisfied with the quality of the information on which his invasion was based.

‘Until now, Ukraine had been the responsibility of the 5th service of the FSB… The disastrous start to the war and by the absence of popular uprisings by Russian speakers – which Putin was told would occur – cast a dark shadow over the department,’ they said.

Putin was said to be enraged by the poor intelligence sourced by the FSB – so much so that he ordered the arrest and detention of the organisation’s general Sergei Beseda.

Beseda spent several weeks languishing in the infamous Lefortovo prison, where Stalin’s secret police interrogated and tortured their captives and where Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was recently sentenced to a nine-year prison sentence on trumped-up charges of corruption.

The disgraced chief has since been spotted back at FSB, according to CEPA, but his apparent reinstatement is likely nothing more than a Putin ploy to save face, as the Russian leader could not afford to admit that his ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine was failing.

In addition to promoting Alekseev, Putin appointed Captain General Aleksandr Dvornikov, dubbed by some as the ‘Butcher of Syria’, to lead the Russian offensive on Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region after the first disastrous six weeks of Moscow’s invasion saw thousands of Russian troops sent to their deaths and scores of tanks destroyed.

Officers identified the third Salisbury poisoning suspect as Sergey Fedotov (real name Denis Sergeev) and said he was a Russian national, aged about 50. This image is taken from his travel documents

Officers identified the third Salisbury poisoning suspect as Sergey Fedotov (real name Denis Sergeev) and said he was a Russian national, aged about 50. This image is taken from his travel documents 

Alexander Petrov (left) and Ruslan Boshirov (right), the two other Russian military intelligence officers accused of carrying out the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter

Alexander Petrov (left) and Ruslan Boshirov (right), the two other Russian military intelligence officers accused of carrying out the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter

Sergei Skripal - seen with his daughter, Yulia - served as a double agent for the UK's intelligence services during the 1990s and early 2000s

Sergei Skripal – seen with his daughter, Yulia – served as a double agent for the UK’s intelligence services during the 1990s and early 2000s 

Skripal's house, where the door handle was smeared with Novichok as part of the hit which shocked the world

Skripal’s house, where the door handle was smeared with Novichok as part of the hit which shocked the world 

From 2016, Dvornikov oversaw Russia’s brutal intervention in the middle east that helped Syrian president Bashar al-Assad crush his enemies in the civil war.

During that time, chemical weapons and indiscriminate air strikes were used – resulting in thousands of civilian casualties.

His battlefield intelligence is apparently highly regarded among western generals, and he is believed to be familiar with the Donbas theatre of war – where pro-Russian separatists have been fighting Ukrainian government forces since 2014.

Dvornikov has also been given the responsibility of overseeing the Black Sea and the Crimean peninsula, which was seized by Russia in 2014. 

Analysts believe Putin wants to create a land corridor between Russia and Crimea – one of the main reasons behind the utter destruction of Mariupol, where a small contingent of Ukrainian fighters are desperately defending a final holdout in the Azovstal steel plant.

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