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Monday, March 20, 2023

Investigative Stories from Ukraine: Leaked document reveals alleged Kremlin plan to take over Belarus by 2030

by Alexander KhrebetFebruary 22, 2023 2:41 pm

Investigative Stories from Ukraine: Leaked document reveals alleged Kremlin plan to take over Belarus by 2030Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko (R) shake hands at their joint press conference at the Palace of Independence on December 19, 2022, in Minsk, Belarus. Putin is having a one-day visit to Belarus to discuss military and economic cooperation. (Getty Images)

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The Kyiv Independent’s exclusive


Leaked document reveals alleged Kremlin plan to take over Belarus by 2030

A group of U.S. and European media outlets, including the Kyiv Independent, has obtained a 17-page document allegedly detailing Russia’s plans to subjugate Belarus and dismantle its independence.

The document details Russia's future steps to take full control of Belarusian political, economic, and military spheres by the end of the decade.

According to the document, by 2030, Belarus should have a single currency and tax system with Russia, and its media space must be under Russian control. The Belarusian army must comply with Russian regulations, while all key military production must be transferred from Belarus to Russia.

According to representatives of one Western intelligence service, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the two-part document is the joint effort of several agencies: Russia's domestic, foreign, and military intelligence services worked on the draft strategy presented in the leaked files.

The source alleges that the document was created in 2021 by the Kremlin's Directorate for Cross-Border Cooperation. According to the leaked document, Russia’s end goal is to finalize the merger of Russia and Belarus into a Moscow-run Union State by 2030.

Read the full story in English here.

Other investigative stories


Media: Russian branch of French retailer Auchan supplies aid to Russian troops

The Russian branch of French retailer Auchan has been providing Russian forces with supplies under the guise of humanitarian aid, according to a joint investigation by Le Monde, Bellingcat, and Insider.

Under international law, humanitarian aid can only be supplied to civilians.

The goods, including men's socks, cigarettes, lighters, and razors, were collected from Auchan warehouses and volunteer-setup drop-off points in Auchan stores across Russia.

Auchan executives in Russia reportedly coordinated with military enlistment officers to conscript employees of 230 chain stores in Russia.

The story is based on leaked emails, photos and videos from social media, and eyewitness accounts.

Aiding the Russian military puts the company at risk of sanctions. Russia's market makes up 10% of Auchan's annual turnover and is worth around 3.2 billion euros.

Auchan CEO Yves Claude said in March 2022 that the chain wouldn't withdraw from Russia following the country's full-scale invasion of Ukraine like other companies did. Later, Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called on people to boycott Auchan and all companies which continued to do business in Russia despite its aggression against Ukraine.

Watch the investigation in English here.

Bellingcat identifies Wagner fighters killed in Ukraine as Russian crime bosses

Bellingcat, a Netherlands-based investigative media outlet, identified three Wagner Group mercenaries killed in Russia’s war against Ukraine as leaders of organized crime groups from the 1990s.

All three were recruited in Russian prisons by the Wagner Group, a Kremlin-backed mercenary company. They were Sergei Maksimenko, 59, Andrey Berezhnykh, 55, and Igor Kusk, 55.

According to the report, the three inmates joined Russia’s war effort against Ukraine in a bid to get pardoned – something that Wagner’s leader Yevgeny Prigozhin has been reportedly promising inmates in exchange for fighting.

In 2013, Berezhnykh, then-leader of a small gang operating in Russia’s Saratov region, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for murder and other crimes. Berezhnykh and his gang reportedly killed several people, including local business owners.

Maksimenko was also serving a 25-year sentence when Wagner recruited him. His crime group was reportedly involved in pimping, extortion, and murders. In the early 2000s, the group committed several murders, mainly of local business owners and leaders of rival criminal organizations.

Kusk, a former Russian soldier, has been serving a 23-year prison sentence since 2015. He led a criminal group named after him, together with some Soviet-Afghan War veterans, in Russia’s Tatarstan region. As of the late 1990s, the gang was engaged in low-profile crimes and contract killings. The group was responsible for the murder of two general directors of the local construction company, according to Bellingcat.

Read the full story in English here.

Ukrainska Pravda: Top official's brother buys real estate he couldn't afford

Ihor Smirnov, the brother of a deputy head of Ukraine's President's Office, Andrii Smirnov, went on a spending spree in 2022 that didn't appear to correlate with his income, an investigation by Ukrainska Pravda found.

Ihor Smirnov earns a living as a used car broker, according to his brother. Since 2021, he has also been a security advisor at Ukraine's Agricultural Fund, a state agency. It's not clear how he qualified for the position.

In 2022, Ihor Smirnov bought a luxurious apartment in Lviv and a land plot in the Carpathian Mountains. In both cases, he paid a suspiciously low price: four times below the market for the apartment and ten times below the market for the land.

Smirnov bought a 100-square-meter apartment worth $164,000 for roughly $32,000. A land plot in the Carpathian Mountains cost him just $290. The market price for a land plot of that size would be around $30,000, according to the investigation.

The low prices could be put in the contracts to lower the taxes, while the remainder of the sum exchanged hands under the table, according to the investigation.

The story alleges that Andrii Smirnov could have bought the real estate for himself under his brother's name, so it goes unnoticed, or received it as a bribe.

Both Andrii and Ihor Smirnovs denied any wrongdoing but were unable to coherently explain where the money for these purchases came from. The official said he lent some money to his brother.

Watch the full story in the Ukrainian language here.

Nashi Groshi: City council buys generators at inflated prices

In early February, the emergency department of the Mykolaiv city council bought 67 generators at an inflated price, bypassing a public tender, according to Nashi Groshi, a procurement watchdog.

The city ended up spending $322,000 on the generators that can be bought online over 60% cheaper than their contract price.

Read the full story in Ukrainian via the link.



Mykolaiv Mayor orders internal audit following media report revealing overpriced generators purchase

The Mayor of Mykolaiv, Oleksandr Sienkevych, said he had ordered an internal audit following a journalist investigation that revealed the city buying overpriced generators without public bidding.

Sienkevych suspended the head of the emergency department of the city council that placed the order for the time of the investigation.

SAPO probes lawmaker for alleged illicit enrichment following journalist investigation

The Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office (SAPO) opened a probe into the alleged illicit enrichment of a lawmaker Pavlo Khalimon, ex-deputy head of President Volodymyr Zelensky's Servant of the People party faction.

SAPO started looking into Khalimon following a story by Ukrainska Pravda.

According to the publication, Khalimon bought a house for Hr 10 million ($270,000) in June 2022, five to six times cheaper than the asking prices for similar houses nearby. He allegedly registered it under the name of his girlfriend in an attempt to conceal the purchase.

"We expect that this case will be quickly investigated, and the property confiscated to benefit the citizens of Ukraine," Oleksandr Novikov, head of SAPO, told Ukrainska Pravda.

In early February, National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NAPC) found that in 2020, Khalimon had also failed to declare real estate used by his family members, including an apartment and two houses.

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Alexander Khrebet
Alexander Khrebet

Alexander is a reporter at The Kyiv Independent. He has previously covered Ukrainian foreign policy, the Middle East and North Africa. He was published in the ZN.UA, The Washington Times, Atlantic Council.

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