Russian general killed and clutch of spy chiefs arrested

Detentions could signal start of purge of FSB intelligence officials who provided intelligence before Ukraine invasion

A view of the general office of the FSB building in Moscow, Russia. Getty Images
Powered by automated translation

Update: Top Russian airborne commander killed in Ukraine in further blow to Putin

A leading Russian battlefield commander has been killed and two Russian security officials have been placed under house arrest as reverses appear set to trigger a purge of intelligence officials.

The setbacks for Russia on Friday were capped by reports Maj Gen Andrei Kolesnikov, commander of the Russian 29th Army, had been killed in action. He is the third general to have died since the invasion, with security officials suggesting that more senior officers were going to the front line to give impetus to stalled attacks.

The development came alongside what could be the start of a purge in the Federal Security Service (FSB), with western security officials suggesting “significant changes” had begun following Russia’s intelligence failures in Ukraine.

Col Gen Sergei Beseda, head of the foreign intelligence branch of the FSB, the Fifth Service, was arrested alongside his deputy, Anatoly Bolyukh, a tweet from Andrey Soldatov, a well-regarded writer on the Russian security services, said.

The pair are understood to have provided key intelligence on Ukraine’s reaction to a Russian invasion and reportedly suggested the assault would be swift and successful.

If they have been detained, western security officials said it means President Vladimir Putin is “seriously concerned” about the flawed intelligence on Ukraine.

“Both men have played a major role in intelligence operations against Ukraine for several years and highly likely played a major role in the planning for the invasion of Ukraine,” a western official said in a press briefing.

“If the claims of arrest are correct, this would indicate that Putin is seriously concerned about the FSB, its role in the military campaign and there could be significant changes at senior levels in the FSB.”

It is claimed that Col Gen Beseda, 68, was arrested for providing flawed intelligence before the invasion and for the misuse of funds allocated to subversive operations.

The FSB’s Fifth Service is the organisation that gave Mr Putin information on the political situation in Ukraine, which may have suggested that the Kyiv government would rapidly collapse and be easily replaced with Russian puppets.

The officer’s unit is part of the Department of Operative Information (DOI) and is referred to officially as the Service of Operational Information and International Relations. It is effectively the FSB’s foreign intelligence branch that usually operates in countries along Russia’s borders.

Western officials say Mr Bolyukh was head of the DOI Directorate.

There are understood to be 20 generals of the same rank commanding divisions and other units in the Ukraine.

Losing 15 per cent of its most senior commanders two weeks into an invasion is highly unusual and is likely to have an impact on morale and well as operational co-ordination.

Western officials also agreed with the estimate that between 5,000 and 6,000 Russian soldiers had been killed since 24 February.

They added that there were now “significant morale issues in the Russian forces”, as combat in austere conditions stretches into its third week.

Updated: March 18, 2022, 2:31 PM