A report published Monday claims that Russian President Vladimir Putin hired more than 400 mercenaries from a well-known private military organization to hunt down and assassinate Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“More than 400 Russian mercenaries are operating in Kyiv with orders from the Kremlin to assassinate President Zelensky and his government and prepare the ground for Moscow to take control,” the Times of London reported.
“The Wagner Group, a private militia run by one of President Putin’s closest allies and operating as an arm-length branch of the state, flew in mercenaries from Africa five weeks ago on a mission to decapitate Zelensky’s government in return for a handsome financial bonus,” the paper continued.
“Information about their mission reached the Ukrainian government on Saturday morning and hours later Kyiv declared a 36-hour ‘hard’ curfew to sweep the city for Russian saboteurs, warning civilians that they would be seen as Kremlin agents and risked being ‘liquidated’ if they stepped outside,” the report added.
Said a tweet from former boxing heavyweight champion Vitali Klitchko, the mayor of Kyiv: “Warning! From today, February 26, 2022, the curfew will run from 5:00 pm to 8:00 am for more effective defense of the capital and security of its inhabitants. This curfew is introduced until the morning of February 28. All civilians who will be on the street during the curfew will be considered members of the enemy’s sabotage and reconnaissance groups. Please treat the situation with understanding and do not go outside.”
Усі цивільні особи, що перебуватимуть на вулиці в період комендантської години, вважатимуться членами диверсійно-розвідувальних груп ворога.
Прошу із розумінням поставитися до ситуації та не виходити на вулиці.
— Віталій Кличко (@Vitaliy_Klychko) February 26, 2022
The mercenaries’ objective, according to Ukrainian intelligence officials, was to eliminate Zelenskyy ahead of a ground invasion into the country that Russia finally launched on Thursday.
Former U.S. intelligence officials suggested to Fox News that the mercs may have been sent to Kyiv months ago as the invasion was still being planned and that getting rid of the Ukrainian leader was only part of their mission:
Former U.S. intelligence officials speculated to Fox News Digital that these mercenaries more likely have been operating in Kyiv for months because Russian President Vladimir Putin required on-the-ground intelligence in the Ukrainian capital in advance of the planned invasion that began five days ago.
One official said deploying the Wagner Group to assassinate Zelenskyy gives Putin the option to say, “that wasn’t me.” A second former U.S. official added that having the Wagner Group carry out judicial killings in Kyiv, perhaps by using a nerve agent or something non-traceable, could be the Russian government’s tactic because “something not attributable is an option Putin would want to have.”
Putin justified the invasion of Ukraine last week by claiming that the former Soviet state which elected a Jewish president was overrun with Nazis and needed to be purified. Putin also claimed that Ukraine is an “inalienable part” of Russia.
“Ukraine is not just a neighboring country for us. It is an inalienable part of our own history, culture, and spiritual space. Since time immemorial, the people living in the southwest of what has historically been Russian land have called themselves Russians,” Putin said.
The Wagner Group was associated with an attack on American forces in Syria in 2019, according to The New York Times, in which hundreds of them were killed.
“The Russian high command in Syria assured us it was not their people,” then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senators in testimony last month. He also said he directed Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “for the force, then, to be annihilated.”
“And it was,” he said, the Times reported.