Transparency group Distributed Denial of Secrets has published some 175 gigabytes of leaked documents obtained by hackers from Russian ministries and authorities last month, many of which show evidence of the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine.
Journalist and group co-founder Emma Best told Hromadske that this information could confirm certain theories about Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
Hromadske has analyzed more than 100 gigabytes of the materials.
Destabilization in Ukraine’s Regions
Some of the materials, which include correspondence and documents, center on Russia’s destabilization of the situation in Ukraine’s regions – particularly Kharkiv, Odesa, Dnipro, Zaporizhia, Kherson and Mykolaiv – between 2014 and 2016.
According to the materials, people with emails that had Russian domains hired residents from several regions to hold rallies, create provocative groups on social media as well as public organizations with patriotic names and slogans, pay for articles in Ukrainian media and create their own small information resources.
Pro-Russian separatist rally in Donetsk, March 9, 2014. Photo: EPA / PHOTOMIG
One of the these was called “Kolokol”, which, according to the register of legal entities, was headed by Yuriy Vladimirovich Kovalev from the Sumy region.
A person with the email [email protected] was among those organizing and financing this. According to the International Intelligence Community InformNapalm, which investigated previous hacker leaks, this mailbox belonged to Inal Ardzinba, first deputy to Russian presidential aide Vladislav Surkov. This is evidenced by materials from the trial of the chief editor of a pro-Russian website Infocenter, who’s been convicted under the article on separatism. In the court document, the address [email protected] is said to belong to Inal Ardzinba.
After analyzing the correspondence, Hromadske can conclude that the owner of this email supervised and financed autonomist projects Slobozhanshchina, Porto-Franko, People's Republic of Bessarabia and People's Rada of Mykolaiv. The email owner also helped organize groups that would be tasked with making changes to Ukraine’s constitution.
It’s likely the letters published by hackers came from mailboxes assigned to Surkov. It can be argued that he also actively monitored projects related to developing draft amendments to Ukraine’s constitution and voting on Ukrainian deputies.
It’s also clear from the materials that the owner of the e-mail tracked the activities of the pro-Russian Opposition Bloc. A document in the emails featured a list of deputies who would support “autonomist” projects organized by Ardzinba. Among them were Yuriy Boyko, Vadym Rabynovych, Yevhen Muraiev, Mikhail Papiyev, Nikolai Skorik, Oleksandr Vilkul, Nestor Shufrych, Natalia Korolevska and Mykhailo Dobkin. Deputies from other factions, including Dmitry Lubinets, Oksana Prodan, Nikolai Lavrik, among others, were also on the list.
Former leader of the militants of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Russian citizen Igor Girkin (Strelkov) in Donetsk, Ukraine on July 15, 2015. Girkin is on the list of suspects in the investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in the Donbas. Photo: EPA / PHOTOMIG
Hromadske also found information on Ukrainian politicians and businessmen, included Serhiy Kurchenko, Oleg Tsaryov and Viktor Pinchuk visiting Surkov in 2013 and 2014.
Hackers also leaked correspondence from the domain igo-strelko_yandex_ru.mbox, which is presumed to belong to Igor Strelkov, a key figure in Russia’s occupation in Ukraine. Strelkov for several months led militants in Slavyansk, then later headed the so-called “militia forces” in Donetsk and the so-called “army” of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. The correspondence materials are addressed to a man named Igor, who discusses his close ties with the self-proclaimed head of annexed Crimea, Sergey Aksyonov, and says that he had not been in Moscow for a long time because he was overwhelmed with work.
In some of these exchanges he is also asked for help in obtaining Russian citizenship, warned about dangers and being murdered.
It appears there were also letters from what is presumed to be the so-called ministry of infrastructure of the DPR” that discuss the need for a Kerch Bridge, which connects Russia to the occupied Crimean peninsula. Meanwhile, letters from so-called ministry of information policy issued orders banning the broadcast of Ukrainian TV channels.
Leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic Denis Pushilin (C) at the funeral of his guard Maxim Petrukhin in Makiivka, Donetsk region, Ukraine, June 9, 2014. Photo: EPA / VALENTINA SVISTUNOVA
Furthermore, there were letters from the self-proclaimed DPR leader Denis Pushilin addressed to Russia’s presidential administration, asking for humanitarian aid and to the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church seeking to meet and discuss protection from the church for representatives of the self-proclaimed republics.
Pushilin repeatedly sent letters to Surkov’s office, in which he reported on the activities of the republic and consulted on the election of fitting individuals to the self-proclaimed DPR government.
Malaysia Flight MH-17
Hromadske also found correspondence from an email that could belong to Tatyana Yegorova, the speaker of the self-proclaimed DPR. That was where letters from media seeking accreditation were sent. Some emails had references to Malaysia Airlines flight MH-17, which was downed by Russia-backed separatists in Donbas in 2014. There was specific monitoring of media reports and exchanges with a Dutch war crimes and MH-17 case researcher Max van der Werff.
The catastrophe is also mentioned in Viber messages of two DPR representatives, one of whom allegedly is Roman Pozdnyakov, while the second is an unknown user called “Petrovich”.
One of the interlocutors asks for operational information about the fall of the boeing and the other sends an email address - [email protected]. Then the user writes: “Give Denis (presumably Pushilin - ed.) the recording of an eyewitness who saw [the self-propelled artillery.]”
A folder called “MIL DOCUMENTS” with materials from Russia’s Ministry of Defense was also leaked. In addition to the layout of military units, bases and training reports, it contains a document called “operation Troya”, which talks about a plan to destabilize the situation in the Zaporizhia region and capture the cities of Melitopol, Berdyansk, Vasylivka, Zaporizhia.
Further plans for capturing other regions are also discussed.
Destabilization rally in Zaporizhia
“If we simultaneously carry out similar operations in the direction of Odesa and Kharkiv, we will get complete control of the sea coast, and accordingly an uncontrolled flow of all that’s needed ...which will most likely allow for the complete defeat of the Ukrainian army and punitive detachments within a relatively short period of time,” one document reads. “This will allow us to take the Kherson and Mykolayiv regions under control almost unhindered.”
It is noted that this plan will be implemented in several stages, which will include blocking of road and sea routes, camouflaging the army, media coverage, bribing law enforcement officers and so on. In April 2018, British publication The Times reported on this operation, referring to the earlier hacker leaks of documents from the domain of President Vladimir Putin’s administration.
Crimean Wine, Catering and Church Affairs
The files also contain information about banking operations and correspondence about the economic situation in Russia.
A significant part of the letters and documents in the “bank” folder is devoted to the wine-making business, in particular, its shift from Crimea to Russia and the rationale for adopting Russia’s law on grapes and grape wine. There was close monitoring of how Crimean winemakers united in a non-profit partnership and released a new collection of “Crimea-Russia” champagne.
Former leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic Aleksandr Zakharchenko (C) after his “inauguration” in occupied Donetsk, Ukraine on November 4, 2014. Photo: EPA / ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO
Among the released files are reports from catering services that presumably mention Russian restaurant business owner Evgeny Prigozhin, also known as “Putin’s chef.” Some food items have “E.V. (Evgeny Viktorovich Prigozhin is Prigozhin’s full name -ed.) didn’t have any complaints” written next to them.
Other documents feature conversations about church affairs where the head of the association of Orthodox experts Kirill Frolov presumably talks with representatives of Ukraine Church’s Moscow Patriarchate and mentions that he’s responsible for the “religious information campaign.” Frolov is an outspoken critic of Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko and its course toward the European Union integration.