Documents obtained by The Grayzone reveal plans by a cell of British military-intelligence figures to organize and train a covert Ukrainian “partisan” army with explicit instructions to attack Russian targets in Crimea.
By Kit Klarenberg [originally published on The GrayZone]
On October 28th, a Ukrainian drone attack damaged the Russian Black Sea fleet’s flagship vessel in the Crimean port of Sevastopol. Moscow immediately blamed Britain for assisting and orchestrating the strike, as well as blowing up the Nord Stream pipelines – the worst acts of industrial sabotage in recent memory.
The British Ministry of Defense issued a blustery denial in response, branding the accusations “false claims of an epic scale.” Whoever was behind those specific attacks, suspicions of a British hidden hand in the destruction are not unfounded. The Grayzone has obtained leaked documents detailing British military-intelligence operatives inking an agreement with the Security Service of Ukraine’s Odessa branch, to create and train a secret Ukrainian partisan terror army.
Their plans called for the secret army to conduct sabotage and reconnaissance operations targeting Crimea on behalf of the Ukrainian Security Service (SSU) – precisely the kind of attacks witnessed in past weeks.
As The Grazyone previously reported, the same coterie of military-intelligence operatives was responsible for drawing up plans to blow up Crimea’s Kerch Bridge. That goal was fulfilled on October 8th in the form of a suicide truck bomb attack, temporarily disabling the sole connecting point between mainland Russia and Crimea, and triggering a major escalation in Moscow’s attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure.
These blueprints were produced by a military veteran named Hugh Ward, at the request of Chris Donnelly, a British military-intelligence operative best known for hatching the covert, Foreign Office-funded Integrity Initiative information warfare program.
The plans were circulated throughout Donnelly’s private transnational network of military officials, lawmakers and intelligence officials. Such high-level connections underline that he is far from a passive observer in this conflict. He has used his position and contacts to secure the resources necessary to train up the secret saboteur battalion in order to attack Russian targets in Crimea. This wrecking strategy is certain to escalate the war, and undercut any momentum toward negotiation.
Branded “support for maritime raiding operations,” the planned assault on Crimea aims to “degrade” Russia’s ability to blockade Kiev, “erode” Moscow’s “warfighting capability”, and isolate Russian land and maritime forces in Crimea by “denying resupply by sea and overland via Kerch.”
The documents obtained by The Grayzone show that these plans are conducted in close coordination with the Odessa-SSU, while a politically influential Ukrainian oligarch was tapped to fund the malign endeavor.
Since a Western-backed coup toppled Ukraine’s elected government in 2014, Donnelly has worked tirelessly to foment proxy war against Russia in Ukraine. Private memos authored by Donnelly and obtained by The Grayzone this October reveal his lust for escalation has only intensified since the Russian military invaded Ukraine in February.
In a September 21st letter to his inner circle, Donnelly fretted that the Biden administration was not wholly committed to total war with Russia. Citing public statements by officials in Washington hoping for a negotiated settlement between Ukraine and Russia, Donnelly declared (see below): “This US position must be challenged, firmly and at once.”
In a separate communique, Donnelly blasted Biden as “so unwise as to beggar belief” for warning the Ukraine conflict could lead to “armageddon.”
While The Grayzone cannot verify that the Ukrainian attacks on Crimea are the direct handiwork of Donnelly’s team, recent events closely mirror the strategies and tactics outlined in the documents this outlet has obtained. What’s more, the attacks have helped achieve the escalatory objectives pursued by both Donnelly and the British government, which successfully scuttled negotiations between Kiev and Moscow this April.
Ukrainian “partisans” trained to “shoot, move, communicate, survive”
According to the documents reviewed by The Grayzone, a private UK military company named Prevail Partners has been contracted to recruit and train the secret Ukrainian partisan fighters. Prevail was founded by special forces veterans, including former Royal Marine Brigadier and Special Boat Service commander Justin Hedges.
The company is headquartered not far from RM Hamworthy, an elite British military training centre, replete with grounds resembling city streets and an “improvised explosive device lane” to trial combat scenarios.
The program’s genesis was the product of covert lobbying conducted over the course of several months by Donnelly, an MI6 veteran named Guy Spindler, and Audrius Butkevičius, a former Lithuanian Defense Minister with longstanding ties to the Ukrainian security, military and intelligence apparatus.
Several obstacles appeared as the Prevail team launched its effort to form the secret army. First, Ukrainian officials expressed reluctance to rustle up the sizable sums demanded by Donnelly’s team, especially while Western states were pumping billions into the war effort. British officials were also skittish about farming out training services to private contractors, perhaps out of fear they would be caught in the act or even prosecuted for engaging in such provocative activity.
Within Donnelly’s clique, concerns were also raised about Prevail’s initial proposal. Alex Finnen, a member of the British Army’s Specialist Group Military Intelligence spy cell and the Foreign Office’s shadowy Russia Unit, commented in a late March email that Prevail’s offering was “very expensive for what it is,” with a forecast cost of $600,000 per partisan fighter per year – an indication the company was “in a sellers market.”
“I suspect that they have taken the first figure they thought of and then doubled it. So, there needs to be more discussion as to how and what these people are going to do,” Finnen cautioned. “Partisans live in and amongst the people. That suggests that you need people from across Ukraine, in small teams to take part as Prevail suggest ‘oblast by oblast’. How are they going to achieve this?”
After some maneuvering, a provisional agreement was drawn up on April 18th between Prevail and its implementing partner, a self-described “London-based crisis management company” named Thomas in Winslow. According to the contract, Prevail would conduct a “capacity assessment” of the Odessa-SSU’s operations, “then of other major regional SSUs and finally of the Security Services of all Ukraine,” free-of-charge.
Although this round was on the house, the assessment would ultimately be leveraged to justify a major investment in the partisan program.
This objective was clearly emphasized in a Prevail appraisal of a battalion of the Ukrainian Army’s 24th Brigade “being mobilised for deployment to the frontline.” The memo was authored by Justin Hedges after a visit he paid to a military training base in the western city of Yavoriv, near the Polish border, in late May. Hedges was accompanied to the base by British military intelligence veteran Darren Liddle and two Ukrainian special forces operatives.
The invitation to attend “did not emanate” from the Ukrainian General Staff, but “at a regional level” – a reference to the Odessa-SSU. Over the course of 36 hours at the Yavoriv base, Hedges and company observed a portion of what he described as an “inadequate” 12-day training session given to conscripts aged between 20 – 58, none of whom had prior military experience, and who would eventually be sent to Popasna, “where the Russians are currently breaking through [Ukrainian] lines.”
Hedges noted a “very low number of instructors; no set syllabus and doctrine; no in-unit experience; no planning training” on the course, with “unsound tactics being taught by inexperienced foreign trainers,” leaving the battalion “not prepared for what they face.”
He appraised that many of those present “know that when they deploy to the frontline…it will be carnage,” particularly given the previous battalion to receive the same 12-day training “suffered 60 killed within the first 3 days.”
“[This leads] to arguably unsustainable casualty rates. In my view, unsustainable from a human capital and therefore political perspective over the long-term,” Hedges complained. “This problem cannot be left unaddressed any longer; the training gap must be closed now otherwise unsustainable casualty rates, owing to inadequacy of training, may become politically decisive by forcing Zelensky to concede ground to Putin.”
By contrast, he described Prevail instructors as “all qualified and experienced” with “combat experience,” and posited Yavoriv as “suitable and secure with appropriate discipline and tradecraft.” In other words, we can help, and you need us urgently.
As an email earlier that May from Spindler to Donnelly revealed, plans were already in the works to use the base to school 40-strong groups of partisans every four weeks over six months on how to “shoot, move, communicate, survive,” along with living in the woods, and “surviving.” Trainees “with aptitude” were to be identified and tutored in “specialist modules.”
As the plan developed, the training ground at Yavoriv was transferred to undisclosed sites in Greece and Poland.
Until now, the secret British partisan program has never been mentioned by the mainstream media. And as this report makes clear, significant efforts were undertaken by all actors involved to keep the initiative concealed from public view.
Hedges, the special forces veteran, considered government funding “essential to place this programme on a very firm footing.” He imaged that sponsorship could come from Britain, the US, Ukraine, “or even from the Baltics/Nordic countries.” If “separation of government funding from the activity” was necessary, finance could be “provided by flowing ‘donations’ through Prevail’s established NGO, Rhizome Insights Ltd,” a front that serves as the company’s “current route for funding equipment and training,” and therefore allows it to remain hidden from public view.
“This is how Prevail is receiving donations from NGOs/private individuals to fund equipment and low levels of other support at this time,” Hedges explained, noting that Prevail was also discussing financing with the office of Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi, one of the wealthiest oligarchs in Ukraine and the owner of the country’s Channel 24 news network.
Donnelly takes aim at Biden for warning of nuclear “armageddon”
Chris Donnelly’s efforts at escalating the Russia-Ukraine conflict have not gone unnoticed by British officials. As recently as October 8th this year, he was enthusiastically invited by Brigadier Julian Buczacki of the British Army’s elite 1st Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Brigade to serve as key advisor to London’s Chief of Defence Staff, General Nick Carter, and David Williams, London’s principal civilian guide on defense matters.
In an email that afternoon, mere hours after the Kerch Bridge bombing, Buczacki noted he had recently been “deep in the maelstrom of crisis work” – and “on that subject,” he had recommended that Donnelly serve as “counsel of the wise” to Carter and Williams on the grounds that they would benefit from an expert in “deterrence/escalation and all that.”
“It would be pretty soon given context…I will shortly be stepping up to be ACDS [Assistant Chief of Defence Staff Military Strategy] (not yet public),” Buczacki concluded.
Donnelly promptly responded that he would be “delighted” to take up such a pivotal role in Britain’s prosecution of the proxy war. “Short notice” was “no problem,” he wrote, attaching his official British government security clearance, and two recent commentaries on the conflict in Ukraine he had circulated to his network.
The content of his commentaries makes clear Donnelly views the untold billions in weapons shipments flowing to Ukraine by Biden’s decree as insufficient, and that he worries that Biden might soon appease Putin by authorizing negotiations.
President Joseph Biden generated international headlines when he commented during a fundraiser at the home of James Murdoch, the son of right-wing media mogul Rupert Murdoch, that Putin is “not joking when he talks about potential use of tactical nuclear weapons,” and there was a very real prospect the conflict in Ukraine could “end up with Armageddon.”
In his October 8th email exchange with Brigadier Julian Buczacki, Donnelly complained that the US president’s “off-the-cuff remarks” were “so unwise as to beggar belief.”
“I’m not sure what the opposite word to ‘deterrence’ is, but Biden is actively doing that, alas,” Donnelly lamented. He argued that Putin’s threats of nuclear warfare should be considered a bluff aimed at weakening the West’s will to escalate until total victory is achieved.
Evidently, from his perspective, something had to be done to prevent Washington from authorizing a negotiated solution that would satisfy any of Russia’s terms.
A ‘human bomb’ strikes Kerch Bridge
On May 25th, Guy Spindler emailed Donnelly to report that he had spoken “a couple of times” to Butkevičius, the former Lithuanian Defense Minister. He commented that Butkevičius had “done an excellent job of unpicking Ukrainian hesitation over training support, and has now caused Prevail’s name to be fed” into the British government and its Embassy in Kiev – and therefore the Foreign Office and MI6 – “as a potential supplier.”
Spindler judged Hedges to “be feeling positive,” as British defense ministers were “reportedly no longer in principle against private sector training solutions.” The only things left to do were secure official approval for some kind of guerilla-style operations, and “ensure that our contributions” – including those of Butkevičius – were “properly compensated.”
The MI6 journeyman added that he had “very partial sight” of Hugh Ward’s “various plans” – a reference to “support for maritime raiding operations,” inviting Donnelly to “play me in as you will.” It seems the blueprint’s assorted sabotage plots are so secretive and sensitive, even senior British intelligence officials charged with overseeing the operations aren’t fully party to their details.
The Grayzone previously exposed Ward’s blueprint for attacking the Kerch Bridge connecting Crimea to the Russian mainland. According to those plans, cruise missiles, specially trained scuba teams, or underwater drones would destroy the bridge’s concrete pillars, as Ward saw them as the “weakest part” of the structure.
Though Ukraine’s SBU security services ultimately opted for a truck bomb attack, a commemorative postage stamp issued by Kiev within mere hours of the bombing depicted two explosions at precisely the points suggested by Ward. The speed with which the stamp became available strongly implies it was prepared well in advance of the attack.
Prevail fleshed out plans for alternative strategies as well. A presentation produced by the company – entitled “Kerch Bridge information pack” – proposed blowing up a vessel carrying ammonium nitrate under a portion of the bridge overlaying a shipping lane.
Prevail’s model for this attack was the August 2020 Beirut blast, in which a massive and mysteriously detonated explosion destroyed the Lebanese capital city’s port, exacting significant damage throughout surrounding neighborhoods. The private military firm approvingly noted the 552 tons of ammonium nitrate that exploded in Beirut “produced a 140m wide crater and an earthquake of a 3.3 magnitude on a Richter scale,” a quantity “much less than the 2,754 tonnes” that purportedly arrived in Crimea on a Russian-leased cargo ship in 2013.
It is unclear why the truck bombing scenario was ultimately chosen – perhaps because it provided a degree of plausible deniability to those behind the attack. Ukrainian officials, after initially celebrating the incident, are now claiming it was a Russian false flag operation.
Furthermore, in late August Russia beefed up protective measures in and around Crimea, such as moving an S-300 missile defense system to the peninsula, which may have necessitated an alternate course of action than the one originally chosen.
The bombing of the Kerch Bridge involved a vehicle packed with explosives and transported from Odessa, Ukraine to Crimea, via Bulgaria, Georgia, and Armenia, using different drivers at separate stages of the journey. The last driver was allegedly unaware of their suicide mission.
If British agents had indeed orchestrated the attack on the Kerch Bridge, they likely drew on past operations that bore eery similarities. In 2006, an NGO known as British Irish Rights Watch published testimony by anonymous former British intelligence informants revealing that MI6 had spearheaded a false flag terror strategy known as the “human bomb” in Northern Ireland.
Civilians were strapped into explosive-packed vehicles, then coerced to drive into military checkpoints, inflicting incendiary attacks on targets that killed soldiers and civilians alike. The wave of bombing strikes inflamed local tensions, and provided justification for draconian British state repression of the province’s Catholic population.
“It is known that at least two security force agents were involved in these bombings and allegations have been made that the human bomb strategy was the brainchild of British intelligence [emphasis added],” British Irish Rights Watch stated in an accompanying report.
Given the contents of the leaked material reviewed by The Grayzone, it is striking that the explosives used to target the Kerch Bridge originated in Odessa. Located just across the Black Sea from Crimea, this city hosted the SSU unit that served as the basis for Donnelly and Prevail’s secret terror army.
Russian officials have long stated that they consider Crimea to be Russian territory, and that any attack on it would cross a bright red line and elicit an escalatory response. When Donnelly and his team outlined plans to establish a secret Ukrainian “partisan” army, it seems this was precisely what they set out to do.