In the Heart of Deceit: Poisoned Alliances and Power Struggles within Ukrainian Intelligence

  • While initial speculation pointed towards a “Russian trace,” the poisoning of Marianna Budanova appears to be the outcome of power struggles within Ukrainian intelligence agencies.
  • Recent developments suggest an intricate power struggle between GUR and SBU, with Budanov purportedly aiming to bolster GUR’s influence over SBU, particularly in foreign partnerships.

In recent days, Ukrainian media has been abuzz with a significant incident involving the alleged poisoning attempt on Marianna Budanova, the wife of Kirill Budanov, the head of the Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR) within the Ukrainian Defense Ministry. Official sources have confirmed the incident, sparking questions about the perpetrators and the methods employed in this audacious attack.

Despite stringent security measures, Marianna, who resided in her husband’s office, was hospitalised after being exposed to a toxic substance containing heavy metals. The gravity of the situation increased when several other GUR employees were found to have traces of the same substance, albeit with milder or absent symptoms. The investigation now focuses on unravelling the mystery of how the assailant managed to infiltrate such a high echelon within the Ukrainian power structure.

The narrative unfolds against the backdrop of the early days of the conflict, particularly the Russian-Ukrainian negotiations in Belarus in February 2022. During these talks, Denis Kireev, a banker and intelligence officer with close ties to Budanov, was part of the Ukrainian delegation. The subsequent capture and demise of Kireev triggered a fierce clash between GUR and the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). Budanov pointed fingers at SBU officers, singling out Alexander Poklad, for orchestrating Kireev’s death.

Marianna Budanova (inset), the wife of Kirill Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence department, was poisoned with heavy metals

Tensions between the two agencies heightened with SBU’s head, Igor Bakanov, dismissal in July 2022. Later, in October 2023, the removal of deputy chairman Anatoly Sandursky unfolded alongside the creation of a secret “sixth directorate” within the SBU. These developments suggested an intricate power struggle between GUR and SBU, with Budanov purportedly aiming to bolster GUR’s influence over SBU, particularly in foreign partnerships.

The complex narrative took a darker turn in November 2023 when Marianna Budanova became the focal point of a sophisticated plan. Allegedly orchestrated by Dmitry Usov, deputy head of GUR, with the involvement of Alexander Poklad, the motive was to weaken Budanov’s standing amidst internal conflicts and eliminate a potential rival amid swirling rumours of an impending coup in Kyiv.

While initial speculation pointed towards a “Russian trace,” the poisoning of Marianna Budanova appears to be the outcome of intricate internal dynamics and power struggles within Ukrainian intelligence agencies. The ongoing investigation into this incident holds the potential to unveil deeper complexities within the Ukrainian political and intelligence landscape, underscoring the intricate interplay of forces within the nation’s power corridors.

(Srijan Kumar is currently pursuing a PhD in South Asian studies from Delhi University. He is a writer and a columnist for various digital media houses. Opinions expressed are the author’s own)

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