Budanov knows this will be a trying year for Ukraine
“To say that everything is fine is not true,” Budanov said when asked about Ukraine’s much-vaunted counteroffensive last year failing to achieve its objectives. “To say that there is a catastrophe is also not true.” Ukraine will still manage to keep Putin at bay, he predicted, and has already proved that “the whole legend of [Russia’s] power is a soap bubble”.
As head of the defence ministry’s Main Intelligence Unit (GUR), Budanov has masterminded Ukraine’s covert war against Russia, becoming one of the most lionised figures in Kyiv’s fightback.
Budanov’s métier is running attacks behind enemy lines in Russian-occupied territory and Russia itself. But the spy chief rarely takes credit for them, keeping Moscow and the rest of the world guessing about his directorate’s reach and abilities.
The brazen tactics have at times irked Ukraine’s western backers; some fear it will provoke a brutal and perhaps even nuclear response from Russian President Vladimir Putin. The spy chief is unmoved by such concerns and vows to keep operating deep inside Russia to sabotage Putin’s war machine.
Have the brazen tactics irked Ukraine’s western backers?
“We do not foresee any drastic changes in the near future,” Budanov said. “Everything we have done, we will continue to do.”
A former special forces soldier who fought in the Donbas in 2014, Budanov has himself taken part in secret missions, including in the occupied Crimean peninsula.
He was appointed to run the GUR by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in 2020. His covert operations — the Kremlin blamed the GUR for an explosion on the Crimean bridge in October 2022 — have revitalised the agency, which long played second fiddle to Ukraine’s much larger domestic security service, the SBU. For this Budanov enjoys an almost cult status among Ukrainians, who share memes with his likeness on social media when military equipment explodes in Russia or Russian-controlled areas.
Budanov was reluctant to offer an assessment of Ukraine’s current military operations, deferring to the army’s general staff.
But he warned “it is not even conceivable to think that we can do without mobilisation” — echoing the top brass’s call for more recruits. “The shortage [of manpower] is palpable,” he said.
Zelenskyy has said his army chiefs asked him to mobilise about 400,000 to 500,000 new soldiers to replace those killed or wounded, and to rest those involved in the most intense fighting.
A year ago, Budanov predicted Ukrainian forces, riding high from successful 2022 counteroffensives that liberated much of the Kharkiv and Kherson regions, would push on all the way to Crimea.
According to Budanov they did take back Crimea- which was the claim!
Although the original plans suggested something different, we kept our promise. This summer, our units repeatedly entered Crimea,”he said, referring to his commandos sneaking on to the peninsula to carry out raids on Russian bases.
Budanov makes fabulous claims according to Financial Times
This brings Budanov to a kind of intervention he is well known for: dramatic assertions that are almost impossible to verify.
Wagner exists,” Budanov said, dismissing reports that it had been dismantled. “And speaking of Prigozhin, I wouldn’t be so fast with conclusions,” he said in reference to the warlord’s reported death in a plane crash last year — an apparent assassination the west believes was ordered by Putin. The Kremlin denied involvement and said DNA proved Prigozhin died. But his body was never seen publicly.
“I’m not saying that he’s not dead or that he’s dead,” Budanov said. “I’m saying that there’s not a single piece of evidence that he’s dead.”
Another favourite Budanov hobbyhorse is the health of Putin. In the past he has claimed Russia’s president has cancer, and Budanov insists he regularly sees “clones” of Putin on television.
Asked for evidence, Budanov said his analysts study Putin’s “physiognomy . . . ear lobes, the distance between the eyebrows, and so on”.
“It’s not that difficult. You can easily do this yourself,” he added, shrugging as if to suggest that the lookalikes were an obvious ruse.
He is a spook. A spy. He has an understanding of covert ops. And covering up the reality to present an illusory version of what really happened. I’m not saying Prighozin is alive. I’m not suggesting politicians do or don’t employ body doubles. It seems to me that Financial Times is intentionally calling these fantastic claims, to avert attention from the fact that this is the reality in the world of covert ops and international intrigue.
Finally returning to the subject of the war, Budanov declined to make any bold predictions for 2024. “No,” he said. “I hope that our success will be greater than theirs.” Then he slipped out of the darkened room.
Budanov is a spy master- If Zelensky places him in the military leadership role, one can expect an increase in covert ops. Deadly covert ops. Including attacks on Russian civilians and territory. With deeper involvement of the CIA and other intelligence agencies. (MI5, Mossad)