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Budanov: Enigmatic Ukraine spy chief behind attacks inside Russia

Months before Russia's invasion Kyrylo Budanov predicted a large-scale attack when the rest of the world was in denial about Moscow's intentions
Months before Russia's invasion Kyrylo Budanov predicted a large-scale attack when the rest of the world was in denial about Moscow's intentions - Copyright UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE/AFP Handout
Months before Russia's invasion Kyrylo Budanov predicted a large-scale attack when the rest of the world was in denial about Moscow's intentions - Copyright UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE/AFP Handout

Enigmatic and unflappable, spy chief Kyrylo Budanov has built up a legendary reputation in Ukraine with a series of daring operations against Russia.

Referred to as the man “without a smile” by Ukrainian news outlet NV, the 38-year-old is credited with attacks in occupied areas and deep inside Russia.

He is now among the rumoured contenders to replace popular military commander in chief Valery Zaluzhny if President Volodymyr Zelensky dismisses him.

Budanov was unknown to the public when he was appointed to head of the GUR military intelligence service in August 2020.

The war has changed all that.

At an international conference in Kyiv in September 2023, he received a standing ovation even before his speech and officials crowded to take his photo.

– Injured three times – 

Originally from Kyiv, he did his initial studies at the faculty of airborne troops in Odesa.

When Russia stoked a separatist conflict in the east of the country in 2014, he was deployed there.

The only scrap of information about his activities there that has been made public is that he took part in a commando raid in Moscow-annexed Crimea in 2016 in which some Russian agents were killed.

Budanov himself does not say much about his service except for revealing that he was injured three times — including once with shrapnel close to his heart.

A gunshot wound to the elbow has left him with a visible stiffness in his right arm.

According to a GUR spokesman, he has been the target of “more than 10” attacks.

In 2019, his car exploded in Kyiv — an attack attributed at the time to Russian security services.

He became one of Ukraine’s youngest generals aged 35.

Months before Russia’s invasion in February 2022, he predicted a large-scale attack when the rest of the world was in denial about Moscow’s intentions.

Since the war began, he has given interviews from a spartan office — sometimes with a map of a fragmented Russia visible behind him.

“We are going to win against the ‘great and invincible’ Russian army like David won against Goliath,” Budanov has said.

He is described by supporters as a master of asymmetrical warfare.

But his prediction that Ukrainian troops would enter Crimea in 2023 failed to materialise and the front line has remained largely static since the end of 2022.

– Attacks on Russia –

Budanov, dubbed “Buddhanov” by Ukrainian media for his calm demeanour, has claimed several operations inside Russia, including a drone strike in January on an oil refinery in St Petersburg — far from the front line.

Moscow also accuses the GUR of orchestrating an explosion in October 2022 that partially destroyed the bridge linking the occupied Crimean peninsula to Russia.

Budanov and his men are favourite targets for the Kremlin.

Since the start of the invasion, Russia has at least twice targeted the military intelligence headquarters in Kyiv, claiming in May 2023 to have killed Budanov.

According to the GUR, his wife Marianna was poisoned last November but survived.

That has failed to stop Budanov.

“The number of attacks against Russian infrastructure will probably multiply,” he said on February 1.

A few hours later, his agency claimed to have sunk a Russian warship in Crimea.

AFP
Written By

With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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