Arms Warehouse in Balakliya Blew Up Again. This Time It’s Political

David Arakhamia, a Head of the Faction of the political party “Servant of the People” in Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, punched a Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova in the most sensitive area—her wallet. At least after the report of the Temporary Investigative Commission of Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on Investigations of Fires (Blowups) at the Arms Warehouses led by Arakhamia appeared on the website of Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on April 24, 2020, careers of both Oleksandr Sokolov, an Acting Director of the State Bureau of Investigations, and his friend and ally Yevhen Rusynov, a First Deputy Head of the Kharkiv Regional SSU Department, took a big hit. Both gentlemen belong in Iryna Valentynivna’s closest circle; in particular, Sokolov’s wife works at the Peregrin Capital Group Limited founded by Venediktova’s mother-in-law Nataliia Kolesnyk. And the Commission report directly implicates both in concealing information about true causes of the March 23, 2017 detonation of the 65th Arsenal of the Central Missile and Artillery Office (CMAO) (military unit А1352) in Balakliya, Kharkiv Region.

As early as on March 31, 2017, a week after the fire started at the arms warehouse, I told about the possibility that the Balakliya arsenal had been detonated by Ukrainian military to conceal a colossal shortage revealed during the audit.

“According to Minister of Defence Poltorak, slightly over 30% of ammunition survived an extensive fire at the military storage base in Balakliya. Too bad that Mr. Minister failed to inform what share of the remaining 70% was lost to the fire, and what share was looted and sold to Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics.

“The matter is that the fire took place after an audit had been conducted at this base in February of 2017. As of March 1, 2017, the audit established looting of, lo and behold, UAH 400M worth of ammunition. Sure thing, after such an audit, the base could not have but burst into flames. Moreover, not a single serviceman got hurt in the fire. Probably, intuition didn’t fail the troopers and they figured out a precise time they should leave the guarded object.

“It is also obvious that the ammunition was being moved out the Balakliya base for days and for months. At that, the only place where it could have been sold to are the terrorist “republics” in Eastern Ukraine.”

A true cause of the fire at this arsenal, as well as at other arms warehouses, was of course well known both at the Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office and at the Security Service of Ukraine, not to mention the Administration of President Poroshenko and the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine. According to my calculations, almost 250K metric tons of more than $2B worth of ammunition were lost to the fire, which I announced on ZIK on October 12, 2018.

I guess Arakhamia, who was hanging around the Ministry of Defence and its funds during Poroshenko’s tenure, also heard about the reasons behind the arms warehouse blowups. Thus, it is no surprise that it was him who initiated establishing a Temporary Investigative Commission of Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on Investigations of Fires (Blowups) at the Arms Warehouses in Ichnia (Chernihiv Region), Kalynivka (Vinnytsia Region), Balakliya (Kharkiv Region), Svatove (Luhansk Region), Kryvyi Rih (Dnipropetrovsk Region) in 2014–2018 in Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on October 31, 2019.

Soon the TIC obtained evidence that fires at the warehouses were organized not by Russian saboteurs, as Yuriy Lutsenko, a Prosecutor, for Christ’s sake, General, used to tell, but by members of “Sarmat” special unit of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine, with the intent of concealing the shortage of ammunition. In particular, within the very first days of investigating criminal proceeding 22017220000000104 regarding the March 23, 2017 detonation of the 65th Arsenal of the CMAO (military unit А1352) in Balakliya, Kharkiv Region, it has been found that servicemen of “Sarmat” special unit, during an anti-sabotage exercise, planted an explosive inside and outside the arsenal, disguising it as fire extinguishers. After that, in violation of a written order, they left the arsenal and arrived at the military unit in Malynivka village, Chuhuiiv District, Kharkiv Region. And only after the storages of missile and artillery ammunition had been blown up, servicemen of “Sarmat” special unit returned to Balakliya with the intent of creating a fake alibi.

Excerpt from the information in the criminal proceeding regarding the March 23, 2017 detonation of the 65th Arsenal of the CMAO (military unit А1352) in Balakliya, Kharkiv Region

“Within the course of investigation, evidence has been obtained that proves involvement in the detonation of servicemen of “Sarmat” special unit of the Military Judicial Service of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

“Mentioned servicemen planted an explosive inside and outside the arsenal during an organized anti-sabotage exercise, disguising this as replacing fire extinguishers.

“After that, in violation of a written order, mentioned servicemen voluntarily left the arsenal and arrived at the military unit in Malynivka village, Chuhuiiv District, Kharkiv Region.

“At 2:45 am, the 67th stack detonated with subsequent explosions at other storages of missile and artillery ammunition. After that, “Sarmat” special unit of the MJS of the AFU came back to Balakliya with the intent of creating a fake alibi.

“It is noteworthy that not a single serviceman got significantly hurt in the most powerful ammunition explosion on the military unit grounds. This suggests that the abovementioned detonation was being carefully prepared by the leadership of the AFU.

“Superimposing of a map with explosion craters over locations of fire extinguishers revealed 80% matching.

“As a result of obtained evidence, a main theory of the crime became placing explosive devices at the arsenal by “Sarmat” special unit with subsequent detonation of explosives in the planted fire extinguishers.

“A main motive for detonating the 65th Arsenal of the CMAO is concealing from the audit a fact of looting (i.e. lack of shipment receipts for missile and artillery ammunition and military property intended for military units) of about UAH 560M worth of ammunition (as revealed prior to the detonation by a preliminary audit report 234/1/13/31 of February 28, 2017). At that, a deadline for auditors obtaining documents from the Central Missile and Artillery Office regarding shortage of ammunition was March 3, 2017.

“A final audit report on the large-scale shortage of ammunition would entail criminal and political consequences for the leadership of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine and senior state officials.”

However, as soon as the TIC started to take a substantive interest in the fire at the Balakliya warehouse, Iryna Venediktova, a then Acting Director of the State Bureau of Investigations, demanded from Arakhamia to end investigations and curtail activities of the commission, which caused a public argument between her and Arakhamia. Iryna Valentynivna was being edgy because Oleksandr Sokolov, whom she appointed a Deputy Director of the SBI, served at the Kharkiv Regional SSU Department until January 17, 2020, where he was a Head of the Main Division of Counterintelligence and a First Deputy Head of the Department and tried all his best to conceal information about true causes of the fire at the military unit А1352. Moreover, activities of the TIC led by Arakhamia put Yevhen Rusynov in jeopardy, who at that time was a Head of the Investigative Division of the Kharkiv Regional SSU Department, and who not so long ago saved Iryna Venediktova and Oleksandr Babikov, a First Deputy Director of the SBI, from serious troubles related to involvement of this duo in activities of a smuggling gang, which, according to operational information, paid for Babikov’s candidate of juridical sciences dissertation. Thanks to support of Venediktova and Babikov, Rusynov was about to become a First Deputy Head of the Kharkiv Regional SSU Department vacated by Sokolov after transferring to the SBI, and thus the TIC activities could not only spoil his career but also open up prospects for him ending up in the dock.

Lieutenant Bakanov did not stand aside the argument between Venediktova and Arakhamia and rushed to save his subordinates by spreading the following made up stories: “A comprehensive examination conducted by the Service confirmed the main theory of the crime. According to the expert report, a flight of an unmanned aerial vehicle over the territory of the Arsenal, registered by radar stations of the Ukrainian State Air Traffic Services Enterprise [UkSATSE], is linked to these events, namely to the use of unguided weapons (dropping) against sites of open ammunition storage [OAS].” Probably, by “radar stations,” Lieutenant Bakanov meant two meteorological locators mounted by UkSATSE in Boryspil and Zaporizhzhya. In this regard, only one question arises. Weren’t there any people at the Central SSU Office who had a clue about what UkSATSE is engaged in, what is controlled airspace, and what information is provided by S-radars and primary surveillance radars, comprising the backbone of the system of en route surveillance of controlled airspace and surveillance of terminal airspace at the airfield?

Moreover, according to what the SSU officials told Ukrayinska Pravda, “a theory of concealing shortage of 560M worth of ammunition could not be confirmed. The investigation found that, according to the audit report of 02.28.2017, there was indeed a “risk of a shortage of” UAH 560M worth of ammunition. In other words, shipment receipts and capitalization documents for the ammunition shipped from the Arsenal did not arrive to the military units in due course. However, already after events at the Arsenal, cross-checking in most cases confirmed shipping of the ammunition and the amount of the “risk of a shortage of ammunition” was reduced to UAH 748 thsd.”

But Arakhamia did not trust Lieutenant Bakanov’s words and summoned Yevhen Rusynov, the Head of the Investigative Division of the Kharkiv Regional SSU Department, and Oleksandr Kliuiev, a Director of the Hon. Prof. M. S. Bokarius Kharkiv Research Institute of Forensic Examinations, to the TIC meeting. To quote the Commission report:

“Considering that the arsenal in Balakliya, Kharkiv Region, was the most powerful in Eastern Europe, and detonations destroyed more than 91% of UAH 12 106 294 174.84 book worth of stored ammunition and military property, the TIC started precisely with investigating the circumstances of the detonations at the 65th Arsenal of the Main Missile and Artillery Office [MMAO] of the AFU in Balakliya, Kharkiv Region, that took place on 03.23.2017. To that end, during the Commission meeting of 01.17.2020, members heard information from the Head of the Investigative Division of the Kharkiv Regional SSU Department on the state of investigation of criminal proceeding 22017220000000104 of 03.23.2017 regarding sabotage on the territory of the 65th Arsenal of the AFU. According to him, the main theory of explosions that took place on the technical territory of military unit A1352, is a strike by an unmanned aerial vehicle at one of the ammunition storage stacks with subsequent dispersion of missiles from this stack hitting other storages with ammunition and missiles…

“However, during the meeting of 01.17.2020, the Commission members heard Prof. Kliuiev, O. M., the Director of the M. S. Bokarius Kharkiv Research Institute of Forensic Examinations, who explained in detail with the help of photographic materials that the first explosions on the technical territory of the 65th Arsenal of the MMAO of the AFU in Balakliya, Kharkiv Region, were caused by a detonation of the site of open ammunition storage by means of blowing up explosives buried in the ground, which has been conclusively shown by experts even during the very first visits to the scene. At that, according to Kliuiev, O.M., this fact was evident from the first days of investigating the criminal proceeding, within whose course the experts of the M. S. Bokarius Kharkiv Research Institute of Forensic Examinations were instructed to conduct appropriate examination.

“However, after the experts relayed their preliminary findings to the SSU detectives and procedural military prosecutors, in May of 2017, in violation of internal orders of the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine to detectives of the Investigative Division of the Kharkiv Regional SSU Department, examination by the experts of the M. S. Bokarius Kharkiv Research Institute of Forensic Examinations was halted, and the materials were transferred for subsequent analysis to the Kyiv Scientific Research Institute of Forensic Expertise.”

So, Rusynov, who was leading the investigation, and Sokolov, who was conducting operational support, being dissatisfied with the expert report provided by the M. S. Bokarius Kharkiv RI of Forensic Examinations, transferred the materials to the KSRIFE. And this is not surprising, as a Director of the KSRIFE is so notorious that even tapes secretly recorded in the office of a then Director of the State Bureau of Investigations Roman Truba feature a scene where Truba explains to Oleg Koretskyi, a Head of the First Office of Organization of Pre-Trial Investigations of the SBI, that to fabricate a pre-trial investigation, one could go to the KSRIFE, whose experts would issue reports of any kind—a call from the Office of the President to its Director Ruvin would do the trick.

Also, the TIC did not leave unattended Lieutenant Bakanov’s tales about some mythical radars of UkSATSE mounted in Balakliya that are able to see unmanned aerial vehicles flying 50–100 m high:

“The Commission also found that the materials of criminal proceeding 22017220000000104 themselves contain objective information suggesting that no aerial vehicles were present near Balakliya, Kharkiv Region, at the time of explosions, as well as other facts that beg a reasonable question whether unmanned aerial vehicles were used to detonate the arsenal.”

It gets even more exciting.

“However, the decision of the Commission that encouraged the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine to consider, under Part 5 of Article 36 of the Criminal Procedural Code of Ukraine, instructing another authority to conduct pre-trial investigation within criminal proceeding 22017220000000104 of 03.23.2017, received a negative response, which was relayed to the Commission by a Prosecutor General Riaboshapka, R.G. During an operational meeting led by a Deputy Prosecutor General Chumak, V.V., no signs of bias were found in the almost three-year-long pre-trial investigation of this event. Also, the Security Service of Ukraine did not take any action to carry out provisions in the abovementioned letter 92 from the Head of the Temporary Investigative Commission of 01.29.2020. The criminal proceeding ended up virtually motionless at the Investigative Division of the Kharkiv Regional SSU Department with the main theory being destruction of the arsenal with the help of an unmanned aerial vehicle.”

I wonder what prompted Viktor Chumak, a former Chief Military Prosecutor, famous for his integrity, incorruptibility, unmatched intelligence, and profound knowledge of law, to ignore the decision of the Temporary Investigative Commission of Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. Could his affection for Venediktova’s friends really be purely platonic and have no pecuniary grounds? Anyway, the TIC chose not to look into this, but took the matter in its own hands instead (considering pathetic inability of Chumak to perform his duties as the Deputy Prosecutor General) and instructed the experts of the M. S. Bokarius Kharkiv Research Institute of Forensic Examinations to conduct a comprehensive explosive and fire engineering examination.

Although, we shouldn’t be surprised. After Prof. Kliuiev confirmed at the TIC meeting that the Head of the Investigative Division of the Kharkiv Regional SSU Department Rusynov concealed true causes of the explosion at the arms warehouse in Balakliya, Lieutenant Bakanov appointed Rusynov the First Deputy Head of the Kharkiv Regional SSU Department…

Let’s keep on reading the Commission report:

“According to report 5777/5778 of 04.21.2020 in the comprehensive forensic, military, explosive and fire engineering examination, a crater at OAS 69 on the technical territory of the 65th Arsenal of the CMAO of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (Balakliya, Kharkiv Region) resulted from a controlled explosion of a blasting explosive buried in the ground. The explosive consisted of trinitrotoluene (TNT), RDX, pentaerythritol tetranitrate (TEN), which is characteristic of high blast explosive… According to the expert assessment, taking into consideration actual size of the crater at OAS 69, the most optimal arrangement for high blast explosives seems to be two rows of five charges.

Considering that one КФЗ-1 high blast explosive weighs 76 kilos, even to plant explosives in the fastest way, creating one such crater without any groundwork on the territory of the 65th arsenal of the MMAO of the AFU in Balakliya on 03.23.2017 would require planting a total of 760 kilos of high blast explosives. At the same time, after the fire had been suppressed, up to ten craters were found on the technical territory of the 65th arsenal of the MMAO of the AFU in Balakliya, identical to OAS 69, which might suggest analogous nature of planting the explosives. It is noteworthy that the above conclusion is based directly on the very materials of the criminal proceeding, provided to the experts by detectives of the Investigative Division of the Kharkiv Regional SSU Department after three years of investigations.”

And, finally, a conclusion:

“Therefore, at this point, there are reasons for the Commission to believe that the detonation of the biggest arsenal of our country that led to civilian casualties; destruction of more than UAH 12B worth of ammunition and military property; significant material damage to civilians might have occurred as a result of deliberate and well-planned actions of guilty parties, whose actions were for some time obvious to servicemen and officials of the 65th arsenal of the MMAO of the AFU. The facts mentioned were neglected by the SSU detectives and their procedural supervisors from the military prosecutor’s office, whose actions, condoned by the leadership of the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine, Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office, and the SSU, were not aimed at carrying out the tasks of a criminal proceeding laid out in Article 2 of the Criminal Procedural Code of Ukraine and effectively resulted in concealing objective causes and circumstances of arsenal destruction.”

No less interesting is information obtained by the Commission about the fire on the territory of the 48th arsenal of the CMAO of the AFU in Kalynivka (Vinnytsia Region) that started on 09.26.2017.

“When examining the testimonies from representatives of the Investigative Division of the Vinnytsia Regional SSU Department, the Commission found that within the course of an almost 2.5-year-long pre-trial investigation, detectives failed to identify not only the causes of the event, but also its circumstances. Guilty parties were not held accountable, which casts doubt on the impartiality of law enforcement officers. Besides, during the Commission meeting of 03.06.2020, members heard information from an Inspector General of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine, who told about significant and numerous breaches of accounting and storage procedures for ammunition and other military property. Even at the time of the Commission meeting (03.06.2020), physical existence of UAH 480 940 thsd book worth of ammunition could not be proved. But the facts mentioned were completely neglected by detectives of the Investigative Division of the Vinnytsia Regional SSU Department and corresponding procedural prosecutors.”

However, a six-month period of the Temporary Investigative Commission ends on May 1, 2020, and one can only imagine a covert struggle that will ensue not to extend it. After all, the Commission came to a conclusion only with respect to the causes of the explosion at the arms warehouse in Balakliya. Should it investigate the circumstances of the fire in Kalynivka as well, not only suitability of Chumak, Riaboshapka, or Venediktova for their posts would be questioned, but also that of Lieutenant Bakanov.

Володимир Бойко

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