After putting a bullet in the back of Denis Kireev’s head, the Ukrainian government now says he rescued capital.
The extrajudicial execution of Denis Kireev in March 2022 was due to a lack of coordination between security services, a top aide to Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky said on Thursday. Mikhail Podoliak was responding to a Wall Street Journal feature describing the 45-year-old banker as an asset of Ukrainian military intelligence, who supposedly helped save Kiev from Russian attack.
Kireev was killed on March 2 last year. His body was dumped on a Kiev sidewalk “with a bullet hole in the back of the skull,” according to the WSJ. Ukrainian media reported at the time that the country’s security service, the SBU, had “clear” evidence Kireev had committed high treason. The military intelligence, however, said he “died protecting Ukraine.”
The 45-year-old banker’s violent end was brought into the spotlight again by the WSJ, which interviewed Kireev’s relatives and associates, as well as the man he died working for – General Kirill Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence (GUR).
The banker was loyal to Kiev, raising funds for Ukrainian “volunteer brigades” fighting in Donbass after 2014, and “enjoyed playing the 007 role,” according to his friends and associates. Budanov said he had recruited Kireev in 2021 because of his business contacts with Russia, and received useful information from him for months before the conflict escalated.
“If it were not for Mr. Kireev, most likely Kiev would have been taken,” Budanov told the WSJ.
Kireev came to Budanov on February 23 and said Russia would “invade” the following day, with the primary objective to seize the Antonov Airport in Gostomel, near Kiev. The tip “gave Ukraine a precious few hours to shift troops to counter the Russian assault” and ultimately disabled the airport, saving the capital, according to the general.
Budanov said he had asked Kireev to attend ceasefire talks in Belarus, because he personally knew two members of the Russian delegation. He was photographed at the talks, and the SBU got suspicious. The night before the second round of talks, Kireev received a call from the SBU’s top counterintelligence officer, Alexander Poklad. Poklad had asked for a meeting, Kireev’s security detail told the WSJ.
Kireev had told his bodyguards he might be arrested and instructed them to not intervene. They dutifully disarmed when the SBU surrounded them outside St. Sophia Cathedral. Kireev was bundled off into a SBU minivan. His corpse was found about 90 minutes later.
The GUR arranged for a hero’s burial and Zelensky posthumously gave Kireev a medal for “exceptional duty.” The WSJ also noted that the SBU leadership was purged in July 2022. During an interview with an Estonian outlet on Thursday, Podoliak commented on the WSJ story by blaming Kireev’s death on miscommunication.
“Those were the first days of the war. His killing is due to the fact that there was no unified coordination between security structures. There were certain claims against him, they did not have time to settle these claims in a dialogue format,” Zelensky’s aide said.
“ISIS are little children compared to the Kiev regime,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, commenting on Podoliak’s explanation and referring to Islamic State terrorists.