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Open Letter: Regarding Unfounded Allegations Against Bellingcat From Ukrainian MP and Former Minister

November 13, 2019

By Eliot Higgins

The open letter can be downloaded here

On November 11, Ukraine’s former Minister of Veterans Affairs and current member of parliament Iryna Friz published a Facebook post that accused Bellingcat and our investigative partner, The Insider, of being “infiltrated” by the Russian security services, specifically the FSB. 

This information has spread to a number of mainstream Ukrainian news outlets, including Obozrevatel. This accusation of FSB infiltration came following our publication of an in-depth investigation into Ukraine’s newly-formed Ministry of Veterans Affairs regarding its ties to controversial far-right figures and organizations, which undermines its work in assisting Ukraine’s veterans who fought against Russian aggression. This investigation included commentary from two Ukrainian veteran leaders concerned about the ministry’s current makeup and its activities. Prior to the publication of this investigation, we reached out to the Veterans Movement of Ukraine (VMU), Veterans Brotherhood, and the Ukrainian Prime Minister’s office for comment — we received no response from any of them.

In her Facebook post, former minister Friz stated that our investigations into far-right organizations and leaders in Ukraine echo what is “exclusively a Russian narrative” of “fascists in Ukraine”. Additionally, she suggests that we should vet our contributors and staff with “Russian names”. We would like to note that our staff and researchers with what could be considered “Russian names” only include our editor, a Ukrainian-American, and the main author of this report, who is also a Ukrainian-American.

“Secondly, I unfortunately can state that there are problems with the Bellingcat team. There are all signs that people from the Russian FSB have infiltrated it. I otherwise cannot explain for myself the fact that they coordinate their work with Russian outlet The insider, which is controlled by Lubyanka.“

(По-друге, на жаль можу констатувати проблеми в самій структурі Белінгкет. Є всі ознаки, що до неї інфільтровані люди з ФСБ РФ. Інакше я не можу пояснити для себе координованість роботи з російським ресурсом The insider, що контролюється Лубянкою.)

Former minister Friz’s specious accusations of our “infiltration” by the FSB come after a series of publications we have published uncovering the conduct of Russia’s security forces across Europe, including Ukraine. These investigations, among others, have unmasked Russian spies and security service officers who have attempted assassinations in the United Kingdom and Bugaria, attempted to stage a coup in Montenegro, assisted in the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17), and attempted hacking of international bodies in Switzerland.

Additionally, Bellingcat’s researchers have received death threats from Ukrainian far-right groups after investigation their activities, including the translation and distribution of the manifesto of the notorious New Zealand mosque shooter. 

The accusation that our investigative partner, The Insider, is controlled by “Lubyanka”, referencing the headquarters of Russia’s FSB, is especially ludicrous considering the personal sacrifices that its journalists have made in order to continue their independent journalism investigating the government of their country, including investigating its security services.

It is especially ironic that such irresponsible accusations were made by a Ukrainian MP and former minister during the week when Bellingcat’s independent investigation into Russia’s shelling of Mariupol, which killed dozens of Ukrainian civilians, became part of the evidence provided by Ukraine in its International Court of Justice (ICJ) proceedings against Russian aggression, along with previous cases filed with the ICJ.

It is false to suggest that our assessment of the problems posed by Ukraine’s small, but vocal and active, far-right groups is a Kremlin talking point. A 2018 report from the U.S. State Department named two Ukrainian far-right groups mentioned in our recent investigation as “nationalist hate groups”; these same groups were called “threat[s] to Ukrainian democracy” by international human rights watchdog Freedom House. 

Raising concerns over Ukraine’s far right, which lacks popular support but has an out-sized role in a number of Ukrainian government organs, is vital for the continued development of Ukraine’s civil society and newly-established government ministries. 

We expect that former minister Friz retracts her baseless statements targeting Bellingcat and The Insider.



Eliot Higgins

Founder, Bellingcat


Update: Friz responded to our letter with this Facebook post.

Dobby has to punish himself…

It’s a reaction to a reaction, in this case the cats. Who pays attention will be the one to understand  — where, what, and who has been burned.

Eliot Higgins

Eliot Higgins is the founder of Bellingcat and the Brown Moses Blog. Eliot focuses on the weapons used in the conflict in Syria, and open source investigation tools and techniques.

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  1. JKovpak

    Just goes to show that Ukraine’s professional “patriots” are just as dumb as their Russian opponents. If they want to yell at someone for echoing Russian narratives about fascists in Ukraine, they can start by yelling at the thugs holding white power concerts and marching around with black sun emblems. Strange they never think to do that first.

    Scratch a “patriot”- find a zradnik.

  2. Feanor

    Welcome to Ukrainian media. If you’re at all against the line the government takes you’re either a Russian troll, a domestic separatist (“бытовой сепаратист”), or infiltrated by the FSB.

  3. M

    it’s the same as on the bellingact website 🙂 🙂 🙂 .If you’re against the line the bellingcat or if you have your own point of view, you`re a Russian troll or an extreme leftist revolutionary not loving Western democracy. 🙂

    • Servus

      you don’t have your own point of view, you are paid to defend GRU whenever there is a remote possibility to do so.

        • M

          You idiots – bellingcat bots – you haven’t read my comments on articles about Ukraine and right-wing fools in this country – 🙂 my comments are contrary to propaganda in the Russian state media.
          I know, minion, that you have bonuses for every comment you post, but get on with your work properly.

          • Servus

            Masha, you’ve earned yourself a solid reputation by defending and minimizing importance of a brutal GRU murder in Berlin.

            Whether you are Prigozhin’s staffer, “fellow traveller” or “useful idiot” is of lesser importance.

            The last category, in the discussed context, will support the GRU/FSB actions when needed and that for free, which why the cynics in GRU/FSB call them “idiots”; people that buy into their crimes and fabrications without any compensation.

  4. Virtual

    That response to this letter is not even really a response but more of a way to not have to say they were wrong whilst also being unable to prove bellingcat to be in the wrong. “Who pays attention will understand” means to just stay within the news sources that tell YOUR truth even if not objectively the truth.

    • Servus

      Bellingcat must be doing something right, if Russians accuse it of being an Ukrainian propaganda outlet and Ukrainian extreme right accuses it of being penetrated by FSB.

      Irina Friz is not serious.

  5. Volo

    The articles in question are manipulative and appealing to emotions, which is uncharacteristic for Bellingcat publications. Mr. Higgins slacks from his editorial duties 🙂

    And yes, Ms. Friz is stupid. One should counter those publications with stone-cold facts, not wild allegations.

    • Virtual

      Could you please elaborate in which way these articles are manipulative and appealing to emotion? Yes, they are about a topic people will make decisions easily about however that would mean that every polarized discussion/topic could not be researched by independent or dependent media because it appeals to people already established thought about certain subjects.

    • Ukrainian

      That’s a common way of handling accusations in Ukraine: throw some random accusations in response, mostly about alignment with Russia – and you’re done!

  6. Gerhard

    There has indeed been quite a focus on far-right Ukraine following the Russian security services-targeted articles. Perhaps it is because of Bellingcat’s desire to appear fair and balanced, or perhaps merely because there happen to be two Ukrainian-Americans on the team.

    Regardless, the comparison is akin to holding a magnifying glass to an anthill as Godzilla closes in on Tokyo. Or to put it more bluntly, who cares about piddling extremist movements with metal bands and Nazi tattoos or 8chan postings when real global intrigue is happening as we read these (election hacking! Facebook ads! ISIS routed! Erdogan and Trump’s follies!)..I know you can’t be all things to all people, but Bellingcat seems more impactful and relevant when it’s not chasing narrow issues with narrow global significance, whichever region that may be. Not that these aren’t extremely important to those living in these regions, but maybe it’s a matter of website organization, i.e. group more geographically targeted articles into another section, etc.?

    Otherwise it visually and thematically appears to somewhat conflate Ukrainian extremism with Georgian border conflicts with Brazilian 8chan with…MI6 intelligence failures and GRU assassinations (especially to those less familiar with the site).

    Just another reader, but just saying, as the saying goes.


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