On March 5, 2022, the body of Ukrainian banker Denys Kireyev was found dumped in the center of Kyiv, a bullet in his head. According to preliminary information, he was killed by representatives of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU).

Kireyev was one of those who had participated in the first negotiations between Ukraine and Russia on Feb. 28, 2022, in Gomel, Belarus, shortly after the war broke out. His presence there surprised many people, as there was no explanation as to why the Ukrainian authorities had included him in the negotiation process. In fact, he was suspected by many of having pro-Russian views and possibly working for the Russian special services.

Eleven months after the murder, the Main Intelligence Service of Ukraine’s Defense Ministry (HUR) said that Kireyev was actually a Ukrainian agent. This information raised even more questions about who Kireyev really was and why he was killed.

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The man behind the mystery 

Forty-five-year-old Denis Kireyev had a career in banking. He worked with a number of international financial institutions, including Credit Lyonnais, ING, Rabobank, and Citibank, and headed a private equity and fixed income fund. From 2010 to 2014, he was Deputy Chairman of the Board of Oschadbank, a Ukrainian commercial bank. However, in March 2016, the head of Oschadbank, Andriy Pyshnyi, accused Kireyev of committing financial fraud.

In 2006 the Kireyev started working in the organizations of two well-connected brothers from Donetsk, Andriy and Serhiy Kliuyev. The brothers’ fortunes were made in metals and real estate, and they were close to former fugitive President Viktor Yanukovych and his pro-Russian cohorts. At the time, Kireyev had allegedly passed information to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) about the enrichment schemes of Ukrainian oligarchs, as well as information about weapons procurement for the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU).

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Subsequently, in July 2020, criminal proceedings were opened against Kireyev on suspicion of working for the Russian special services. However, the results of the investigation have yet to be made public. Several media outlets have reported that in various files of Russian intelligence, the FSB, and the Russian Ministry of Defense, Kireyev was listed under the pseudonym “Good.” And until 2021, he traveled to Russia every month.

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However, in a Jan. 18 interview with The Wall Street Journal, General Kyrylo Budanov, the chief of HUR said that Kireyev had traveled to Russia to carry out espionage activities there.

“He had the necessary circle of acquaintances. Financial transactions went through him, so he had connections with everyone, including very influential people. The world of special services and the world of finance are always connected,” Budanov explained.

What’s more, on Jan. 22, in an interview with Radio Svoboda, Budanov asserted that Kireyev worked solely for the benefit of Ukraine. Budanov himself had known Kireyev personally since 2009, and claimed that he had passed all the requisite tests at HUR, including a lie detector.

Budanov noted that it was Kireyev who warned of a full-scale Russian invasion in the fall of 2021.

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In the Wall Street Journal interview, the HUR chief emphasized that on Feb. 23, 2022, it was Kireyev who warned Ukrainian intelligence about Russia’s full-scale invasion. He also revealed that the Russian army was planning a landing at the Antonov airport in Hostomel. This helped the Ukrainian army to “win” a few hours that allowed them to redeploy troops.

Participation in the negotiation process

Kireyev was not officially declared a participant in the negotiations by the Office of the President (OP). However, he can be seen in photos and videos of the negotiations, sitting on the side of Ukraine. Later Budanov said that it was he who invited Kireyev to take part in the negotiations, because Kireyev personally knew two members of the Russian delegation.

After the first round of negotiations ended on Feb. 28, Budanov spoke with Kireyev and warned him of the danger stemming from the fact that the banker’s spying activities had now been exposed. Despite this, Kireyev was to take part in the second round of negotiations on March 3.

“Since the person has already died, we can say this: the main task we set for him was to delay the process in order to gain time. The situation was close to critical then. And there was a certain number of people who, let’s say, did not really want Ukraine to win. This is my personal opinion,” Budanov said in the Radio Svoboda interview.

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Who killed Kireyev?

On Jan. 17, in an interview with Delfi TV, Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the head of the OP became the first government official to comment on the murder of Denys Kireyev, emphasizing that the case was the result of poor coordination between the HUR and the SBU.

Prior to that, on March 5, almost immediately after the murder, news outlet Ukrainska Pravda, citing law enforcement agencies, reported that the SBU had eliminated a Russian agent during his detention. However, Budanov said in the interview with Radio Svoboda that this was an attempt to protect those who had killed Kireyev.

At the time, the media reported that the banker was shot dead during his detention in the center of Kyiv, near St. Sophia Cathedral. Kireyev’s bodyguards, however, said that no one had resisted the SBU officers.

For his part, Budanov said that Kireyev had been summoned from the office of the head of the HUR, accompanied by two internal security officers.

“About 200 meters from the central building of the SBU, a bus drove out, that is, it just ran into the oncoming traffic, and Alpha troops [the SBU’s special forces] ran out shouting: ‘It’s the SBU!’ Operatives came out and said they were from the SBU,” Budanov told Radio Svoboda.

“Kireyev told his bodyguards… that they were SBU officers who wanted to ask him something. Then he was transferred to a minibus, which did not go to this central building, but a few blocks away. Then the incident happened... And his body fell out of that minibus. These are the facts. Why didn’t they go to the SBU building? Let the DBR [State Bureau of Investigation] investigation answer this question,” Budanov added.

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After this incident, the HUR chief had a personal conversation about the circumstances of the incident with Ivan Bakanov (head of the SBU at that time), who was personally acquainted with Kireyev. Budanov emphasized that this was the last conversation he had had with Bakanov, about which he “could not comment.”

On July 17, President Zelenskyy suspended Ivan Bakanov with the wording that his actions could have led to the death of people. However, it is not clear what Zelensky meant.

In the Radio Svoboda interview , Budanov said that, in his opinion, the case is much deeper than the statements of Mykhailo Podolyak regarding the failure of communication and coordination between the agencies.

“I’ll keep my opinion to myself, but let’s evaluate the facts. The facts are that a person who was on his way to the SBU building at the invitation of the SBU is intercepted 200 meters before reaching the building, taken a little further than the building, and the corpse is thrown out into the street,” Budanov said.

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Moreover, he emphasized that whoever deliberately killed Kireyev intended to prevent HUR from interfering in the negotiations and delaying them in order to help the Ukrainian army repel the enemy.

“And these people are primarily from the Ukrainian side,” Budanov said.

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