Whether Ukrainian intelligence agents assassinated Russian naval Captain of the Second Rank Stanislav Rzhitsky while he was out jogging on the morning of July 12, the story will certainly have ricocheted around the country’s military establishment. 

Rzhitsky, 42, was shot four times while running near the Olympus Arena in Krasnodar, which is about 80 miles from the Black Sea naval base at Novorossiysk. He was reported to have formerly commanded the newly commissioned Kilo-class submarine Krasnodar, which carries the Kalibr cruise missiles used against numerous targets in Ukraine.  

The vessel was reportedly behind a July 14, 2022 Kalibr attack on Vinnytsia, which resulted in the deaths of 27 Ukrainians including children. That resulted in Rzhitsky being added to an unofficial Ukrainian blacklist of those held responsible for war crimes. 

“Today in Krasnodar, Stanislav Rzhitsky, deputy head of the department for mobilization work of the city administration, was shot in the back,” former mayor of the city Evgeny Pervyshov wrote on his Telegram channel. “I knew him as the commander of the Krasnodar submarine.” 

Much remains unclear. Russian security agencies have blamed Ukraine and on July 12 arrested a Ukrainian national named Sergei Denisenko, 64, a former head of Ukraine’s karate association who is living in Russia. As with other alleged acts by Ukrainian intelligence, the response was swift and the immediately supplied backstory was quite detailed (Denysenko was claimed to have been in Bucha, near Kyiv, last year.) 

But as always with Russian criminal investigations, the authorities swiftly contradicted themselves. Police quickly circulated a still CCTV image of a suspect. “The suspect was described as a man in his 30s or 40s with a medium build, wearing a black T-shirt and a blue cap. The man’s face is not visible,” Baza reported. And less than 24 hours, the suspect in Krasnodar was detained, although actually aged 64, according to the press service of the Russian Investigative Committee.  

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Ukraine’s military Main Directorate of Intelligence under Gen. Kyrylo Budanov acknowledges it has carried out a range of activities inside Russia, including assassinations. It has also been held responsible for a series of drone attacks, including one on the Kremlin in May, and acts of sabotage including on rail lines. 

It seems clear that Ukraine’s intelligence service has networks inside Russia and inside the occupied territories, and is not afraid to launch audacious attacks. But the decision to kill a submarine commander is new and would suggest the Ukrainians are ruthlessly targeting enemy leaders on enemy territory, something more commonly associated with the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad. 

Rzhitsky is the latest in a string of deaths, arrests, and disappearances of Russian military figures since Russia’s full-scale invasion. Shortly after the killing, The Insider reported that Russian Lieutenant General Oleg Tsokov had died in Russian-occupied Berdiansk, apparently the victim of a British-made Storm Shadow missile fired by the Ukrainian air force. He would be the most senior general to die in the war. This attack too suggests high-quality and time-sensitive intelligence is available to Ukraine’s armed forces. 

All this comes on the heels of the continuing mystery surrounding the four-star General Sergey Surovikin, deputy commander of Russia’s invasion forces, who has not been seen since Yevgeny Prigozhin’s failed June 23-24 mutiny. CNN obtained documents suggesting Surovikin and 30 other high-ranking officers were secret “VIP members” of the Wagner mercenary group, while former Ecko Moskvy editor-in-chief Alexei Venediktov recently said that despite rumors of Surovikin being on leave, he failed to call his wife or daughter on their birthdays. According to the VChK-OGPU project on Telegram, the general may be in Moscow’s notorious Matrosskaya Tishina facility pre-trial detention block 99/1. 

After disappearing for a few weeks, Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Valery Gerasimov, made his first public appearance following Prigozhin’s failed mutiny last month, after several Russian military bloggers claimed Gerasimov had been dismissed amid the mutiny’s fallout. According to Moscow Times, Gerasimov was “shown in a Defense Ministry video listening to reports and instructing subordinates on Russia’s response to increased Ukrainian missile attacks on Russian territory and annexed Crimea.” 

All of which fits well with Russia’s reputation for secrecy and mystery but also suggests its once well-oiled propaganda machine and reputedly fearsome internal security is faltering. As Russia continues to experience military failures in Ukraine, there will be more deaths, arrests, and disappearances. How many can be traced to the Ukrainians and how many are “own goal” killings, is open to debate. 

Olga Lautman is a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), the host of the Kremlin File podcast , and an analyst/researcher focusing on Russia, Ukraine, and Eastern Europe.

Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.

Europe's Edge
CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America.
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