Ukrainian Military Intelligence Chief, Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, who predicted Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has, again, predicted that Crimea will be retaken.
On February 23, 2022, the night before Russia launched its war on Ukraine, Budanov had staked his career on being the rare Ukrainian official who was convinced that Russia was about to attack and attempt to capture Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, The Washington Post reported.
He and his wife stared at the clock that night, anxious that Budanov could soon be out of work if all did not go as he had loudly predicted to Ukraine’s skeptical political leadership.
“We’d had this conversation that if this attack doesn’t happen, we’re not going to look very good,” he said in a recent interview.
“We had specifically said that at 4 a.m. it would start. It sounds really weird, but I was scared it wouldn’t go as it should,” he added.
11 months later, the 37-year-old Budanov’s words carry serious weight with President Volodymyr Zelensky and others in Kyiv. In Ukrainian political circles, he is respected as the one person — along with U.S. and British intelligence — who correctly warned months in advance what Russia was planning.
At the time, he was largely brushed off. Most other Ukrainian government and military officials expected Russia’s invasion to be limited to the eastern part of the country rather than a full scale, three-pronged attack.
Budanov’s forecast for this year is that Russia will focus on occupying more territory in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions. A renewed offensive from its forces stationed north of Ukraine, in Belarus, is unlikely, he said, and just an attempt to distract and divide Kyiv’s troops. He also said that “we must do everything to ensure that Crimea returns home by summer.”
Asked if he thinks Ukrainian troops reaching Crimea, which Russia invaded and annexed illegally in 2014, could trigger Russian President Vladimir Putin to use a nuclear weapon, Budanov said: “This is not true. And Crimea will be returned to us. I’ll tell you more: It all started in Crimea in 2014, and it will all end there.”
“It’s a scare tactic,” he added, speaking in his office, where he keeps a pet frog. “Russia is a country that you can expect a lot from but not outright idiocy. Sorry, but it’s not going to happen. Carrying out a nuclear strike will result in not just a military defeat for Russia but the collapse of Russia. And they know this very well.”
Budanov’s other claims have included that Putin is terminally ill with cancer and has multiple body doubles. “It’s an open question if it’s the real Putin now,” Budanov said. He is so confident in his intelligence that he occasionally opens a folder to give exact figures — “approximately 326,000 Russian forces” fighting in Ukraine now or that Russia has just 9 percent of its stock of Kalibr long-range missiles left.
Zelensky appeared to lean on his intel in a recent address at the economic forum in Davos, Switzerland, when he said he is not sure Putin is still alive. (CIA Director William J. Burns has said there is no intelligence suggesting Putin is sick.)
“There are always doubts from others,” Budanov said.
“How effective I am in this position, that will probably only be evident in the future by history. I can’t objectively assess myself. Time will tell.”
Budanov’s quick rise to becoming one of the youngest generals in Ukraine’s history accelerated in August 2016, when a lieutenant colonel in Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, was killed in Crimea, allegedly by Ukrainian saboteurs. Budanov was believed to have been one of the Ukrainian special operators involved, working behind enemy lines, and he was later awarded Ukraine’s “Order of Courage” for undisclosed operations. In 2020, then just 34, he was named head of Ukraine’s Main Directorate of Intelligence, or GUR.
He remains a target for the Kremlin. After an explosion on the Crimean Bridge in October, Moscow named Budanov and other GUR agents as the culprits.
Ukrainian officials, including Budanov, have not publicly claimed responsibility for the bridge attack or others deep into Russian territory.
66,000 war crimes have been reported in Ukraine. It vows to prosecute them all.
Operations on foreign soil would technically fall under Budanov’s purview. In the interview, he did not confirm that his special forces were behind the strikes, which targeted strategic bombers Russia has used to hit Ukrainian cities, but he said to expect more and that Ukraine has agents working inside Russia.