Attacks on Pro-Russian Officials Multiply Ahead of Ukraine’s Kherson Offensive; Puppet Mayor Poisoned By Chef?
Also, the Moscow-installed deputy head of Nova Kakhovka, Vitaly Gur, reportedly ‘was shot as he stepped out of his apartment block.’
As Ukraine’s military ramps up its plans to recapture the strategic Kherson region from Russian occupying forces, pro-Russian officials are being targeted ahead of anticipated hostilities on the ground. The most dramatic case involves the head of the Russian-installed administration of Kherson, Vladimir Saldo, who according to various reports may have been poisoned by his chef.
On August 3, Mr. Saldo said that he had been hospitalized and he was subsequently airlifted to Moscow, where he was reportedly put in a medically induced coma, from Russian-occupied Crimea. While posts on his Telegram channel claimed that his unspecified but rapidly deteriorating condition was due to complications from coronavirus, a spate of reports indicates otherwise. London’s Evening Standard reports today that Mr. Saldo was poisoned by a chef who started working in his house on August 2.
According to EuroWeekly News, Mr. Saldo has for some time been “one of the main targets of the Ukrainian Armed Forces among the heads of the other pro-Russian administrations in Ukraine.” Any Russian official in Ukraine right now is considered fair game to target, and the notion that a high-ranking interloper like Mr. Saldo would be the victim of a deliberate poisoning is not at all implausible.
Reports in Russian media have also pointed to an attack by poison. According to a Russian website called the Insider, doctors suspect that Mr. Saldo was poisoned though no specific substance was suggested. That site also identified Mr. Saldo as a former Ukrainian mayor of Kherson who “went over” to the side of the Russian occupation forces — and who survived an assassination attempt by improvised explosive device in July. In June, according to the website Ukraine Today, saboteurs blew up his official car.
The alleged attempts on Mr. Saldo’s life come against a renewed effort by Ukrainian partisans to neutralize pro-Russian officials, particularly in and around Kherson. Britain’s Telegraph newspaper reported that on Saturday the Moscow-installed deputy head of Nova Kakhovka, Vitaly Gur, “was shot as he stepped out of his apartment block.” According to Russian media he died on his way to a hospital in Crimea.
With a population of about 45,000, Nova Kakhovka is situated on the southern bank of the Dnieper river and is presently serving as a logistics hub for Russian efforts to resupply Kherson, 35 miles downstream on the northern bank of the Dnieper.
The newspaper Kommersant reported that a Russian, Sergey Eliseev, has assumed Mr. Saldo’s duties at Kherson while the latter remains incapacitated and on a ventilator at Moscow’s Sklifosovsky Emergency Research Institute. Physicians were said to be awaiting the results of toxicology tests. It was after initially feeling unwell that Mr. Saldo had reportedly decided on his own to delegate his “authority” to Mr. Eliseev, who is a former officer with the FSB, Russia’s Federal Security Service.
With respect to the chef who allegedly administered the poison to Mr. Saldo, there was no immediate word as to identity or present whereabouts, nor what deadly dish he or she may have prepared for the turncoat’s consumption. Putting his own spin on the incident, the deputy head of the Russian-installed administration in Kherson, Kirill Stremousov, said on his Telegram channel that Mr. Saldo was not in a coma but was simply “resting.”
August is shaping up to be a volatile month for Ukraine in general and Kherson in particular, as fighting stalls in the eastern Donbas. The past several weeks have already seen car bombs kill the collaborator head of Kherson’s prison service and a senior pro-Russian official in the civilian government, the Telegraph reported, as well as a bomb that blew up a car with two policemen inside, reportedly killing one.
The Guardian reported on Saturday that according to British intelligence, Russian forces are presently amassing in the south, their sights on a frontline stretching southwest from near Zaporizhzhia to Kherson. The British defense ministry’s assessment that the war is “about to enter a new phase” refers to maneuvers along that front line, but the incidents involving pro-Russian officials like Mr. Saldo point to Ukraine’s targeting Russia in ways both ballistic and less boisterous — but not necessarily less lethal.