Ukraine’s security service, the SBU, said Saturday that employees of a Ukrainian arms company conspired with officials to embezzle almost $40 million that had been earmarked for mortar shells to fight the war with Russia.
The agency said five people had been charged and one had been detained while trying to leave the country. The five could face up to 12 years’ imprisonment.
The country’s prosecutor general said the funds have been seized and are to be returned to Ukraine's defense budget.
Meanwhile, Britain’s Defense Ministry said in its daily Ukraine intelligence report Sunday that recent statistics indicate that arson attacks on Russia’s military enlistment offices have doubled in the last six months.
Russia has blamed the arson on people "acting at the behest of Western officials." The British ministry said it sees the attacks on the enlistment offices differently, saying that the increasing number of attacks "is highly likely due to a greater sense of disaffection with the war" within the Russian population, especially among those who would be called up, if a second wave of mobilization were announced.
Suspects who have been accused of launching the fiery attacks have been charged with terrorism and treason, according to the British ministry.
While Russian President Vladimir Putin promised in his annual news conference last month that there would not be any more mobilizations, the growing number of arson attacks on Russian enlistment offices, the British ministry said, "suggest a lack of confidence in this promise."
During the unveiling of a World War II memorial in St. Petersburg on Saturday, Putin drew a parallel between Russia’s war in Ukraine and Russia’s fight against the Nazis 80 years ago.
He said in his speech commemorating the anniversary that "the regime in Kyiv exalts Hitler's accomplices, the SS men."
Moscow has repeatedly tried to justify its war on Ukraine as an effort to "de-Nazify" its southern neighbor, even though Ukraine has a democratically elected Jewish president who lost relatives in the Holocaust.
Ukraine was once part of the Soviet Union and itself suffered devastation at the hands of Hitler's forces. It rejects the comparisons as spurious pretexts for a war of conquest.
St. Petersburg, then called Leningrad, marked its 80th anniversary of the end of a nearly 900-day siege by Nazi forces. The Red Army broke the blockade of the city on January 19, 1943, after more than 1 million residents died from hunger or under bombardment. The Soviet Union lost an estimated 27 million people during World War II.
During his speech, Putin also excoriated Europe for "Russophobia" and criticized the Baltic states over human rights violations.
"In a number of European countries, Russophobia is promoted as state policy … in the Baltic states, tens of thousands of people are declared subhuman, deprived of their most basic rights, and subjected to persecution," Putin asserted, referring to migration crackdowns.
Moscow has repeatedly accused the Baltic nations of xenophobia and of mistreating Russian minorities.
Plane crash POWs
Officials in Ukraine say Russia has provided no credible evidence to support its claims that Ukrainian forces shot down a military transport plane allegedly carrying 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war, who were to be swapped for Russian POWs.
Ukraine’s coordination staff for the treatment of prisoners of war said relatives of the named POWs were unable to identify their loved ones in crash site photos provided by Russian authorities.
The head of Ukraine’s military intelligence service also said Friday that Kyiv did not provide verifiable information about the passengers aboard the Russian airplane that was downed on Russian soil.
Lt. Col. Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s military intelligence chief, made the comments after Russia's investigative committee posted online a video of what it described as Ukrainian prisoners of war boarding the plane that later crashed.
The video on the committee’s Telegram channel shows vehicles approaching an Ilyushin IL-76 aircraft on a snowy airfield. Individuals are seen getting out of the vehicles in preparation for boarding.
The video has no sound and is accompanied only by a single line of explanation that it depicts Ukrainian servicemen boarding the military transport. It gives no location.
Moscow says nine Russians also died in the crash.
During his first remarks on the crash Friday, Putin blamed Ukraine for downing of the plane without providing proof for its accusations.
"I don’t know if they did it on purpose or by mistake, but it is obvious that they did it," Putin said. "In any case, what happened is a crime. Either through negligence or on purpose, but in any case, it is a crime," Putin said in televised remarks.
Putin said the plane could not have been brought down by Russian "friendly fire" because Russia's air defense systems have safeguards to prevent them from attacking their own planes.
Russia's state investigative committee said Friday it had recovered Ukrainian identity documents and tattooed body parts from the crash site for genetic testing.
It said the evidence collected also included "documents of Ukrainian servicemen who died in the disaster, confirming their identities, as well as accompanying documents from the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia."
Russia has sole access to the crash site, and independent news organizations are unable to verify its account or examine the evidence that has been recovered.
Ukraine disputes Russia's assertion that it had been forewarned that a plane carrying Ukrainian prisoners of war would be flying over Russia's southwestern Belgorod region at that time.
At the U.N. Security Council, a Ukrainian envoy repeated her government’s call for an international investigation, saying the Russian military did not allow emergency workers access to the crash site.
Some material for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.