What We Know About Remote-Control Assassination Attempt In Ukraine

On December 8, an assassination attempt was made against a Ukrainian politician in broad daylight outside the Deputy’s Office on Yavornytsky Avenue in Dnipro. The weapon was a remote-controlled AK-74 assault rifle set up in a parked Opel Astra.

The remote-control AK-74 was located in a parked Open Astra which was burned out by an improvised … [+] device immediately afterwards


Bystanders heard several loud pops as bullets were fired and the car then burst into flames. The target was not injured – more about him later – and the would-be assassin has since been apprehended.

“The entire incident appears bungled,” Robert Bunker, a counterterrorism expert and Director of Research & Analysis at C/O Futures, told me. “Only a few rounds were fired — possibly the weapon jammed — and the perpetrator was in the immediate vicinity of the incident which resulted in his subsequent arrest.”

The weapon appears to have been set up to fire from the back of the vehicle but may have shifted … [+] from its position.

Ukrainian National Police

The event is highly reminiscent of the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh last year. The scientist was apparently killed by a hail of bullets from a remote-controlled weapon in a parked car, which was then destroyed by a bomb. The attack was allegedly carried out by Mossad agents who controlled the weapon via satellite link, although this account is contested.

In the Ukrainian incident, the equipment appears to have been home built. The assault rifle was apparently aimed with battery-powered servomotors and equipped with a laser pointer to aid targeting. The operator controlled it via smartphone, and his close proximity suggests he needed to be in visual range to oversee the attack.

The car also contained a crude IED, also triggered by phone, presumably intended to burn the car out and destroy the evidence. Bunker suspects that the attack may have failed because this device was activated too soon, knocking out the remote-controlled weapon, but this is speculation.

“It is too early to really know what took place at this point,” says Bunker.

Bunker previously carried out a study in 2016 for the U.S. Army on how remotely operated rifles and machine guns have been used in the Middle East by terrorists and insurgents. The weapons were first adopted by the Free Syrian Army in and around Aleppo, but later spread to Shia militias and Kurdish fighters in Iraq, and other groups including the Islamic State. They range from crude, cable-operated devices to sophisticated units on tracked robots, but were previously an obscure branch of weapons lore.

“Remote-controlled weapons—while they have existed for some time—were not generally widely known prior to the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in November 2020 when the media spotlight focused on a purported AI robotic gun being utilized,” says Bunker.

3D modeling suggests that all the bullets that struck Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh came from … [+] the same location: the back of a parked pickup truck which exploded immediately afterwards.

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While Bunker disputes whether such a weapon was used in the Fakhrizadeh assassination, he sees it as a landmark event that put the idea in the minds of others, probably including the perpetrators in Ukraine.

“I think the Iranian incident, even if actually misidentified, inspired the method of attack,” says Bunker.

A suspect was arrested two days after the event by a Rapid Operational Response Unit of the Ukrainian police. A raid on his apartment turned up bomb-making equipment, a handgun, AK-74 ammunition and electronic gear. The unnamed suspect has been detained on a charge of “Preparation for the commission of premeditated murder.”

Phones and other electronics recovered during a raid on the suspect’s apartment.


The target seems to have been Yuriy Simonov, a deputy and leader of the local branch of the UDAR (“Democratic Alliance for Reform“) party. Given the rising tensions in the region, the assassination attempt may look like a Russian attempt to destabilize Ukraine. According to local news reports though, the prosecutor’s office believes “the reason for the assassination attempt was the debt obligations of the deputy.”

In other words, he was targeted by gangsters because he owed them.

Simonov responded with a statement thanking the police for their work but saying, “I want to clarify that I exclude any motive related to financial activities, because I do not have any debt obligations to third parties. I assume that the attempt was made because of my social and political activities.”

UDAR has a strong anti-corruption stance, important in Ukraine, where organized crime is pervasive and seemingly omnipresent. It controls not just lucrative criminal enterprises such as trafficking in drugs, illegal weapons and people, but many legitimate businesses. Criminal groups also have close ties to the political elite.

“Mafia-style groups in Ukraine wield extensive political influence and reportedly have access to multiple levels of the state,” according to the Global Organized Crime Index. “State capture by criminal actors is a pervasive issue in Ukraine and state-embedded actors provide criminal actors with protection and enable a number of criminal flows.”

In 2017 Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau prosecuted the country’s top tax official, alleging he had skimmed some $75 million. A 2019 report on crime in Ukraine noted “the organs of state that ought to be upholding the rule of law are as often as not conspiring against it.”

So it is not just assassination by the Russians that Ukrainian politicians need to worry about.

As for the use of remote-controlled weapons, by non-state groups as well as state actors worldwide, Bunker believes it is likely to increase.

“The expectation is we will see the use of remote, teleoperated systems sporadically going into the future now,” says Bunker. “Some technical expertise is still needed to build and deploy remote weapons, even basic ones, but the bar to entry is definitely much lower than it once was.”

Such weapons could easily make the leap from remote-controlled to autonomous. Linked to technology like facial recognition, an assassin could leave a weapon in place to carry out an attack automatically and destroy itself while they leave the country. And while groups like Mossad will be able to carry out such operations with enormous technical precision (like real-life versions of Hollywood plots), gangsters may already be getting in on the act with their own homebrew versions, adding a new problem for security agencies.

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