WORLD AFFAIRS. The spies have been in the news these last few months. On February 14th, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, spoke at an expanded board meeting of the Federal Security Service (FSB). Then, on March 25th, Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, addressed the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) on the 21st anniversary of its founding. Putin’s website ran his entire speech [1]; Yanukovych’s—only a brief excerpt.

Putin made three key points:

  1. The priority of terrorism: “The most important aspect of your work is forestalling and preventing terrorism. It is necessary to protect people, and young people in particular, from being drawn into terrorist groups and the criminal underground. The direct link between extremist and terrorist groups is clear.”
  2. The impermissibility of outside interference in Russia’s internal affairs: “no one holds a monopoly that gives them the right to speak on behalf of all Russian society, especially the entities managed and financed from abroad as they inevitably serve others’ interests. … Any direct or indirect interference in our internal affairs, any form of pressure on our country or on our allies and partners, is unacceptable.”
  3. The permissibility of FSB interference in its neighbors’ internal affairs: “Recently we have heard a number of, to be perfectly honest, nervous, angry statements regarding integration processes within post-Soviet space. … Close integration is an objective, global process which cannot be stopped—including on our territories—by shouting and criticizing. Nevertheless we can expect—and as you know we are indeed faced with—various attempts to impede our integration efforts by employing a number of instruments of pressure, including the so-called mechanisms of soft power. I want to emphasize that Russia’s sovereign right and that of our partners to build and develop our integration projects must be duly protected. I would ask you to work closely with your colleagues and partners from Belarus, Kazakhstan, and other countries involved in various integration processes in this respect.”

That Putin sees no contradiction between his second and third points and between his view that integration is both “objective” and in need of presumably subjective “integration projects” and “efforts” is doubtless due to his many years’ practice in dialectical reasoning as a KGB agent.

Yanukovych, in contrast, spoke in generalities, almost as if he had no idea of what a security service is supposed to do—or that, at least, is the impression the official press release [2] creates. Here’s Yanukovych on the SBU:

The organs of law and order, and in the first place the Security Service of Ukraine, must be a reliable shield that defends our national interests against any interference under conditions of the complex challenges of the contemporary world. Ukraine must be strong, modern, and efficient, inasmuch as only then will it be able to defend its national interests. The Security Service is the key link in the sector of security and defense and it bears this important task. Our joint responsibility is to ensure order, maintain civic peace, and continue with the effective reform of all the country’s spheres of vital activity.

Who could disagree? I’d like to think Yanukovych said a bit more to Ukraine’s spies, especially about the FSB’s mandate to promote “integration processes” among Russia’s neighbors, but it is not, alas, inconceivable that he’s oblivious, or perhaps even welcoming, of Putin’s intentions.

Fortunately, the same day as Yanukovych greeted the SBU, its press service provided [3] more detail on the SBU’s activities. Besides fighting drug trafficking, corruption, and terrorism, the SBU is engaged in counterintelligence:

In the last year alone in Ukraine a stop was put to the espionage of 8 foreign spies and over 20 agents of foreign secret services, who were attempting to acquire illegally information about promising developments and technologies used above all in the military-industrial complex, the space sector, and the aviation industry. A court sentenced three citizens of the Asian-Pacific region to 5 to 8 years’ imprisonment for attempting to acquire illegally secret documents.

Since Russian capital already has a strong presence in, and arguably knows everything about, Ukraine’s military-industrial complex, space sector, and aviation industry, the eight spies and 20 agents are probably from the “Asian-Pacific region,” and not from Russia. The current SBU head’s background also suggests he may be disinclined to view the FSB’s integrationist efforts with alarm. Appointed to this office on January 9, 2013, Major General Oleksandr Yakymenko was born in Estonia, served in the Soviet Armed Forces from 1982 to 1991, and spent most of the last 20 years in security-related positions in the Crimea and Donetsk Province. In other words, he may be infected with Regionnaires’ Disease. The man he succeeded, Igor Kalinin [4], was an out-and-out Russian KGB agent of many years’ standing.

That said, there may be a smidgeon of potentially good news here. The SBU’s press service does speak of the “need to reform the SBU within the framework of the new Strategy of National Security of Ukraine and above all with regard to intensifying the counterintelligence and analytical sectors of the Ukrainian security service’s activity.” The convoluted sentence structure suggests that the SBU is in need of more than just good analytical skills, but the bit about counterintelligence may be grounds for hope that Yakymenko’s service in the front lines of Putin’s “integration processes” may have actually sensitized him to their destabilizing impact on Ukraine.

Alexander J. Motyl's blog

Ukrayinska Dumka


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