WORLD AFFAIRS.  A friend of mine, a Ukrainian diplomat, recently told me to “be careful” during my forthcoming visit to Kiev from December 6–20.

“What exactly do you mean?” I asked.

“They could give you some trouble at the airport,” he said, “and they’re certain to follow you.”

Nine-tenths of me expect no trouble. After all, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has its hands full with crime, corruption, espionage, and, of course, self-enrichment. Why waste scarce resources on a World Affairs blogger from New York? Surely they can’t be that stupid.

The other tenth replies, “Oh yes, they can.” Why else would they have detained German analyst Nico Lange at Kiev airport back in June? Or interrogated historian Ruslan Zabily for his work on the Holodomor, the famine-genocide of 1933? Or paid a visit to the rector of Lviv’s Ukrainian Catholic University, Father Boris Gudziak, an American-born (and educated) priest?

Each of those incidents hurt Ukraine’s image and brought it absolutely no benefits. Surely spies don’t act that dumbly.

Except, of course, that in Yiktor Yanukovich’s Ukraine — they do.

Hanna Herman, Yanukovich’s press secretary, blames it on the quality of the spies: “The former KGB agents were really very professional. The best of them left the security service, while the worst ones stayed. The way they’re behaving today is crude. And I don’t understand why.”

Personally, I’m not sure I agree with Hanna. In my encounters with the KGB, I was never impressed me with their slickness. The first time I traveled to Lviv, in the spring of 1976, shifty guys in black leather jackets followed me all over the city, much to the amusement of friends and relatives who delighted in trying to outwit them. They succeeded in intimidating a 23-year-old college grad — hardly an impressive feat — but I can’t say I found them “very professional.”

The next time I visited Lviv, in the fall of 1977, the KGB staged a mix-up in my hotel. After checking in, I found a middle-aged man — in boxer shorts, no less — sitting in my hotel room and reading a book. An unfortunate mistake, he said — hah! I thought — but perhaps I wouldn’t mind sharing the room with him? No? Too bad. Then how about a glass? As we drank a cheap Ukrainian wine (known to the locals as “ink”), he introduced himself as Yuri V-v and claimed to be a screenwriter from Kiev on assignment in Lviv. Why doesn’t he take me around the city, show me the sights? Sure, I said, thinking that, this time, I’d at least know who was following me. I later learned that Yuri worked for the Ukraine Society, a KGB front that kept tabs on diaspora Ukrainians.

In any case, whether or not the “worst ones stayed,” it’s pretty clear that the current head of the SBU, Valery Khoroshkovsky, is one slick fella. Compared to the mugs who ran the old KGB, the 41-year-old, English-speaking Khoroshkovsky looks like the media tycoon he is. Neatly groomed, nattily dressed, and sporting fashionably knotted ties, the slender spymaster lacks only the perpetual suntan characteristic of denizens of Park Avenue. It’s a good bet that he plays tennis, and he certainly enjoys taking a spin in one of his cars. By the way, at last count, there were seven: two Porsche Cayenne Turbos, a Bentley Continental GT, a Maybach 62-S, and three Mercedes-Benzes (a GL500, an S 4500, and a Sprinter, the last no doubt for weekend family picnics on Yanukovich’s estate outside of Kiev). And Val does like a good meal. Back on November 9, Ukraine’s James Bond invited several European parliamentarians to Brussels’s ultra-fancy Maison du Cygne restaurant. I’m guessing the health-conscious Khoroshkovsky went for the Fricassee of Bay-Lobster with Asparagus, Nantua Sauce as an appetizer (€35) and the Grilled John Dory with Summer Vegetables, Virgin Oil and Basil as a main course (€40) (see Andrew Rettman’s report).

Herman calls Khoroshkovsky an “intelligent person” who “makes a good impression from close up. He knows much, and is a fairly delicate and deeply religious man.” Could be, but it’s clear that the thuggish qualities of the SBU boys have gotten free play on his watch. For the five years of Orange rule (2005–2009), the SBU never once overstepped the bounds that it now so easily, so casually, and so often ignores.

Back on June 29, just after the Lange detention, a friend of mine, the analyst Taras Kuzio, and I wrote an article for the Kyiv Post suggesting things to do when detained at Kiev airport. One of them was: bring a cell phone.

I happen to be one of the few remaining human beings who still carries no cell phone. But no more. When I board that plane on December 6, I’ll have one in my pocket.

Just in case Val Bond decides to shoot himself in the foot.

Alexander J Motyl

Ukrayinska Dumka


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