The founder of Ukraine’s military intelligence, Lieutenant-General Oleksandr Skipalskyi, retired deputy head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) and former head of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, shared his views on the state of defense and security in Ukraine in this interview with journalist Ruslan Ivanov, published by the online publication UA1 on March 31.
After the conviction of Nadiya Savchenko, her name has become a fixture on the pages of newspapers, and not only in Ukraine. Articles have appeared that attempt to explain Ukraine’s unsuccessful attempts to free her by pointing to her harsh criticism of the General Staff and the army leadership as well as the supposed lack of enthusiasm for her status as deputy of the Verkhovna Rada. Is this really the reason?
These versions have their place, but I’m more inclined to believe the unofficial information — that the Russians demanded the opening of a corridor to Crimea in exchange for the freeing of Savchenko.
In addition, releasing her is not that simple for Putin. It means admitting that everything has been falsified and biased. And what would he get in return? Ukraine does not have adequate resources to exchange for Savchenko, and her release would be a blow to Putin’s image.
Almost immediately after her kidnapping, Savchenko was under the control of Russian special services. Couldn’t our counterintelligence have solved the problem of her release at the early stage through private arrangements, money ?
No, it could not have. In Ukraine there was never any effort undertaken to use money to entice employees of Russia’s Prosecutor’s Office, the FSB, the Russian foreign intelligence. This has always generated fear and awkwardness. Nobody even had the idea that this might be needed.
However, the agency has always worked effectively domestically. It’s no secret that informers were placed in the radical political groups such as Svoboda and the Right Sector. In fact, they later served as the foundation of the volunteer movement. How about the current arrests of volunteers — is this the result of the special informants?
The situation is as follows. The army was systematically destroyed for a long time for fear that the military could overthrow a government that had discredited itself. Until the present time, the military have always been told that politics was not their business. However, that is a lie because even the conduct of war is a particular political method.
Because of this the armed forces have been headed by people who kept the military under strict control and simultaneously ruined the army. The patriotic officers have been “kicked out” ever since the time of Kuchma and a natural readiness to defend the country had not been formed in the army.
And then suddenly there was war and a difficult turning point. The army was destroyed, the leadership of the country confused and frightened, as was demonstrated by the published report of the National Security Council. But the survival instinct kicked in among the population, and volunteer battalions and the volunteer movement began to form in the country. And when we see what the people have accomplished the question arises — what has the government done?
It has done nothing to expose the fiasco in Debaltseve and Ilovaisk. It has not investigated how some reserve colonel like Strelkov, who engaged in games, could have fooled all our leaders and led a marching column for more than 60 km to Donetsk. And the fact that our pilots wanted to bomb this column but were not allowed.
Someone has to answer. And who can pose the questions? Only the people — those volunteer forces that have united. This is why it was decided to discredit them and split them up. And here Russia’s secret intentions overlapped with the positions of our leaders, who became frightened and gave appropriate commands to the security services. They would rather release a real separatist — the head of the Vinnytsia police — and arrest a kid who had ten rounds in his pocket.
Some of these agents that you refer to, who were introduced earlier, worked to undermine and tarnish the volunteer movement. It is the principle of “divide and conquer.”
And it’s a very good thing that Dmytro Yarosh, for example, understood this and distanced himself from some of his followers in time.
And has the practice been preserved of placing informants into the new political projects that are forming now? For example the same Yarosh or Saakashvili?
Like it or not, but awareness of the actual situation requires such actions and should not be feared. Personally, I’m not afraid of the word “agents.” I know it is a powerful weapon if used properly, if the agents are patriotic.
What should be feared is that the people who run it are concerned not with the security of the state but with serving the destroyers of this state.
I never spoke about this earlier but I will do so now because Ukraine finds itself in a very dangerous situation. Putin has given us 3-4 months before civil conflict erupts that will turn into a social explosion that will sweep the entire country.
Therefore, we should call a spade a spade, and people have to be prepared for the fact that this government will need to be changed. Through democratic elections and national assemblies. The situation in the country will not change without a rebooting, without changing the entire personnel structure of the current leaders who have taken up the old schemes.
The main features of the current political process are the constant night deliberations, the secret agreements, the closed meetings. But occasionally information about them gets out — so far on the level of ministers and their deputies. Do you think that another Melnychenko is possible who exposes not the middle managers but the top officials?
Well it would have been appropriate for some time now. But I don’t know if this is possible today. Personally, I have no need for this information. I already know who President Poroshenko is and who Lozhkin is. I know Yatseniuk still from his time in Chernivtsi — under whose patronage he was approved (including the security leaders) and who pushed him into the banking system.
It is not that important to obtain the information; it is important that the people who elected them understand that you cannot entrust government to adventurers and cheats.
As for the secret meetings, this is not the behavior of statesmen but of hucksters. The initial capital was formed in similar intrigues: where to join conspiracies, where to raise prices, where to buy up vouchers. And, unfortunately, this behavior has been carried over to the system of governing the country, and this is an entirely different category. This will not lead to stability and victory. They will destroy themselves by themselves.
You were opposed to the publication of the transcripts of the National Security Council meeting that dealt with the seizure of Crimea. However, it was made public as a result of the initiative of several deputies. Who was interested in this — Russians or Ukrainian politicians?
I think that given the penetration of our higher echelons of power by Russian agents, Russia has had a copy of this document for some time now, so it would hardly interest the Russians.
But this certainly has expanded the possibilities of the secret services of other countries. By analyzing every word and conduct, they have gained a real understanding of our government’s potential.
By publishing this information, they transferred the techniques of business to the matters of government. They did this exclusively to fight competitors. But fighting competitors in business is one thing. It’s quite another to fight opponents in developing a state.
Serhiy Pashynskyi, head of the parliamentary committee on National Security and Defense, would have never reached that decision alone. He would not have had enough pull to make such information public. And even if he had tried, the counterintelligence system of the state should have detected and prevented it.
By and large, Mr. Hrytsak (Vasyl Hrytsak, head of SBU) should open a criminal case against Pashynskyi or open an investigation to determine who actually authorized it.
But what is clear is that this decision was approved by Oleksandr Turchynov, who also did not have the right to do it since it was not within his area of expertise. So this needs to be taken to a higher level. But we have what we have. This shows the level of thinking and the maturity of our leaders.
You mentioned the penetration of the country by Russian agents. Now there are very many officials in Ukrainian special services who cannot explain their wealth. Is this the result of corruption, “protection racket” schemes or the fruits of cooperation with the intelligence services of other countries?
An important and conspiratorial agent can profit from foreign intelligence services. But the value of the agent is in his secrecy. Therefore, even if the intelligence services pay, they do not permit the conspicuous display of the money received.
Only 2-3 percent of the total number of the people you are discussing may be receiving payments from foreign intelligence and security services. The rest is the result of the erosion of conscience, when the entire law enforcement system is riddled with criminals in uniform. And the danger is they are vulnerable.
Just imagine. You are the head of customs and you are negotiating the settlement of some problem with your foreign counterparts. The foreign intelligence agencies immediately present a “colleague” who involves you to such an extent that you then sign everything they offer. This has happened to us, especially the last several year in the Donbas.
And no one investigated how many trucks with weapons had been brought into Ukraine earlier under the guise of smuggled goods through established routes, where the border guards and customs officers saluted each other, as was customary for us. This is where the danger lies and why we’re now in this situation.
And defense becomes impossible because the esprit de corps is gone and foreign intelligence services are pulling the puppet strings of some of our captains and majors, not just the generals.
In light of this situation how should we view the fact that the top management of Ukrainian state companies often consists entirely of citizens of the Russian Federation. For example, in the strategically important UkrGasVydobuvannya (Ukrainian Gas Extraction, the largest gas production company in Ukraine — Ed.).
The problem is the absolute lack of response on the part of the president as commander in chief and head of security, of Turchynov as chairman of the National Security Council, of the head of the Security Service of Ukraine. There are various reasons: lack of professionalism, unwillingness to change anything, general ties with Russia — everything together.
In civilized countries that are concerned about their safety there are limits of acceptability. If there is more than 20% of foreign capital in key areas of industry, it is already considered dangerous.
But we have given up everything. Even our defense complex is trying by any means, any roundabout way — through Belarus or elsewhere — to arm the enemy that is fighting us.
The war is taking place not only in the east. The SBU is constantly talking about the terrorist attempts in peaceful areas that they have been able to avert. Do you think scenarios like the ones that happened in Paris and Brussels are possible in peaceful Kyiv, which is far from the fighting?
I would not make that analogy. Well-fed, good-hearted Europe acted in such a way that it placed mines for itself. The intelligence services did not respond to potential threats. Also, the different ideologies played a role. The easy-going European finds it hard to understand and decipher the position of Muslims.
Our situation is different. This is the second year we are fighting a war. However, we are not in conflict with the Muslim world to such an extent that it would send us terrorists. And so far Russia still does not dare to carry out such total terrorist attacks on our territory.
In addition, our understanding of the psychology of the possible perpetrators is saving us. It helps us find the stockpiles of weapons and ammunition of the Russian terrorists.
In all likelihood, the terrorist acts in Europe will weaken the attention of Europeans to the Ukrainian question. Will they forget us in the end?
Of course people are concerned by what is in their own backyard. Above all, there will be attempts to tie Ukraine somehow to this tragedy, to spread the idea among Europeans that everything was peaceful in Europe until there was opposition in Ukraine.
For a while the terrorist acts will draw attention away from Ukraine, and the question arises who benefits. But if European intelligence services get on the trail not only of the perpetrators but also of those who directed the terrorist acts in Paris and in Brussels, then this could help Ukraine.