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The language issue, high-profile killings, social cleavages: ex-SBU general on how Russian FSB plans to destabilize Ukraine

According to the Interior Ministry of Ukraine, some war veterans are involved in the murders of Katia Handziuk and Pavlo Sheremet. But, who is really the mastermind behind the killings? Collage: Serhii Nuzhnenko, RFE/RL. English version: Hanna Naronina
The language issue, high-profile killings, social cleavages: ex-SBU general on how Russian FSB plans to destabilize Ukraine
Article by: Iryna Shtohrin
Translated by: Christine Chraibi
By the next Normandy summit (scheduled in four months), Russian special services will be hard at work attempting to destabilize the situation in Ukraine, says Viktor Yahun, Reserve Major-General, Deputy Head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) from March 2014 to June 2015.

– Where would it be possible to destroy the country? How might this take place? How to counteract Russian tactics?

– Russia needs a weak Ukraine, so the Russian special services are working hard and will continue exacerbating different internal conflicts and destabilizing the situation in the country.

What Putin really wants is a “civil conflict” in Ukraine.

Or, if not that, Russia needs a conflictual TV scenario from Ukraine so that outside observers – western countries and Russia itself – can see a country in total chaos, something that can justify Russia’s statements about “Ukrainian Nazis”, “persecution of Russian speakers”, “anti-Semitism”, etc.

Any kind of event, anything at all can be treated as a provocation.

Viktor Yahun, Major-General, Deputy Head of the SBU from March 2014 to June 2015. FB Viktor Yahun

What are your reasons for drawing such conclusions?

– Just look at the facts!

Immediately after Normandy Four meeting, MP Buzhansky announced that he had submitted to the Verkhovna Rada a bill to repeal the law on the State Language (“Law on guaranteeing the functioning of the Ukrainian language as a State Language”), ​​as “it is aimed at discriminating against speakers of other languages, and first and foremost, Russian speakers”.

Next, on the Internet we read reports about an activist “murdered because he spoke Ukrainian”, other hate crimes, dismissals due to “language problems”, followed by political statements, and dissemination and discussion on social networks.

Then, Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnybok organizes a rally before the Ministry of Internal Affairs, because an activist was “killed for speaking Ukrainian”, and Channel 112 broadcasts the event live.

Finally, Russian journalists from Zvezda TV channel broadcast live streams from the Maidan … These are not random events. There are no coincidences.

– What other issues do you think can be used to aggravate the situation?

– The “language issue” is a classic FSB tactic in Ukraine.

Another question is the “land issue”. Don’t forget that Svoboda has been actively involved in the fight against the law on land moratorium.

Also, issues concerning “special status”, “persecution of volunteers”, “high-profile killings” – anything can become a provocation.

And, now comes the Sheremet affair…

From what we’ve heard and seen at the press briefing about the Sheremet affair, we can conclude that the investigators have done their job. We can also assume that the evidence will be used to prove that a “criminal group” has indeed been exposed.

However, if this is the case, and the court, having examined the evidence presented by the prosecution, pronounces a guilty verdict, then we’ll have a very troubling situation… as the suspects are or have positioned themselves as Ukrainian patriots.

I’m very much afraid that this will be used to discredit all volunteer fighters, the volunteer movement and patriotic Ukrainians, in general.

However, nothing’s been said about the masterminds behind Sheremet’s murder…

But, the key question is – Who benefits from this situation? Who benefits most from the discreditation of Ukrainian fighters that stopped the Russian aggressor in 2014?!

One of the suspects in the Sheremet case – war veteran and activist Andriy Antonenko. Photo: FB: Andrew Antonenko

Enemy intelligence services can take advantage of any issue, play on people’s moods or provoke dissatisfaction, spread disinformation, or create a pretext… And then, provoke protests all over the country.

For example, there are salary arrears for teachers, doctors, and miners. In Drohobych, western Ukraine, the outstanding debt to doctors and medical staff amounts to about 25 million UAH, and the Drohobych City Council can only scrape up 10 million.

Against the backdrop of protests and rallies in Kyiv, Russia can disseminate the idea that “the government’s position is untenable” and that “Ukraine is a failed state”.

Then, other “leaders” and funding will be found to start organizing people who are really angry and indignant about the state of affairs… and state employees may once again be used in rallies in Kyiv.

The fifth column and other agents of influence will do their part, while common people and activists will get on the bandwagon and spread the news. There have always been “useful idiots” in our society; they are everywhere.

– Where do these “agents of influence” come from? Have they been recruited?

– Yes. Some were recruited long ago and are invisible, or, conversely, they’re very active in society, while others have been recruited quite recently.

Moreover, many of them don’t understand that they’ve been recruited.

Well, can anyone actually understand the fact that they’re trying to win over people who are above suspicion, namely patriots, war veterans, and Maidan activists?

– How are these people recruited?

– Depending on the task, they first determine what kind of people they may be, what they may be able to do, where they might be the most useful. Next, they create a group of real potential individuals who may be suited for this purpose, and then, they begin studying them more closely.

They use all possible means: xenophobic attacks against displaced persons, PTSD and disdain for war deniers.

The targeted individual can be recruited as a patriot (they will appeal to his patriotism); he may be compromised or blackmailed; he may be lured by money, career advancement, or he may succumb to moral and psychological pressure.

The KGB, and now the FSB, has extensive experience and practice in recruiting people in all countries and in all walks of life – from leftist students in Cambridge to retirees who live next door to people that they really need.

Unfortunately, there are people who don’t even realize that they’ve been recruited. The agents of influence undermine them from within, playing on their beliefs, desires and dreams.

For example, a person may be eager to implement a project; someone tells him that they know a great fund that’s ready to support such projects. The man goes there without actually investigating the fund and where the money comes from. The fund is very keen on the idea, provides financing, and suddenly… they tell the man that he “must do something” or they give him a direct mission.

– Can a protest be provoked? How can we determine if it’s real or not?

– Civic engagement, such as Euromaidan, is maturing slowly. The majority of Ukrainians favoured Ukraine’s integration into Europe… Yanukovych dramatically changed Ukraine’s direction and was duly ousted by Ukrainian society. The Maidan protests were real.

As for protests that are provoked, there is first a chain of events and statements that follow one another closely and grow like a snowball. Sometimes a specific affair is used and sometimes the event is created artificially.

Euromaidan protests in the centre of Kyiv, December 1, 2013

– Is it possible to counteract destabilization?

– The State must act promptly, comprehensively and qualitatively.

For example, if there are resonant conflicts about language, if there are repeated cases of xenophobia, anti-Semitism or other negative manifestations, the government must investigate immediately and not remain silent.

Local authorities, central authorities, responsible officials, ombudspersons, as well as different institutions and organizations involved in such scandals must make appropriate statements, and confirm their respect for the Constitution and human rights.

Journalists also play an important role in stabilizing the situation in the country through their professional work, and not the pursuit of hype and self-promotion.

You must try to understand the circumstances as quickly as possible and cover the topic properly.

In general, we must be very careful with all the tactics that are being used to divide our country, provoking national, religious and other enmity, encouraging open confrontation. Even in a peaceful country, one has to keep a close eye on such negative manifestations in society, and even more so in a country that’s under attacked by such a powerful enemy as Russia.

– What about the demarcation line? What should we expect in this area after the Normandy Four summit?

– I believe we can expect escalation along the contact line. We know that President Zelenskyy will not allow the Ukrainian side to provoke the enemy, so we can expect the other side to react in a different way.

However, provocations can occur on both sides of the contact line.

There have already been several provocations by the other side… Remember those “DNR/LNR” officials strolling across the bridge? Remember the so-called “monitoring groups”, etc.? In fact, if they want to “control and check” something on our side, we also have the right to act “symmetrically” and demand that our monitoring groups also check the grey zones!

– I must ask you about the tragic deaths of two soldiers of the special forces unit of the SBU Special Operations Centre, Denys Volochayev and Dmytro Kaplunov…

– Our country is at war! Anything can happen.

A highly professional Russian sniper unit was sent to the demarcation line in the Donbas. Our elite unit arrived to counter them. However, the enemy monitored our whereabouts through hidden signals and covered the area with heavy mortar fire.

This is another confirmation of a simple fact that we must never forget… that we are dealing with a highly professional, experienced and cunning enemy.

Translated by: Christine Chraibi
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