The Defense Intelligence day in Ukraine is celebrated annually on the 7th of September. On this day in 1992 President signed a decree about the establishment of Directorate of Strategic Military Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. There is not much known about the activity of intelligence. But it does not mean that it’s not there or that it doesn’t function. Discreetness and secrecy that’s the particularity of real intelligence activity.
On the eve of the intelligence professional holiday Ukrinform met the first Head of intelligence Alexandre Skipalsky, who is considered the father of Ukrainian military intelligence. He kindly agreed to tell us about the birth of Ukrainian military intelligence, its activity and why till the very last moment Russia was not officially recognized as a potential enemy of Ukraine.
- I still have a historical document, a report, that I wrote for the government of Ukraine back in 1992 about the need to enhance military component in Eastern Ukraine and threat of separatist movement in Donbas region. I’m saying this, to let you know that there was such assessment. It was not a decision-making report, because I think it was not further reported at the National Security and Defense Council nor to the president. The threat form the East was felt. I’ve always said that the Black Sea Fleet is bridle on the neck of Ukrainian horse.
- So, the threat from Russia has been known since 1992? And you reported about it to the government ?
- Yes, I did and I still have this document.
- What was the basis of such conclusion. Why all these years of independence of Ukraine there hasn’t been a single word about that in the military doctrine of Ukraine and only recently has it appeared after the military aggression of Russia?
- There was nothing about that in the doctrine, but I can tell you officially that when I was the Head of Intelligence up until 1997, in certain service documents of the Ministry of Defense I did not put my signature until the Russian threat was put at the top of the list. Not many people liked this fact. My successors and some of my colleagues made almost opposite statements. Giving hugs to Russians they even said that they couldn’t tell them form Ukrainian officers and generals. And such people sometimes headed special services.
– Who are these unknown “patriots”?
- Well, I don’t want to let it be known. I told them that how such behavior was harmful for Ukraine, how they facilitated Russian aggression with this kind of duality.
BIRTH OF DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE
– Alexandre, let us go back to the 90s. Can you remember the way the defense intelligence was created? What was at the very beginning and how did the separation from the USSR structure went on?
– When in 1991 the Head Staff of the Ministry of Defense was created I was one of the 30 people who made up the operational work group for the creation of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. At that moment I was acting Head of military counter-intelligence department of the Security Service of Ukraine. Since military counter-intelligence works with military units I had good understanding of the situation.
Chief of the Head Staff that was further renamed as the General Staff, was general Zhyvytsa. He came from Moscow, his position was as follows : “we will not deploy reconnaissance units here. All of it we’ll be getting from Russian GRU within the framework of the commonwealth”. There was absolutely no doubt that Minister of Defense Morozov was not satisfied with such position. He offered me to get posted here and help him create military intelligence. It was a tough decision for me. I had been serving in KGB all my life. An expamle for me was the situation in USSR. After dismissal of the GRU chief Serov, this post was given to general Ivashutin. It was he who created the present GRU “monster”.
I graduated from the KGB school and knew thing in theory. I agreed and assessing the situation today, I can say it was a good decision of Morozov and Kravchuk to assign a Security Service officer the Head of military intelligence. First of all, the Ministry of Defense that was in the process of creation received officers from all over the USSR, including those who fled from Moscow to hide from Yeltsin. Secondly, the rigid management system of the Ministry of Defense wouldn’t allow an officer from another part of the Union overcome all the bureaucratic obstacles.
In those times more than 400 professional intelligence offices came back to Ukraine, not only Ukrainians, but also people whose parents lived here. There were active and full of initiative people among them, those who understood the task. One of them was colonel Gorbatovskii. He used to be Head of human intelligence in Transcaucasia region, he took part in all the events that happened there.
As a result I was assigned Head of Defense Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense and Gorbatovskii became my deputy. He started a very active work of intelligence development in Ukraine. Even at that time we understood what would be the attitude of Russia towards Ukraine. Having been part of that system we knew the Russian style, as they hugged their so so-called partners in Warsaw treaty, but in reality Moscow them and carried out activity against them. Of course we understood that Russia wouldn’t invent anything new and would treat Ukraine the same way, so we were alert at that time.
- General Staff already had a directorate of intelligence, why create another one in the Ministry of Defense?
- The reason we agreed to this option was the fact that so-called General Staff Intelligence Directorate was kept without proper infrastructure always expecting Russia to help. We decided to create a completely new structure form scratch – strategic intelligence. We were not charged with reforming tactical level intelligence, it was the General Staff. Strategic intelligence is long term intelligence, for longer perspective. Unlike tactical level intelligence, Strategic Intelligence got serious information related to countries presenting possible threats or interest for Ukraine in the field of defense and defense policy. Our idea found complete support. We are grateful for that to Morozov. Most importantly, President Kravchuk supported us.
We started developing the strategic branch. It means international communication, military administration, personnel training, training centre, officer selection were the core of operational work. And most importantly we were building our own Department not expecting help from Russia.
Tactical level intelligence works with troops, for example a reconnaissance company of a detached brigade. It is not subordinate to the DIU its subordinate to the General Staff Intelligence Directorate. It was underestimated in the times of Yanukovych. They turned it into a “paper” unit, meaning on paper you have a reconnaissance company, but in real life there is only a master sergeant of this unit. Crimea and Donbas war found us in this condition.
– So the death stroke at intelligence was made by the Yanukovych regime?
– Sales of Ukrainian military materiel and vehicles, and robbery of Ukraine started at the end of 1993 beginning 1994. Being the Head of DIU I expressed my deep dissatisfaction in my reports to the Minister of Defense Shmarov and NSDC secretary Gorbulin about the uncoordinated sale of Reconnaissance aviation regiment in Lymanske. It was sold without asking me, I was on a service trip. And there wasn’t my signature there, my signature that means our agreement that this military unit is not needed in the Armed Forces. Then there was transfer of military component of the leftovers of the space structures of the USSR space system in Muckachevo and Crimea to civil management. Space is first of all intelligence.
They should have been reformatted and used for the purposes of the Ministry of Defense, but Shmarov was a civil servant, who did not understand much in the military field and it was during his rule that much was given up and the destruction process started. During his term started sales of reserves and the profit never made it back to the Ministry of Defense for materiel modification and officers’ housing.
– Where did the money go?
– Something went to the state budget, but everything we managed to save in the first years they turned into their private property, trading it with great discounts with their own commercial structures for their own benefit.
HAS ANYTHING CHANGED OVER THESE 23 YEARS?
– Could you compare present military intelligence with the intelligence of those years?
- You are asking me an incorrect question: being biased to give the assessment. For many years I’ve been working as a social activist and in politics as well. I will turn a blind eye on that corporate inconvenience concerning my colleagues and I won’t be saying any names, I can say that there is no fault of the structure or the command here. For me it was easier, you know. Having understood how difficult it was to create Intelligence I understand that there was heavy resistance from certain people, I can tell you an example from my experience.
Military intelligence controls the armament among other things, but only inside the country, though it should be done abroad as well. DIU should have been controlling the weaponry not SSU trading it. We would examined where the weapons go. It can pass several countries and finish in a potential aggressor state. And we get the situation where we arm our own enemy. Since there was a material interest for the authorities I have the documents where I wrote that a representative of the DIU has to be included in the expert group at the Cabinet of Ministers, so that we at least know. Shmarov replied that it was inexpedient, saying that we already had a representative of armament staff in the expert group. It was the result of agreements with the purpose not to give military intelligence including Skipalsky access to control things and possess information.
To control me Security Service of Ukraine opened an operational profile on me. It was 1993.
– The SSU management didn’t trust you or were they checking you?
- I don’t know whether they were checking me or not trusting me – it’s their business. I am saying that they started a counter-intelligence profile on me. My code name was “Marshal”(top military rank in the USSR). So I was the only marshal in Ukraine. It was done with the sole purpose of controlling me, my telephone talks. Looking back I understand that it was all done to know my intentions as for the arms trade, because it was a matter of millions of dollars of income.
Of course when found out about this fact I reported to the president. As a coincidence deputy chief of the SSU was fired. This case about the profile was among other reasons for him to be fired. He was definitely set up. He refused to sign certain documents on the arms trade, because he understood what it was and unfortunately it was him they reported to about the profile on me.
- Do they really still have this corporate war inside the special services?
- Of course. You are the first to know, that I will be writing my memoirs where I will remember all this. I will remember that the biggest obstacle in building military intelligence was bureaucratic braking processes on behalf of the Security Service of Ukraine the structure I come from. But you see, our own security structure that was supposed to facilitate our development did the opposite in granting rights and capabilities. It’s especially serious concerning operational investigative activities. Can you imagine an intelligence agency without the operational investigative rights? SSU management did dare to write that they are against it. It’s good that I knew it from the inside and had connections, so I was still able to organize the military intelligence functions.
– So you are convinced that what’s happened in Crimea and what is now happening in the East is not the fault of Defense intelligence, as the agency that was supposed to prevent or foresee?
– Absolutely. It’s not DIU fault per se. Moreover, as far as I know from the conversation with the Head of DIU there was such information about the threat and it was reported to Yanukovych. And if you follow the military topic, you should know that ex-Chief of General Staff in one of his interviews said that they did have the information. After coming back from Crimea he saw the acting President of Ukraine Turchinov and having all the information and real force in Crimea, he offered to spifflicate the first piles of “green men”. Turchinov answered: “our Western partners don’t advise us to do it”.
For many years have I been saying that we would once get it, especially it was obvious during the Chechnya war. Not only me, but analysts as well affirmed that after Chechnya, after Caucasus, Russia will go to Ukraine.
– What were the arguments to your forecast?
– Well, it’s just the way the mechanism is built. If crocodile is meant to eat a living creature it will not eat grass. It will die, but it won’t eat grass. The same way Russian aggressive machine is built, starting with Ivan Groznyi, having burnt Kazan and destroyed indigenous population of Siberia and so on, - it’s war machine, it is very difficult to stop.
- But wasn’t it Georgia in 2008, who got hit after Chechnya?
– Yes, it was. After Georgia we should have been preparing for war in any case, because it was our turn. And even now we are not changing everything we should.
- Why? In the military doctrine that’s been recently published Ukraine finally stated officially that Russia is the enemy…
- I don’t share this opinion. I believe that we need a different formulation and it should be rather real than rendered public. Today we can talk about it, because Russia started open aggression against Ukraine. In many cases it’s hidden under so-called hybrid war. Right now Putin is preparing for the UN speech and the core of his speech will be the fact that Ukraine is having a civil war.
PUTIN AND HIS SPEECH
- By the way, the incidents near the Parliament, is it a coincidence or a well-planned special operation?
– It’s the preparation for the speech in the UN.
– So, it’s Russia’s responsible for the incident?
- Definitely! He will be declaring that Russia has nothing to do with that, there are no Russian troops here and Ukraine is struggling with a civil war. Everybody knows they tell lies in Donetsk and Lugansk. It’s not enough for them. Suddenly we have social tensions in Kyiv. Why are they discussing the matter of closure and the condemnation of the “Svoboda” party? If we do it right now, it means we’ll be playing for the wrong team. All of this is the stage setting for Putin’s arguments before the global society, about the civil war going on in Ukraine. If our politicians don’t understand this fact and continue this internal political conflict, we will help Putin. And then many UN members will be saying that Ukraine indeed is having a civil war like the one for example in Syria. It is all done for Russia to have grounds to say: “Why do you impose sanctions on us if they are having a civil war and we’ve got nothing to do with that!” This is why this incident near the Parliament took place.
Russia has imposed a false threat of nationalist movement in Ukraine upon Europe and our leadership. This way it is accomplishing its two strategic tasks. Actually this whole situation in the East is not as important for Russia as the two directions I’m about to list. And the war in the East is the operation of enforcing the accomplishment of these tasks.
The first is to do everything possible to show the world that Ukrainians are not capable of state building, that we cannot construct a state. It already happened at the beginning of the 20th century when the Riga agreement was signed. Read Lypynskyi and other historians about why they didn’t support us as an independent state, accusing us of not being able to build a state. It also includes economical collapse, collapse of the banking system, in other words a destructive process.
The second task is to kill the national idea, by dressing it in the fascism, nazi or whatever uniform . They are killing these to fundamental values that every state is based upon: national idea and perfection of the state mechanism.
Concerning the national idea… I think that many people including those close to the President who have never naturally embraced Ukrainian national idea can be easily caught into this trap. And looking with the pro-Russian eyes at me the Ukrainian screaming: “I love Ukraine!”, accuse me of fascism. This is where a very serious Yanukovych’s mistake was. Kuchma also hesitated: “Tell me what kind of Ukraine, you want? “. It was the year 97 or 98. This is what Yanukovych was just not able to comprehend, because of his nature, his natural genes selection. And still many people in the President’s environment do not understand this essence. And that’s our problem, they are afraid of Ukrainian, that is the essence for us, just as it is for any other nation. It happens because this place was occupied by their different genetic roots. It’s a very simple, but a very important nuance that nobody evaluates or discusses, because it’s kind of awkward, it carries a great threat.
I am glad that President understood and didn’t keep ruining the voluntary movement in Ukraine. You don’t want to do it, because if you take this energy of volunteers away from them, the energy that stopped the threat then its over, come and get it. I am not idealizing “Svoboda”, but this grenade was not thrown by “Svoboda”, it was thrown by an MIA serviceman. So let them explain how they managed to employ a person with a party membership card. It’s a judicial fact. So why are we shifting it onto “Svoboda”? Don’t employ him and if you do, please assume the responsibility. So there’s only one recipe and I’d be very happy if you wrote this. It’s not playing into the hands of Russia! There is no doubt everyone who is guilty shall assume responsibility, calmly without extra fuss, without hysteria. It is possible to straighten things out and find who’s responsible. I have information that certain FSB and GRU agents feel free here, driving around using fake IDs, under business cover and so on. Our counter intelligence regime is pretty weak right now, it’s not yet catching them. They feel pretty comfortable here. As an example I can tell you that members of such pro-Russian organization, a “Cossack” organization in “Obolon” one of the capitals districts were blowing up explosives. Luckily they were arrested. This is the first successful arrest by SSU. How many of such organizations are therein Ukraine? Over 50. A leader of such organization lives on the Bankova street and oversees the President’s backyard.
AMMENDMENTS TO CONSTITUTION
- At the moment all the Ukrainian attention is drawn upon the amendments to constitution in the so-called part about decentralization. How will they affect the security situation in Ukraine? Their adoption will increase defense capacity of the country or the opposite and Ukraine will become weaker in conflict with Russia? By the way, a very significant fact is that the opposition party supported these amendments completely.
- Of course, when assessing anything always ask yourself : “who benefits from that?”. If it is beneficial for the opposition party, who are not only carriers but also hands of Russian interest, there is absolutely no doubt that there is an element of threat.
You shouldn’t make such decisions including those amendments about the creation of local communes. It really is an important work to do, but I would do it gradually, part by part. There is no problem with transferring the authority of management and filling the budget as an experiment at least in two or three regions.
- Can it be done without making amendments to Constitution ?
- Yes, it can. Transfer the authority, check out the way it works. The situation of the leadership is very difficult right now. The only thing I would advise them, as an older person, is to do everything carefully. Don’t ruin the house not having built the new one.
I didn’t like the atmosphere they were adopting the amendments in, the atmosphere in the Parliament. The behavior of Parliament Chairman Groisman was similar to the behavior of Kaletnyk. I do not understand why they create this image, the one they have so many times condemned. Avoid it! Close the council, take a break, don’t do it. But we’ve got, what we’ve got.
As for my position, I put my signature in a plea of a group of Ukrainian clerisy to the President about the impropriety of thses amendments in the time of war.
IDEOLOGY AND PROFESSIONALISM
- In one of your interviews you said that there is a conflict of special services and intelligence agencies in Donbas, how can we win this conflict?
- Intelligence and special services are strong when their goal is not serving somebody’s personal interests, even the President’s, but serving the nation, security, protection of national interests from any threats. Common coordination under the guidance of the President in the field of national security is a must.
The problem is that human resource selection is not done by the professional qualities of people who will stand the ground of national interests and security till their last breath. Presidents and others select those who are convenient for the execution of their own personal assignments. I have seen relatives of our presidents coming to the heads of our special service, after the visit there were councils and actions to make a green light for their family business. This is not serving your nation.
- What is the advantage of the aggressor’s military intelligence in comparison to ours? And what do we have to do to change the situation in our favor?
- We are losing in ideological training. For their officers readiness to protect Russia and expand its territory is considered heroism. As for us, unfortunately, I didn’t see such patriotism and love towards Ukraine. And besides that, there’s a thought among many people that Ukraine is the same as leadership of the country. So if we want to have strong and committed intelligence officers, our leadership must understand that publicity and manipulation won’t work with professionals. They must be open, transparent and honest only then Ukrainian officers will become stronger, in terms of ideology.
Professionalism. Of course, it’s courage, flexibility in selecting their means of warfare and so on.
And one more thing, we must immediately make a flexible system of provision of the necessary equipment for reconnaissance units. Get ourselves on the rails of little private companies, like in Israel, Europe and unlike the rusty system of “Ukroboronprom”, where all the profit disappears somewhere.
- Does the state leadership pay enough attention to the military intelligence now?
- Absolutely, reassignments, change of teams – it always affects things. As far as I know, there was a pretty weak potential of the special forces, very weak staffing support for the regular units of the intelligence. Military intelligence also hasn’t yet accomplished or probably even didn’t set as a goal the reconnaissance support of the volunteer battalions. If I were Head of intelligence I would use this resource and have in agreement with the battalion command 2-3 professional reconnaissance groups, maybe even of reserve officers. It hasn’t been done. But it’s not the fault of intelligence. And as you see, there hasn’t even been made a coordination centre, coordinating correct ideas for reconnaissance activity in the last year and a half.
I consider the appointment of general Kondratiuk as Head of DIU a very good step, he showed his worth at the post of Head of counter-intelligence in SSU, where he gained experience of the warfare and work in the war time. He has a much larger understanding of the situation, that’s why the President assigned him the Head of DIU only a couple of month ago.
I like the fact that President right now pays enough attention to the military intelligence. It’s also significant that Poroshenko visited the appointment of Kondratiuk and set tasks to him in person. It’s very important for the Head of DIU, because the Minister of Defense may disagree with his propositions. When reporting to the Minister he has to say that it is the President’s assignment. Such indulgence, given to the special services in different countries is to get around the rot of the bureaucratic machine.
By the way, Poroshenko might never say it, but I will. It happened so that when military intelligence was developing and when I was serving in DIU his father and Poroshenko himself helped us in many things, especially concerning our cooperation with foreign delegations. They contributed in the organization of normal conditions for these meetings to take place. It was a real contribution of young at that time Poroshenko in the development of military intelligence.
As for Kondratiuk, he has a very complicated and responsible task. I had a quick meeting with him after his appointment, he’s got the flame in the eyes, he understands the task. And the task of the veterans, journalists and society is to help the military intelligence. It’s very important, because it’s successful function is the guarantee of security, guarantee of saving our children, reducing casualties, guarantee of successful operations. There’s a good chance right now to enhance our military intelligence.
Vitalii Sych, Kyiv.