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Vadym Skibitskyi: “We have an answer to the Russian leadership's statement that their units “are not there” in Donbas”
The Ukrainian Week spoke to representative of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine about the agency’s work, Russian servicemen in Ukraine and the threats the state is facing.
Which main areas of work of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine can you outline today?
– It is clear which focus area is our current priority. The constant acquisition of intelligence data regarding Russian aggression in Donbas and Crimea. The number of units, their weapons and military equipment, command and control systems and tasks are all of interest to us. We are gathering evidence of the direct involvement of Russian career servicemen in the conflict. This concerns both the latest models of weapons and military equipment that Moscow is testing in Ukraine, as if it were a training area, and the identification of persons involved in recruiting militants, supplying weapons and ammunition, training or commanding the terrorist forces of the so called “DPR/ LPR”. For example, we identified Colonel of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation Bushuyev, who commanded the so-called 7th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade of terrorist forces. Prior to his mission to Ukraine, he was the executive officer and deputy commander of the 83rd Separate Air Assault Brigade, stationed in the Ussuriysk city, Primorsky Region, Russia. We have managed to find many such RF servicemen and data about them is publicly available on our website. This is our answer to the Russian leadership's well-known statement that their units “are not there” in Donbas.
This information complements the evidence base for Ukraine's case against Russia in the International Court of Justice. This is the first time that such a state has been accused of supporting terrorists. Thanks to our data in particular, the Ukrainian leadership has been able to convey the real picture in the eastern part of our country to foreign partners. I can say from personnel experience that back in 2015 I was approached at NATO Headquarters as well as in various EU structures and asked if it was true that there were Russian servicemen in Donbas. European politicians could not come to terms with the fact that the Russian leadership was lying so openly. However, we presented our data and convinced them that this is not a civil war or a local conflict, but covert aggression on the part of the Russian Federation. One of the results of such explanatory work is the consistent extension of economic sanctions against the Kremlin. At the same time, our work is focused not only on uncovering the presence of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation – more importantly, we make forecasts for Ukraine’s leadership regarding the aggressor’s next steps.
How realistic is it, in your opinion, to predict the actions of Vladimir Putin and the Russian servicemen?
–The Kremlin is rather unpredictable indeed. But as servicemen, we understand that no a single large-scale operation can take place without prior planning and preparation. These are the things we track. We see that, as of today, Russia has not been able to achieve its strategic goal, namely the return of Ukraine under its full control. But so far the Kremlin has not abandoned these plans, so it is extremely important for us not to allow the events of 2014 to reoccur.
What do you monitor besides the ATO and Russian actions?
– We do not neglect other areas. There are many of them, all defined by relevant legislation. Some key ones are supporting national interests in the military, military-political, military-economic, as well as scientific and technical spheres. Internationally, the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine supports the fight against international organized crime and terrorism. We also join peacekeeping activities.
How do you assess the level of international cooperation? Does the DIU receive assistance from foreign partners?
– Development of cooperation with the special services of partner countries is one of our main focus areas. As part of special programmes, our partners provide significant assistance to DIU of Ukraine. Above all, consultations regarding our reforms as we move towards NATO standards – it is planned that by 2020 there will be full compatibility with Alliance forces and the readiness to carry out tasks together. The relevant requirements are contained in the Strategic Defence Bulletin and the National Intelligence Program for 2016-2020.
This is a very important point, because for the first time in the history of the DIU we plan to conduct information and analytical work alongside with our foreign colleagues within NATO structures. Processing our data and that of the Alliance together, evaluating it and preparing recommendations for the Ukrainian leadership and partner countries. This, in turn, requires new skills, new approaches, different thinking mechanisms and, of course, good knowledge of foreign languages. A program has been developed that includes additional training for our officers, studying the procedures and regulations of the Alliance. The main thing is that we are conducting joint training sessions. Figuratively speaking, this is integration with NATO even without obligatory membership.
Another type of assistance is the provision of certain technical equipment by our partners. Hostilities against such a powerful enemy in the military sense as Russia require the development of the entire Ukrainian intelligence system. Our units should have the best and the most modern models of equipment. Therefore, we are actively working on providing supplies at all levels – ranging from night-vision devices for men in our units to more serious intelligence tools that detect movement of enemy weapons or their preparations for active hostilities.
In addition, there is significant exchange of information. Prior to Russian armed aggression against Ukraine we also had a dialogue with our foreign partners, but on a very limited range of issues – above all, data on possible threats to international peacekeeping contingents and the activities of terrorist organizations. At present, there is a significant increase in our work with partners. In addition, this sharing of intelligence data and experience is proving to be beneficial for both sides.
It is important for us to learn from the experience of our foreign colleagues, because they have invaluable background in, for instance, Iraq and Afghanistan. But our intelligence officers have a lot to offer Americans as well – they have not opposed an enemy the level of the Russian Federation for a long time.
How is cooperation between the DIU and other law enforcement agencies organized?
– Since the onset of Russian aggression against our state, the whole system of interaction between Ukrainian intelligence agencies has changed dramatically. Today, we have a unified informational field and exchange intelligence data with other agencies. As a part of the Joint Committee on Intelligence under the President of Ukraine, we prepare assessments together on the most urgent issues concerning national security. A united intelligence information system is now being created, which will enable us to better coordinate our efforts.
Several years before Russian aggression against our country, the DIU issued a warning about that threat. However, as it turned out, the former state leadership was not interested in responding adequately to these warnings. How do you assess your current interaction with the new government?
– In view of the specifics of our work, we can not disclose the details of our interaction with the current leadership. However, I can say that we have significantly increased the number of informational documents that are now provided to interested authorities. Just for comparison: in 2016, one and a half times more analytical products were sent out than in the previous year. So we can see the state leadership's interest in our data. One of the main topics in our documents is revealing the enemy's further intentions to continue its hybrid aggression against Ukraine.
Something new that we have started recently is the drafting of daily briefings on the most important issues regarding the development of military-and-political and military-and-strategic situation around our country. Such briefings keep the military officers and politicians abreast of events and help them to make informed decisions.
What are the main threats to Ukraine?
– Today, Russia remains one of the main sources of threats for our country. The deployment of new and the build-up of existing Russian Armed Forces units in close proximity to the Ukrainian state border is a danger. We continue to record the formation of new military units and formations, as well as weapons and military equipment and personnel movements. An interesting detail is that in some units, officers who have experience in conducting combat operations against Ukrainian forces in Donbas are being appointed as commanders. The occupied Crimea is being militarized. In addition to conventional weapons, the peninsula has the potential for the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons. The presence of Russian troops in the Transnistrian region of Moldova also causes some anxiety. This contingent could, if necessary, be used to destabilize the situation in southern regions of Ukraine. Therefore, our task is to detect any changes in the combat readiness of Russian units in good time and determine their purpose. Recently, the risk of cyber-attacks conducted against Ukraine has become more relevant. From a military point of view, hackers could be interested in disrupting the communication networks of Ukrainian Armed Forces headquarters and commanders, in addition to interfering with command and control weapon systems.
In addition, global problems remain relevant and are even becoming more acute. They include international terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the emergence of regional conflicts in different parts of the planet.
Interviewed by Yurii Lapayev