Director of war: First ever long interview of Ukraine’s Security Service Head

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Highlights from Petr Shuklinov’s interview with Vasyl Hrytsak, Chief of Ukraine’s National Security, published in

What are you most proud of after a year of working as chief of national security?
Maintaining the integrity of our country after the annexation of Crimea, blocking the advance of the Russian troops, and preventing the spread of terrorism in other regions of Ukraine. We have created a security service that is able to adequately respond to the challenges. Our main challenge is Russia, not the terrorists in the DNR/LNR. We are at war with Russia. We are helping consolidate the political elites to work in the name of the State. Russia strives to divide our society, to dismember Ukraine. We are proud of intercepting a terrorist plot that was supposed to take place in France. Any intelligence agency in the world would be proud of a similar operation. Today the best secret service agencies of the world accept us as partners; we share our experience and knowledge that we have gained in fighting a hybrid war. In fact we are the first in the world to be faced with this kind of warfare. Our Western partners value our unique experience.
Those are the successes. What are the problems?
Unfortunately, we have not yet fully succeeded in cleansing the Service of ineffective personnel and strategies. We have embarked on reform, we have sent a draft reform of the Service to the National Security Council. In the meantime we have to work with what we have. The most advanced intelligence agencies in the world serve us as our models for rebuilding our Service. We are set on a European course, and on Euro-Atlantic integration, therefore the operation and service of our intelligence agencies must correspond with our [Western] partners’ agencies. In this our partners are helping us. We are reforming our Service while in action, and every day we have to prove that we are able to meet all the challenges facing us.
Portraits of the heavenly hundred [killed during the maidan revolution] hang on the wall next to your office. Why were they killed?
The political leadership that was in place at the time of the Maidan conducted regular consultations with the Kremlin and the Russian government. The Russian advisers played a key role. Currently, after all the politicians from the days of the Maidan have fled to Russia, it is very difficult to prove. I am convinced that the Russians had provided guarantees; the Russians had promised them that they would not be abandoned. That’s what has happened: all those responsible for the killings on the Maidan are currently in Russia. And the Russians will not extradite them. Is it a secret that the Russian FSB agents felt completely at home within the walls of the Ukrainian Secret Service offices? Is it a secret that the deputy chief of counterintelligence in Kyiv was arrested because he was working in the interests of Moscow? Counterintelligence! He was the one who was supposed to findthe Russian agents in Ukraine. And he worked in the interests of Russia.
Why weren’t there any intelligence officers who could have prevented the bloodshed on the Maidan?
Here is what nobody talks about: I tell myself and my team, “The rules are simple. Either we defend our country, or we lose it forever.” Russian hybrid warfare extends far beyond the ATO zone. It is being waged in Kyiv, in Odesa, in Kharkiv. We have stopped the disintegration of our country into gangster enclaves such as we have in the DNR and the LNR. We have blocked the scripts that had been prepared to create so-called “People’s Republics” in Kharkiv, Kherson, Mykolaiv, Bessarabia, and so on. The situation in Odesa was catastrophic. We were on the verge of a second front opening up when under the pretense of the “defense of its citizens” Russia was prepared to enter Odesa Oblast from Transnistria.
Many observers have the impression that you allow the security service of Ukraine to be used to combat the enemies of the President. What can you say?
Those are commonly used phrases: “He is guilty. He is a criminal.” Alright, but where are the facts? Let us examine the facts. What political showdowns have we been involved in? This is precisely why the President trusts me, because I do not play politics, I am not a businessman, or an oligarch. Nobody owns me and I do not owe anything to anyone. I am on the side of truth. And that is always much harder.
Do you support the lustration of the staff of the security service, from the top to the bottom?
I do. But I am against implementing lustration based on a formal resolution. As an example: in Ternopil a deputy chief at a regional bureau was formally lustrated. He had never seen Yanukovich in person and he hadn’t done anything wrong. But he was dismissed on formal grounds. And then there are people who though they were far from any decision-making positionwreaked havoc – they set fires to activists’ cars, they caused discord, and yet they have not been touched by lustration. It is unfortunate that the current lustration policy has led to the dismissal of many good agents.
And if the policy of lustration were to be withdrawn, would that be good or bad?
Let me stress: we need lustration. Those who have committed crimes, those who have harmed the people of Ukraine - and especially us, the agents of national security, which means we who serve the people of Ukraine - those people must be dealt with accordingly: they must either be dismissed, or, if a crime has been committed, they must be put behind bars.
Almost every day russian officers or agents of influence are detained in Ukraine. How many are being detained and what awaits them?
As long as Russia is conducting an undeclared war in Ukraine names will be added to the list. We continue to capture Russian officers, Marines, soldiers. I would like to mention another problem. Out of 25 people detained from Russia this year, 19 are representatives of the Islamic State who have arrived in Ukraine through Russia. Strangely, I have not heard anything from Russia in connection with success in combatting Islamic fundamentalism or international terrorism – it seems Russia is an unrestricted area for terrorists. We have detained a citizen from Turkey who is involved with Al Qaeda. He was on the Interpol wanted list.
The second front. How the security service of Ukraine blocked Surkov’s script for Odesa?
Russia had plans to detonate bridges and to capture the narrow isthmus near the border with Transnistria, where Russian troops are based. Under the guise of “defending our citizens” Russian troops were supposed to enter nine districts of Odesa Oblast. This was supposed to lay the groundwork for the so-called “Peoples’ Republic of Bessarabia” under the supervision of Russian officers. After the capture of parts of the Odesa region, after destabilizing Moldova and Romania, and after the capture of the city of Odesa, a second front against Ukraine was supposed to have been opened.
Within a small circle of people, including the President and the Chief of the General Staff I reported about the situation in Odesa and about the preparations that were being made to open a second front.
What was the reaction?
They were, to put it mildly, surprised. The curator of the “Bessarabia Project” was InalArdzinba, the chief deputy of VladislavSurkov, who is President Putin’s advisor. Ardzinba is on Russia’s wanted list, he is being pursued. According to what we know, the senior staff of the Russian FSB have blamed Surkov and Ardzinba with the failure of the “Bessarabia Project.” The plan has failed. A hybrid war in south-west Ukraine with access to Europe has not been ignited.
The russians are active in Transnistria again.
Of course. But to take serious action they need a base and supplies. So that today’s peaceful Odesa is a total defeat for them. Today nobody would agree to stand under their flag. But we are keeping an eye out for anyone who would. We are limited, though, because we live in a democratic country and we follow legal procedures. When the security of the country is at stake, though, we take steps to make sure the country is secure.
What strategy have the Russian Security Services devised in relation to Ukraine? What can we in Ukraine expect in the next year?
As I have previously said, in the fall of 2015 Moscow radically changed strategy in subverting Ukraine by implementing the main diversionary tactics in central and southern Ukraine instead of in the eastern regions. Russia is doing everything it can to destabilize the situation in Ukraine from within, to destroy all the functioning state mechanisms to demonstrate that there is no governing in Ukraine, that a civil war is ongoing in Ukraine, that the government is illegitimate, and that sitting at the table with the pro-Russian leaders is unavoidable. Russia will continue to try to prove that the Russian aggression is a simple “intra-regional conflict.” They will make every effort to have the sanctions removed. Their reserves  are not infinite, next year they will be forced to make huge payments on foreign loans. Elections to the Duma will, in one way or another, destabilize Russian society, since many unaddressed problems have developed. I must say that I like the mood and the attitudes of the Russian students. They want progress. Instead of watching TV they read articles online. The authorities in Russia will try to smother that mood and those attitudes by controlling the young people. In Ukraine they will try to split apart our political elite. I, as chief of the Security Services in Ukraine want to say to all the representatives of all the political parties, and to the leaders of civic movements: we must stand united. Our united front is the only way we can withstand the challenges Russia is continually throwing at us.

EMPR, O. R. contributed to this publication
Image credits
Original article in Russian is available on

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