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The Security Service of Ukraine is reformed through evolution rather than through revolution


Lada SAFONOVA takes up a sensitive subject — the Security Service of Ukraine, its links with the past, its reform, and prospects for the future.


The Security Service of Ukraine (Sluzhba Bezpeky Ukrayiny — SBU) is one of the most influential government bodies. The service was created on the basis of the Ukrainian section of the notorious and once all-powerful KGB. After the break-up of the Soviet Union, the role of the Security Service in the new state remained problematic. On the one hand, it should safeguard the state interests of independent Ukraine, but on the other hand, the personnel of the service was made up of people specially selected and trained to protect the inviolability of the Soviet Union. As a result, the SBU became not only an element of Ukraine’s politics, but also its active participant; the SBU was involved not only in the redistribution of the Ukrainian market at the early stage of its capitalization, but also in much-publicized scandals such as the murder of the journalist H. Gongadze, or in the illegal international sales of arms in defiance of the UN sanctions.

It may seem paradoxical, but during the Orange Revolution the SBU actively cooperated with the opposition, and as a result, Oleksandr Turchynov, one of the leaders of yesterday’s opposition, was appointed the new head of the SBU.



During the Orange Revolution, its leaders, addressing the protesters at many meetings, promised “to cleanse the structures of power,” that is discharge from the SBU and police those officers who have implicated themselves in shady dealings, taken bribes or “dishonoured” and “corrupted” in any other way the agencies they worked for. President Yushchenko also spoke to the same effect when he was introducing the newly appointed SBU chief, Oleksandr Turchynov, to the SBU personnel.

But the SBU’s head did not begin with “cleansing” — instead, he set out to analyze the situation in the SBU, to find ways of becoming not a nominal head but an integral part of this agency, to see what should be really done to reform it, to rekindle “the corporate spirit.”

Eventually, some officers were discharged but the motivation was not “revolutionary expediency” but professional considerations. The SBU personnel seems to have accepted the necessity of profound changes in the system and reacted with understanding, without panicking.



Oleksandr Turchynov said that “a struggle is going on in the Ukrainian society to curb criminality, a fully fledged struggle, not just window-dressing.” President Yushchenko supported this struggle issuing corresponding decrees. It has become clear that a new state body, a sort of a think tank, is needed. Such a body would work out the basic principles of reforms in the law-enforcement agencies and in the SBU. Meanwhile, the SBU submitted its proposals, and President Yushchenko supported them.

Oleksandr Turchynov insists that the reforms will be carried out not just for the sake of reforms as it used to be but in order to create a much more effective state security system. He revealed that a number of departments and posts had been created in the past in order just to put “the right people” at “the right places” and give out awards and higher ranks; some departments had been created on false pretexts but provided niches to be occupied by obedient and supportive generals. Departments were constantly reshuffled; some were given the status of “general boards” only to be stripped of their status some time later; the resources were dispersed, rivalries were on the rise, bureaucratic procedures became overcomplicated and much too prolonged; the SBU structure had become much too cumbersome with 20 semi-independent departments, each of which was directly subordinate to the SBU bosses. The heads of these redundant departments thought in terms of “loyalty to the chief” and sycophancy rather in terms of efficiency and analytical results.

President Yushchenko issued a decree which aims at making the SBU structure much better organised and much more manageable. The SBU will have 9 departments, security government communication department, and the apparatus of the SBU head. The number of generals and administrative departments within the Central Board alone will be reduced two times; the number of officers and employees in the whole of the SBU system will be reduced by ten to fifteen percent. The financial resources, which will be freed thanks to these reductions, will be used to raise the salaries of those who will remain at work in the SBU. Such “weeding,” one hopes, will improve the quality of the personnel and the raise in salaries will encourage them to work better.

It is planned to create a unified counter-intelligence system which will do its work in the whole territory of Ukraine. Anti-corruption and counter-intelligence protection of economy departments will be united in one department which will make it easier to work out anti-corruption strategies, to curb economic crime and bribery, to react more efficiently to the signs of possible critical situations in Ukraine’s economy. The SBU is to become a more effective law-enforcement body.

Several anti-terrorist departments will also be united into one department. Vasyly Krutov, a top anti-terrorist expert and first commander of the Alfa special forces, was appointed SBU first deputy head and this appointment indicates that a special attention will be given to anti-terrorist work.


Depoliticisation and decriminalisation

One of the most important reforms is to depoliticize the SBU, that is to stop its involvement in monitoring the activities of political parties and public organisations if these parties and organisations exist and work legally. Says Oleksandr Turchynov: “Under no circumstances, the SBU will fulfil political tasks. However, if criminals find their way into a political party and will engage in criminal activities under the cover of the name of the party, or if the activities of a party are found to be damaging to the interests of the state, the SBU will take all the necessary measures within the scope of powers it is invested with, to prevent such activities. Oleksandr Turchynov admits that in the past the SBU was involved in illegal wiretapping of telephones, unsanctioned trailing and shadowing of private persons and political figures, harassment of the political opposition, and pressure on businessmen commissioned by their rivals. Such activities and practices must not be allowed to continue.

Another important step to take is to “decriminalize” the SBU, that is to make it impossible for anyone to use the SBU as a protective cover for all kinds of illegal and shady deals. It will not take long to investigate who protects whom, where and how and with whose connivance this or that official “earned” money to buy an expensive foreign-made car for himself and “a little house” in a natural preserve for his mother-in-law as the media has been providing enough information to start with. But eradicating corruption in the SBU, one should be careful not to act rashly and not to get rid of those diligent and constant officers who in their investigations get close to exposing shady or illegal deals but who are falsely accused in the media of corruption; such “accusations” are organized and paid for by those who feel increasingly threatened by “too nosy” officers.

Democratisation of the SBU is also badly needed. The way state security agencies operate is a reliable indicator of the state of democracy in a given country. Oleksandr Turchynov says that the principle of “the supremacy of law ” must always be kept inviolate but at the same time he cannot agree with statements to the effect that democratisation involves scrapping the state security service altogether or drastically limiting its functional powers.

During his presidency, Leonid Kuchma proclaimed “deKGBization” of the SBU but nothing was actually done along to achieve it. The SBU can be reformed within a comparatively short period of time so as to meet the political, legal, social and professional standards of European countries. In carrying out reforms, one should act in full accordance with the law and the SBU should be put under effective public control. These reforms, if successful, will help Ukraine meet its obligations in the joint efforts of maintaining regional and global security.


MPs to supervise

The SBU has put forward a suggestion that caught its critics and detractors off guard. The SBU proposed to train a group of Verkhovna Rada members who will be able to visit SBU offices any time they choose; they will be in a position to check the work of the SBU officers and determine whether their activities are in full correspondence with the letter and spirit of the law.

In fact, in the early years of independent Ukraine, a group of MPs, headed by Levko Lukyanenko (an essay about him appears in this issue of WU), formed a commission which scrupulously studied the personal records of SBU’s every officer who had worked for the SBU’s predecessor, KGB, to determine whether these officers were fit on moral grounds to protect the interests of independent Ukraine (incidentally, the office where the commission worked was situated not far from the former KGB prison where Lukyanenko had been “held on remand” in the soviet days). The SBU became then a most effective law-enforcement agency, but unfortunately, its high standards gradually slipped to a much lower level, following the general pattern of corruption in Ukraine.

“The establishment of the SBU’s authority should be a guiding and uniting motivation for all the officers and employees of the Security Service. If the state is subjected to offence, or if the state faces problems, this offence and these problems should be regarded as offence and problems of the Security Service. If any colleague of yours is subjected to offence or if he or she is dealing with some problems, this offence and these problems should be of a concern for all of us,” said Oleksandr Turchynov addressing an SBU meeting.

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