Interview with the President of the “Borysfen Intel” Victor Hvozd
— The Russian aggression against Ukraine has demonstrated a blatant incompetence of relevant services of Ukraine, which just failed to notice Russia’s preparations. In your opinion, why did this happen?
— It was not the matter of incompetence, although that cannot be ignored either, the reason for what happened was different: special services are part of state administration and national security protection. They are a tool for implementation of the state policy. In a democratic society, the security structures never dominate the political or public institutions, or form their own political agenda. Besides, in the Ukrainian-Russian relations there had always been present syndrome of “big brother” and for a long time there had lived a misconception of “friendly intelligence services” (as a result, there was no “Russian direction”). As you know, in today’s globalized world there are no and cannot be any “friendly intelligence services”. There are “intelligence services of friendly countries”.
Despite all the difficulties, the Ukrainian Intelligence Service (Foreign, Military, Border) — I can say this with full responsibility — did have the information about intentions, plans and preparations (in the so-called preparatory phase of the “hybrid war”) and that information had been timely reported to the senior military and political leadership (President, Minister of Defence, National Security and Defence Council Secretary). However, as that leadership’s position was obviously not pro-Ukrainian, the information was unwanted, constantly “questioned” or ignored. Moreover — the employees collecting that information and the chiefs reporting it were expelled (the target cleaning was carried out), and the sources were “exposed”… The spheres of defence, national security and intelligence were deliberately being destroyed.
Here is an example from my personal experience. In the spring of 2010, being the Chief of the Defence Intelligence Service of Ukraine, I reported to the country’s leadership about threats to national security of Ukraine, coming from the Russian Federation. Imagine my surprise when the document was returned to me! The resolution on it written in hand by one of the Deputy Prime Ministers in charge of defence issues, read as follows: “Do not frighten us with Russia”. Soon, I was fired from my post without explanation… So there was not and could not be any total “blatant incompetence”. We did know, and we do know a lot. This is confirmed at least by the fact that the whole national security system was fairly quickly (at war) recovered and is now very effective.
It is clear that one should be able to work with intelligence information, at least it should be taken into account in working out a policy, decision making and implementation of those decisions. And when the analytical reports of the Foreign Intelligence Service are all of a sudden found in the debris of the President’s private home (I mean the documents found after Yanukovych’s fleeing) one cannot expect any good. The Intelligence Service and its information should be in demand.
And a few words about professionalism. The employees of the Ukrainian Intelligence, even taking into account the fact that in many respects — it is the Soviet school (by the way, not the worst one), have always been and will be characterized by professionalism. However, as events have shown, it is virtually useless without patriotism and decency. As for the integral indicator of these qualities among the employees, really and truly, there were problems.
— New Ukrainian authorities made an attempt to clean up the Defence Ministry and the State Security Service from unpatriotically-minded people. Did they manage to clean the most important departments from the “fifth column”?
— Yes, there was, and, despite the measures taken, there is the problem of the Ministry of Defence, Security and Intelligence agencies of Ukraine being “clogged up” with pro-Russian agents, mainly — supporters and followers of the “Russian world”. The SVR, GRU of the GS of the Armed Forces and the FSB of the Russian Federation — are very strong in terms of operations structures and a worthy opponent. It should be noted that the Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation, taking into consideration the revival of Russia’s global ambitions, also claims to global status, having largely inherited the long-term best practice (including undercover positions) of the Soviet Intelligence Service. This “triad” of special services for a long time (over 20 years) with virtual impunity, had been actively working in Ukraine. You can imagine the extent and depth of infiltration… Today, the political level of work in Ukraine is the SVR’s affairs. The strategic, operational-strategic and operational aspects are divided between the FSB and the GRU, while the operational-tactical and tactical ones have been given to the GRU. Besides, the FSB together with the so-called “MGB (Ministry of State Security) of the DPR/LPR” ensure the work in the Donbas, as well as security in the annexed Crimea. Their employees and agents are trying to act boldly and brazenly, using the practice and “storing up” from previous years. In particular, the recruiting activity has grown by orders of magnitude, including for the future. However, our special services have also got stronger — the enemy fails to do many things now. This is evidenced by the systematic detention and arrest of persons working for Russia both, in the Ministry of Defence and in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, State Security Service and other special services. In particular, on 16 September 2016, was detained the Deputy Chief of Staff of the ATO, who had been working for the Russian Federation.
To date, the final court verdicts have been applied against 22 Ukrainian military servicemen — Russia’s agents. Besides, 13 more are under investigation. At the same time, this process is very complicated and sensitive in nature, both due to the Russian agents’ deep infiltration into the security forces and intelligence agencies of Ukraine during the rule of Yanukovych’s regime and because of the need to avoid wrong decisions against honest people and patriots of our country.
— The head of the National Police of Ukraine Khatia Dekanoidze believes that the “thieves in law” that are now in the country — are agents of Russian secret services. Do you agree with her?
— I certainly don’t. The fact that some odious persons from the criminal world were forced to move to Ukraine due to the total and quite hard “cleansing” of criminals in Georgia, strengthening the “pressure” on criminals in Russia — it is a fact. Of course, Russian special services are actively using criminals to achieve their specific objectives, especially on one of the fronts of the “hybrid war” — the criminal one. Particularly actively criminal elements are used in the occupied part of the Donbas. They were recruited to the so-called “militias”. According to some reports, lately the Russian security services have significantly stepped up measures to destabilize the situation in the not occupied territory, including by making worse the crime situation. In particular, since the beginning of September this year, the FSB officers have been carrying out mass activities to recruit the convicted of serious crimes and serving sentences in the temporarily occupied territories of the ORDLO. This recruiting contingent from among the criminals replenishes the acting on the occupied territory of Ukraine organized criminal groups, whose leaders have “put name down for” cooperation with the FSB under the influence of Rostov “thieves in law”. The FSB has launched its active recruiting work in Kalinin Penal Colony № 27 (Gorlovka, about 1,000 convicts) Nikitinskaya Penal Colony № 87 (Gorlovka, about 700 convicts), Yenakiyevo Penal Colony № 52 (Yenakiyevo, about 450 convicts), Western Penal Colony № 97 (Makeyevka, about 1,100 convicts). The criminals who agreed to cooperate with Russia’s secret services, are early released on parole and handed Ukrainian documents (passports, military cards), mainly with elements of not full counterfeiting. It should be noted that the recent riots in several correctional facilities in Ukraine were triggered by “thieves in law”, again, at the order of the FSB leadership. This, unfortunately, is contributed to by the criminalization of the Ukrainian society (recorded increase in crime by 40 %).
However, one cannot say that “all the “thieves in law” staying in the country are agents of the Russian secret services”. This is a clear exaggeration. Perhaps this is in part an attempt to evade responsibility for the crime situation in the country. We should not overestimate (I personally would not do it), let alone demonize the enemy — the Russian special services. It is the police (law enforcement agencies) who should create an “environment of intolerance” for the “thieves in law” staying in Ukraine, and then they will not be here.
— The former head of the Israeli secret service “Nativ” Yakov Kedmi said that Ukraine’s accession to the EU will sooner or later lead to Ukraine’s joining NATO: “Ukraine’s NATO membership is like death to Russia. This is a deadly danger to the state, because the military bases of NATO in Ukraine will turn the missile defence of the country (Russia — transl) into a pile of metal and will threaten even the medium-range missiles and all the vital centers of Russia. That would leave Russia without defence”. Is it so?
— I respect Jacob. He is a recognized international expert and authority in the security sphere. In general, our Israeli colleagues have huge experience, great operational capabilities, solid intelligence and are able to systematically analyze it. What was said by Mr. Ya. Kedmi is absolutely correct, except for the conclusion: “…would leave Russia without defence”. This is injection and a clear exaggeration. A sort of intimidation, including with political overtones. According to him, Ukraine’s integration into the EU, let alone — into NATO should not be allowed, because it affects Russia’s basic interests in the sphere of protection of its national interests and security. At the same time, Mr. Ya. Kedmi is absolutely unconcerned about the security of Ukraine. This is a one-sided (biased) approach.
Yes, Russia’s Conventional Arms are objectively inferior to NATO’s, the USA’s and China’s. At the same time Russia’s strategic defence is based not on a parity of conventional forces (weapons), but on a parity of means of nuclear attack. The Russian Federation has a full-fledged nuclear triad, the potential of which is the second in the world after the USA, and larger than those of all other members of the “nuclear club” taken together. Obviously, both the pre-emptive and the second-strike would be disastrous for the entire planet. Besides, in recent years the Russian Federation is actively re-equipping them putting in an arsenal modern land and sea-based means of nuclear attack. I agree that from the point of view of the art of war, a hypothetical of military bases to the border (possible placing them on the territory of Ukraine) creates problems for the Russian Federation in maintaining the balance and parity in the sphere of defence capabilities. However, I would not talk in the sense of: “…would leave Russia without defence”. Moreover, we are aware of Russia’s possible counter-moves under such a scenario. One of them would be a deployment of Russian means of nuclear attack in the Crimea, Kaliningrad region, perhaps in Sakhalin and in the Kurily. There are also the capacities of the military bases outside the Russian Federation. Militarization of space is not excluded. There are other measures…
— Well, how real do the perspective of Ukraine’s accession to NATO and the deployment of US military bases on the territory of Ukraine looks?
— As you know, in the early 90s Ukraine voluntarily gave up the nuclear arsenal (by the way, the third in the world), remaining on its territory after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Budapest Memorandum (the Memorandum on Security Assurances in Connection with Ukraine’s Sccession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, 1994) secured guarantees to Ukraine in its non-nuclear status. The guarantors were the USA, Russia and Britain. Independently to reliably ensure its security with such a neighbor as the Russian Federation, Ukraine is objectively not able to. A possible way out is either to revive its nuclear deterrent arsenal (very expensive and contrary to all Ukraine’s international obligations) or to join the Trans-Atlantic collective security system (NATO). There is simply no other way out. It is extremely dangerous to stay between the EU (NATO) and Russia in the global confrontation, especially against the background of Russia’s aggression. I think that in the short to medium term (at least until the Donbas and Crimea issues are resolved) Ukraine won’t join NATO, but in the long term — it is the only possible choice. An alternative would be a system of European security (within the EU), which has been initiated by Germany and France, in case it is created. NATO’s bases on the territory of Ukraine — this would be a collective decision, in case of Ukraine’s accession to NATO. Outside the block format a deployment of NATO’s bases on the territory of Ukraine is unlikely.
— The situation in the territories of the Donbas and Luhansk region of Ukraine, as you know, remains tense — with still fierce fighting. There is an opinion that in the nearest future in Ukraine will begin a full-scale war, which is actively supported NATO member countries and their allies in Asia and in the Middle East. Do you think there will be a great war in Ukraine between the West and Russia?
— Contradictions between the West (especially the United States) and Russia have significantly deteriorated. The latter’s actions have completely destroyed the entire post-war system of global security, the post-war world order, formalized in Yalta (1945) and Helsinki (1975). This is geopolitics. “A great [hybrid] war” between the West and Russia is already on and for quite a long time — since the beginning of the so-called “Noughties”, when Russia began actively trying to regain its status as one of the global “power centers” (actually to return the status of the USSR). It took off from there. Now we even see its desire to return to a bipolar world (the Russian federation — the USA). The situation in the Donbas is really complicated, but it is controlled, and therefore — I will try to reassure you and your audience: there will be no “great war” (in your question, as I understand it you meant “hot war”) in Ukraine between the West and Russia. Nobody needs a “great [hot] war” — neither the West nor Russia, nor Ukraine (especially in its territory). A “great war” in the center of Europe in the 21st century? Can you imagine it? Look: we have four nuclear power plants and 15 nuclear power units. You forget about Chernobyl, but the West remembers about it very well! A conflict of this scale would very quickly go beyond the regional and would become global, and then would turn into a nuclear one as Russia is objectively not capable of confronting NATO with conventional arms. Settlement of the situation in the Donbas is a politico-diplomatic issue. Of course, Russia strongly supports instability, trying to freeze the conflict, to impose its conditions of peace in the Donbas and its reintegration into Ukraine (in the so-called “special status” — of an autonomy and thus to create another “Trojan horse”)… and it is stalling: soon there will be the elections in the USA, next year — in France and Germany, where A. Merkel’s party is losing ground.
In Europe, there are countries (the US Vice President J. Biden said there are at least five) that are ready to lift the sanctions from Russia next year. Even 1 or 2 “wavering” will immediately be followed by the “domino effect”…
The situation is complicated — the window of opportunities for Ukraine is objectively narrowing, but there will be no “great war” in Europe, in Ukraine! And again, Russia left the exposition of its capabilities for a “great war” against Ukraine in 2015. “A walk like in the Crimea” will not happen again. But Russia’s large-scale “hybrid war” against the West, against Ukraine (on the diplomatic, informational, economic, financial, spiritual, and others front), will of course, continue. Even after the formal settlement of the Donbas issue, the problem of the Crimea will remain, and this is a long-term perspective…
— The West did manage to gain control of the countries of South-Eastern Europe, Baltic countries, including Georgia and Ukraine. In your opinion, what countries in the future could find themselves in the ring of the hostile “sanitary cordon” around Russia?
— If Russia continues its neo-imperial policy, the “ring” of the so-called “unfriendly” sanitary cordon” around Russia” may eventually include even countries from among the CIS members. The position of “big brother” is unacceptable. The foreign occupation of parts of the territory of Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Azerbaijan, is accompanied by the withdrawal of these zones from normal economic and political life, while their population is virtually cut off from the European and world social and economic processes. Trans-Dniester, Crimea, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh under foreign occupation are being turned into closed militarized zones with a focus on servicing the needs of the Armed Forces of the invaders. Promotion of democratic values in the political life of these territories has been suspended. On the contrary, there is a regress, elements of the closed society and a repressive model of its construction are being formed. Look at the depth and sharpness of the contradictions in the Union State of Russia and Belarus. And then there are countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia. It’s not all that simple, because the stability in many CIS countries depends on personal positions of the leaders of these countries, and in Russia — on V. Putin. At some point in the future such a “personalized stability” will come to an end. As for the national interests, even today they not always coincide.
China has chosen its own path. For it, the rapprochement with Russia is situational (in its opposition to the USA) and is in getting “dividends” from the “soft expansion” of the Russian Far East and Siberia. Afghanistan is a conserved permanent threat of terrorism and drug trafficking. Turkey and Iran are Russia’s “fellow travelers” to a certain point (in particular, the latter has not agreed to limit oil production). The “Moscow — Tehran — Ankara” temporary axe developed only for the settlement of “the Syrian crisis,” because the knot of problems of the Middle East and the BRICS alliance there has already “gave a micro-crack” (after President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment). The world is changing, and changing very rapidly.
— Russian experts argue that Western intelligence agencies with the arms of the IS and other terrorist organizations are seeking to organize “color revolutions” in Central Asia. Is there a possibility that the West will be able to implement the planned?
— International terrorism, the IS’ activity, its consequences for the world are the challenge of the century. The IS and the Taliban in one form or another have already “slipped” into the territories of the former Soviet Union, into the region you have just mentioned, and even into Russia itself (note: in Iraq, Syria, Libya and partly in the Sinai (Egypt), about 4000 immigrants from Russia are fighting in the ranks of the IS). Do you think there is no reverse movement? Recruiting of supporters is in full swing. National security services are trying to keep the situation under control — the groups are small, isolated, operating illegally in the so-called “sleep mode”, but, believe me, metastases of international terrorism are already there. By the way, they are already in Europe too — in the flow of illegal migrants to the continent there are hundreds of members and supporters of the IS “sent to get settled”. Combating international terrorism is a separate big theme for a conversation. But the use of international terrorist organizations for political purposes, including even to provoke the so-called “color revolutions” is a very dangerous path, although it is not new. In its time, the Soviet Union and the West actively resorted to their (terrorists’ — transl.) services, moreover, they even tried to “cultivate” ideologically “tame” terrorist organizations. Pretty soon they came out from under their patrons’ control and the world faced another “terrorist plague”. Globalization has significantly internationalized these processes (if I remember correctly, in the IS there are fighters from 56 or 57 countries), and it has its centres (at least, it declares that it has) in 25 countries.
Let me tell you that any “color revolution” is impossible without internal prerequisites: the citizens are happy with life, the government is respected by the people, it hears and takes care of the people. A striking example of this is Azerbaijan. In the states that you have listed (Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan), the situation is significantly different. In a number of countries, of course, there are quite deep internal contradictions (the standard of living, the depth of civil freedoms, ethnic divisions, and so on), which hypothetically could be used by external forces… So far the situation is under control. Besides, Central Asia is Russi’a “zone of special attention”, which is aware of the extent of the potential threats to itself in case of destabilization of the region. And it is very actively engaged in “peacekeeping” in the region. The consequence of this Russia’s “peacekeeping” is compulsory preservation of its military presence in these countries in the form of all sorts of military bases, training centers, task forces and other military formations, usually with peacekeeping goals. At this, Russia’s military presence remains in the countries rich in rare earth materials and energy carriers (oil or gas) through which go the pipelines for transportation of those energy carriers, countries with strategic sites and warehouses (storages) or those allowing to control strategic transport communications (land, air or sea ones).
In particular, the most striking example of the Kremlin’s actions in Central Asia was the support in 1992-1993 to the pro-Russian regime of the then President of Tajikistan Rahmon Nabiyev in his confrontation with the “United Tajik Opposition” of the national democratic and moderate Islamic character. It was this that allowed Russia to leave its troops in Tajikistan (the 201st Division, and later — the 201st Military Base of the Russian Armed Forces, as well as a number of other units of the RF Armed Forces).
Similarly, Russia brought to naught the results of the “Tulip Revolution” in Kyrgyzstan in March 2005, when instead of the pro-Russian President Askar Akaev to power came pro-Western opposition politician Kurmanbek Bakiyev. In 2010, through Russia’s support to the clans opposing Bakiyev, as well as through the organization of counter-revolutionary coup, to power were brought pro-Russian Presidents — first Roza Otunbayeva (for the transition period), and then Aslambek Atambayev. The result was an actual close-down of the US airbase in the Kyrgyz Manas airport, which had been used by the United States to support its stabilization force in Afghanistan.
Similar actions can be expected from Russia in case of a conflict in Uzbekistan after the recent death of the country’s President Islam Karimov. For example, Moscow could support one of the Uzbek clans, and then would dictate its conditions to it. First of all, it would concern the demand to join the Eurasian Economic Union, the country’s return to the CSTO, as well as the maximum limiting of its cooperation with the United States and other Western countries. Moreover, we should not exclude Russia’s demand to place its military bases on the territory of Uzbekistan under the guise of “security guarantee”.
Given the fundamental importance of these issues for Russia, it can use the current situation in Uzbekistan to purposefully provoke an armed confrontation there with the help of local Uzbek clans, or Islamic extremists and radical nationalists. To date, Moscow has already had sufficient experience of such provocations in Trans-Dniester, Abkhazia, North Ossetia, and (yes!) Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as in the Crimea and Donbas.
Returning to the Islamic fundamentalists in the region, it is necessary to take into consideration China’s firm position. To destabilize the whole Central Asia, especially from the outside, by the efforts of the IS or other terrorist organizations is theoretically possible, but practically — would very difficult. In this, first of all, are not interested the key players in the region (at least not yet), citizens themselves, national and local elites. People can be dissatisfied with the government, but they do not want chaos. Besides, it should be remembered that the local government in suppressing would act traditionally very toughly (such examples we have seen), including: the use of armed forces of the CSTO member countries.
— How do you see in the future the settlement of the Karabakh conflict?
— Nagorno-Karabakh’s problem is extremely complex, historical. It is a consequence of the USSR’s ill-conceived national policy. The problem remained throughout the history of the Soviet Union, but it was latent, when the USSR collapsed, it got aggravated up to an armed conflict. The situation was further complicated by the Armenian occupation of some districts of Azerbaijan. The tension that occurs periodically indicates only one thing — the Karabakh conflict is not solved, it is frozen.
It is also clear that the conflict has no military solution. As is known, the process of settlement of the Karabakh conflict is under way on the basis of the “Madrid principles” put forward by the OSCE Minsk Group (Co-Chair countries — France, USA and Russia) in Madrid in 2007 and updated in 2009. It appears that the parties must find a political and diplomatic solution, which is acceptable to everyone, and at this no one should be a winner or a loser — neither Azerbaijan nor Armenia. In this context, certain prospects for resolving were created by the meetings of the leaders of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev and of Armenia-Serzh Sargsyan in Vienna (May 2016), and in St. Petersburg (June 2016), where the previously outlined and adopted basic principles of the settlement were confirmed. Of course, this process involves mutual concessions and compromise. However, I believe in the wisdom of the Presidents and peoples of Azerbaijan and Armenia that will solve the difficult issue of the Karabakh conflict.
I realize that lasting peace in the region largely depends on the position of the co-chair countries of the Minsk Group (the USA, Russia and France), as well as Turkey and Iran. The situational rapprochement between Russia, Turkey and Iran, as well as the creation of an Advisory Council of Foreign Ministers of Russia, Turkey and Azerbaijan creates favorable external conditions and ground to resolve the Karabakh conflict. I repeat, nobody needs war!
As for Ukraine, as you know, it takes a consistent stance, based on respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan within its internationally recognized borders.
In conclusion I would like to thank you for your frank questions and to wish good and peace to the people of Azerbaijan!
Original of the interview: https://azeri.today/articles/818/