How Ukraine should tackle lustration, skeletons in the closets of its new government and tools that could help it not lose the war
During its very first days in government, the new ministers made enough mistakes to almost undermine the trust of all those who helped them to the government offices. Some can be fixed – and top officials are doing that. Others already have consequences.
When the occupation of Crimea began, the first and the most logical thing to do was to block all possible entrances and exits to and from Crimea. Russia’s occupation army has already done that in Chonhar, a village on the border between the mainland Ukraine and Crimea, by laying mines on the borderline.
While average people want to protect their country, the government pretends nothing is happening. Conscription offices can hardly handle the inflow of volunteers registering to join the military in case of a war. However, there is zero information on who sets up the national guard, how people should act if the conflict were to escalate, who will perform evacuation, where the bomb shelters are located, and how people should communicate and pass information. Every man registering at the conscription office should be informed of what he will do in his district if the war starts, where his ammunition is located, where his positions are and how he will interact with a neighbour. In some situations, a better option is to whip up tension, not to say that everything is okay until people find themselves in the hands of the enemy. Surprisingly, nothing of that kind has been done so far.
Conscription offices can hardly handle the inflow of volunteers registering to join the military in case of a war
Meanwhile, the Russians act like terrorist in Crimea. They kidnap people, beat journalists, humiliate the military, terrorize the locals and exert pressure on the families of Ukrainian military officers. And it has not dawned on Ukrainian authorities yet to at least set up a hotline where people could report such cases. Nobody seems to ensure protection to the families of the military or take them to safer parts of Ukraine. The military do not get any orders and act as they see fit. These people show amazing heroism as they do not respond to Russian provocations and huge psychological pressure, from offers of better salaries in the Russian military to threats of starting an assault unless they vacate military bases by a certain deadline. But such policy cannot win a war.
Ukraine has also lost the informational war. Given the outrageous Russian propaganda all over the place, Ukrainian authorities could well have launched a number of primitive TV or Internet videos showing episodes of coffins delivered from Afghanistan or Russian troops injured in the Chechen war, all this to a tune and lyrics wondering whether the Russians do want a war. Undoubtedly, this would have some effect.
In fact, the situation in Ukraine is very difficult today and unleashing a war against any country would be wrong at this point. Pulling skeletons from the closets of the new government would be wrong as well. But it is even more wrong to appoint people who do not meet the Maidan’s requirements or are incapable of fulfilling their tasks on responsible positions.
First and foremost, lustration should be launched and professionals with untainted reputation should be appointed. Appointments of people who are friends or close allies leads to things like Yanukovych’s escape from Ukraine. Experts in enforcement agencies claim that this can signal of unprofessional actions of the police administration. Moreover, law enforcement agencies and the army, demoralized after what happened in Ukraine, see dubious new chiefs. Of course, they realize that a shift of government results in a change of the team. The only question is how adequate that new team is and how well it can handle crisis situations. When the country is facing foreign military aggression, routine distribution of seats is unacceptable. This can lead to a disaster.
A source at the Intelligence Headquarters of the Defence Ministry claims that the removal of their chief almost paralyzed the operation of the entire entity. That rotation made no sense at all. Intelligence did not taint itself with any criminal actions in favour of Yanukovych. Unlike in the 2004 Orange Revolution, it did not openly support the Maidan this time. Yet, it took every effort to avoid bloodshed. If the chief of the Intelligence Headquarters acted now the way he had back in 2004 (openly supported protesters once they took it to the streets), he would have been fired and replaced with a loyal man from Donetsk. The next day, its special units would already be on the Maidan attacking protesters.
Remember news about the air landing troops sent from Dnipropetrovsk to Kyiv and protesters stopping their train by lying on the railway? Everyone in Ukraine has seen that. Few are aware, however, that this was a pre-arranged operation to sabotage Yanukovych’s order. It was organized and implemented by a deputy chief of the Intelligence Headquarters, an ex-air landing troop himself. He stopped the squadron from assaulting protesters in Kyiv. “Just imagine an echelon of 2,500 armed people and a few dozen locals stopping them,” intelligence officers say. “When the troops left the train, nobody noticed the vans parked nearby, that had arrived from a place 60km away in advance and were waiting to take the troops back to barracks. People knew where they should lie on the railway. The vans drivers knew where they should go. The squadron commander also knew everything. It was all planned and prepared in advance.”
In its current state, the intelligence system has found itself with a broken system of data communication. It is not clear where the gap is, however information is not delivered properly and finding out who is to blame is difficult. One telling example is the news of the column of special units of the GRU, the foreign military intelligence main directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia, heading to Zaporizhzhia, Eastern Ukraine. According to sources at the Intelligence Headquarters, rumours of these special units which the new military commanders rushed to refute were not entirely rumours. The units vanished on their way to Zaporizhzhia. Nobody knows where they are now. Nobody can say for sure that they are not somewhere near Kakhovka Reservoir that supplies water to the surrounding area or the Kyiv Dam which, if exploded, can flood the entire Kyiv. These special units are not average troops marching with flags and drums. They can act in uniforms or plain clothes, or in Ukrainian military uniforms. They are trained to destroy governing authorities of the opposite party or strategic objects. So, here you have one country issuing serious demands and ultimatums to another country. The special unit is tasked with entering the latter’s territory and messing up an important object, such as a nuclear power station. After this, the president of one country calls the president of the other one and asks: have you heard the bang? Wait, there’ll be more. The dialogue is arranged and special units disappear.
On February 24, 2014, Lieutenant General Viktor Hvozd was appointed the Verkhovna Rada’s Envoy for Intelligence Activity in Ukraine. On February 27, he became chief of Foreign Intelligence. Back in time, when he served in Yugoslavia, he was known for specific commercial activity that stirred quiet a scandal. He allegedly helped many Ukrainian officials who spent just an hour or two in the warzone to get the status of combatants. A bigger problem emerged when APCs and weapons disappeared. Some say that Hvozd sold them to one of the parties to the war. He then realized that trading weapons was his thing. He started in Ukraine, then continued his favourite business in New York. After retiring, he got a job at UkrInMash, a subsidiary of UkrSpetsExport (Ukrainian Special Export company that imports and exports special and military equipment and products). After the Orange Revolution, he ended up at the Secretariat of President Yushchenko, once again supervising arms trade. His son stayed at UkrSpetsExport. Experts in military intelligence where Hvozd had worked as well describe this appointment as a disaster that will further shatter the vulnerable intelligence system. Given his practice in choosing employees based on personal loyalty, zero initiative and treating any step beyond orders as a crime, intelligence officers do not bode well.
Sadly, Ukrainian military faced similar problems at the stage of appointments. There are many questions about the appointment of Mykhailo Kutsyn, another business-prone officer, as Head of the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. He was allegedly engaged in many notorious incidents of the military property embezzlement. One episode was a court case concerning weird transfers of apartments and buildings from the Army balance sheets to private hands and subsequent sale thereof. When Mykhailo Yezhel was appointed Defence Minister, Kutsyn became his deputy.
At this point, this is not about individual appointments because the new government has made many discouraging mistakes with those. This is about sticking to the declared principles and backing them with real moves of people who have undertaken responsibility for changing the country and the rules in it. If we talk about lustration, it should start from day one. Viktor Hvozd, for instance, should prove that he has built his huge mansion for the money he earned honestly without being in business even one day. He should prove that he has nothing to do with the fraud the media report. Then, he can continue to work on his post.
There are many professionals in the Ukrainian army, such as the commander of the air landing troops who undertook huge responsibility, did not fulfill the order of the ex-president and stopped the troops from shedding blood in Kyiv. Why else would Yanukovych have played on time when he met with European ministers? What could they have discussed with this intellectual for eight hours if all decisions had already been taken? Incredibly, he was waiting for the battalions to march into Kyiv and crush the protest. But real Ukrainian officers outwitted him and proved wiser because they realized what the consequences would be. Maybe they also knew that the snipers were instructed to shoot a few dozen of their own troops so that nobody could stop the subsequent escalation of violence on both sides of the barricades.
Everyone in Ukraine is aware that Ukrainian politicians are a special kind of people who live in a different dimension where they keep seeking compromises with their consciousness. However, this should not save them if they continue to play their dirty games and avoid responsibility. They should know it. Because it will be very sad if the country once again gets no answers to its demands or nothing of what it has already paid for with blood. The blood of its best children.
The Ukrainian Week talked with French cybersecurity expert Christine Dugoin-Clément about mechanisms for fighting fake news, the prospects for certifying true information, and the likelihood of separating propaganda from journalism once and for all.