Security services are integral to a valid independent state. Their mission is to guarantee the state’s security. They are often called special in Eastern Europe because that’s what they are, authorized to walk a fine line between lawfulness and lawlessness for the sake of national interests. It is the nature of security services. As soon as they start to act within the limits of lawfulness, they turn into average law enforcement authorities, like the Interior Ministry, although the latter does not stick to the law closely, for instance, when it comes to sending cover agents into the criminal world.
Without understanding these details, any talks of security services are useless. Moreover, every state will do anything to rescue itself in the face of a threat to its existence, unless it is totally impotent, and therefore hopeless.
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However, there is a striking difference between security services in democracies and totalitarian countries. The former are strictly accountable to the public and the parliament, acting under a close eye of free press and NGOs. The latter stand over society and the parliament, controlling everyone and accountable only to chiefs, führers, duces, caudillos, general secretaries and the like. In democracies, security services should stay away from internal political life, the competition among political parties and confrontations among politicians. Otherwise, they face heavy punishment. Totalitarian, semi-totalitarian and authoritarian regimes use security services in clan conflicts, rigging pseudo elections, persecution of political competitors and the dissent, and for many other purposes. In such countries, this becomes their key function – a priority over national security. In some, such as modern Ukraine, they eventually turn into personal security services for a specific individual.
For centuries, secret services had reported to the government or the party. Only recently, in the Russian Federation, have they turned into a government themselves as another historical experiment after the previous one in 1917. Vladimir Putin is a professional chekist while his colleagues control virtually all key offices in the country. In this sense, Russia can be considered more of a chekist country than even the USSR was, because the crucial pillar on which the Soviet regime stood was the party, not the security service. T
The Communist Party and the KGB shaped the solid basis of the totalitarian Communist dictatorship. KGB for the USSR was the same as Gestapo as part of RSHA and SS were for the Nazi Germany. The special place and role of the KGB in the Soviet Union was supported by specific ideology, not widely and openly advertised yet omnipresent. The last Soviet KGB Chief Vadim Bakatin described this ideology as chekism: “Chekism was the constant unrestricted surveillance and violence over everyone who did not fit into the tough ideology of the Bolshevik party. It was the ideology of a security service completely merged with that of the ruling party rather than the law.”
This leads to a question: is it possible to part with the totalitarian system, its nature and practice without leaving the KGB and its traditions behind? One reason for the failures to build modern democratic societies in the post-Soviet territory is that only the Baltic States, including Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, managed to split from chekism in terms of organization and ideology of their security services. In other countries, including Ukraine, the republican branches of the Soviet KGB simply transformed into what was presented as new security services. This was regardless of the fact that the Ukrainian branch of the Soviet KGB had initially been oriented at the violent elimination of “Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism” which in fact embraced Ukrainian statehood, any attempts to gain national sovereignty, as well as any unauthorized manifests of national identity. Thus, the Ukrainian branch of the KGB essentially served as the instrument of occupation and repression in Ukraine.
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Could an agency like this possibly grow into a full-fledged security service of an independent state willing to protect national interests above all? “We work for the Union. There is no such thing as Ukraine in our work,” said openly General Vitaliy Fedorchuk, the executioner of Ukrainian patriots and Chief of the Ukrainian SSR KGB appointed by Leonid Brezhnev in 1970 to discredit and remove Petro Shelest, First Secretary of the Ukrainian SSR Communist Party. The last Ukrainian KGB Chief, Russian-born General Halushko, left for Russia after Ukraine gained independent, taking an archive, including data on the agents of the Ukrainian republican KGB branch, along to Moscow.
Apparently, among these were many written consents to “voluntary collaboration” with the KGB. Surprisingly, some Ukrainian activists who were in the People’s Movement and other patriotic organizations, delivered passionate speeches for their motherland, ruled democratic parties and enjoyed the reputation of “true Ukrainian intellectuals”, acted strangely after 2000 when Vladimir Putin was elected as president. With what seemed to be long-standing reputation of patriots, these people all of a sudden started calling on Ukraine’s federalization, a union with Russia, even dissolution in Russia; recommending Ukrainians to essentially play into the hands of the pro-Russian candidate by voting against all in the crucial election, or taking many other actions damaging to Ukraine’s national interests.
The intention to Ukrainize the KGB was a very bold idea given 70 years of its anti-Ukrainian campaigns and focus on Moscow as priority. Ukrainization could have been successful with the three remaining fragments of the Soviet army – Kyiv, Prykarpattia and Odesa military districts, provided that there had been an effective government. Eventually, they could have transformed into a Ukrainian army. However, this failed because of ineffective governments and bizarre defence policy. Even so, Ukrainians still tend to trust the army defeated without a single shot by Ukraine’s government more than they trust the security service. What was possible with the military, though, is hardly so when it comes to transforming the security service, especially the successor of one in an ideology-overwhelmed state, such as the USSR, focusing on the prevention of Ukraine’s independence as one of its key objectives.
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Can this change for the opposite? Hardly so, since Soviet-trained people now teach at the SBU Academy. Many chekists – and they still like the title – see themselves as the opponents rather than advocates of the struggle for the independent Ukraine. Not surprising for the successors of the cheka, NKVD and KGB.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania built their security services from scratch. They did not reform the army of the Soviet Baltic military district. Instead, they asked the Soviet army out. After this, they went to set up their own national armies and security services. At least, this guarantees that their military forces and security agencies will not turn into the branches of the Russian ones stuffed with the agents of the Kremlin’s influence.
The process was not easy, of course, as some recruited servants of the new local security services lacked professionalism. However, history remembers many effective intelligence and counterintelligence structures created by people who were not professional agents. CIA Director Allen Dulles did not have that much of professional experience when he started building strategic intelligence operations in his country. Reuven Shiloah organized Mossad in Israel without being a professional intelligence agent. Nor was his famous successor Isser Harel who oversaw the capture of SS Obersturmbannführer Otto Eichmann in Argentina. In this cause, patriotism and devotion to one’s country matter much more than the obtainable professional skills.
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The future adequate Ukrainian government will have to create powerful national security services, otherwise Ukraine’s sovereignty will always be at risk. So far, the SBU is run by people whose biographies, earlier careers and views are connected to one foreign state that has never accepted Ukraine’s independence.