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24 February, 2012  ▪  Oleksandr Mykhelson

The President's Secret Service

Whose interests will the new SBU Chief protect?

On 18 January 2012, President Yanukovych appointed Valeriy Khoroshkovsky Minister of Finance. Prior to this shift, Khoroshkovsky served as Chief of the SBU, Ukraine’s Security Service. SBU Deputy Chief Volodymyr Rokytsky briefly replaced his former boss, but according to The Ukrainian Week’s sources, his tenure as Chief was doomed from the start. Other potential candidates for the position included Ihor Kalinin, a formerly unknown Head of the State Security Body. Eventually, President Yanukovych appointed Kalinin SBU Chief in a decree dated 3 February.  


Ihor Kalinin’s official bio available on the State Security Body’s website on the day of his new appointment does not tell the public much about him. Born on 28 December 1959 in Rayevoye, a village in Mitishchi County, Moscow Oblast, Kalinin graduated from the Moscow Higher Military Command School for Road and Engineer Troops in 1981. He joined the USSR KGB in 1984, fought in Afghanistan from 1986-1988, and was later decorated with the Order of the Red Star. His rank and position at the KGB when the USSR collapsed are unknown. From 1992-2002, he worked at the National SBU Academy, where he taught courses on international counterintelligence operations, among other subjects. Mr. Kalinin holds a PhD in military sciences, focusing on investigation and foreign armies. According to unconfirmed data, he used to work in foreign counterintelligence at the KGB.  

In 2002, Kalinin headed the Center for Special Training of Main Unit A, the successor of Alfa, a well-known soviet special operations unit. At that point, Oleksandr Birsan was the Head of the Center. Appointed as Chief of the State Security Body by President Yushchenko, in April 2010 Mr. Birsan was replaced by Ihor Kalinin, who had been transferred to reserve after the Orange Revolution. After the new SBU Chief came to office, the press found out he had been working at Alfa Shchyt, a commercial security agency founded by one-time Alfa special unit members back in 1991. According to some sources, Mr. Kalinin was conducting special training programs there for VIP drivers, including that of Viktor Yanukovych.

According to an SBU General, Kalinin retired as colonel in 2005 and remained in this rank until 2010. Currently a Lieutenant General, it took Mr. Kalinin less than two years to magically skip over two runs in the career ladder after being appointed Head of the State Security Body.    


During his time at the State Security Body, scandals were like water off a duck’s back for Mr. Kalinin. On 21 April 2010, the day after Kalinin was appointed Head of the State Security Body, the president’s entourage got into a big car crash. As it sped through Kyiv’s Kharkiv Ploshcha transporting Yanukovych to a meeting with Russian president Medvedev, the president’s ambulance hit a taxi, killing the driver.    

The scandal was soon overshadowed by the Kharkiv deals the president signed at the meeting that outraged the nation. The driver’s family was paid compensation. However, in October 2010, the Ukrayinska Pravda online publication posted an investigation. The authors suggested that the State Security Body might not have been the one to blame for the accident. Reporters revealed that at that time, the president’s personal security team was led by Oleksandr Zanevsky, a Russian citizen. The media described him as the right hand man of the president’s older son Oleksandr. Since 22 March 2010, Zanevsky has been known as an advisor to the president.  

After the scandal, Kostiantyn Kobzar, one-time Deputy Head of the State Security Body, replaced Kalinin, who actually never commented on this in the media. Still, the scandals involving the state body he ran continued to proliferate. In June 2010, one of the president’s bodyguards spotted a microphone in the hands of Serhiy Andrushko, a reporter for STB TV, and mistook it for an explosive device. He put an armlock on the reporter and pushed him down to the ground. The scandal eventually gained widespread awareness.

The courts rejected all lawsuits filed by the reporter. Surprisingly, Kalinin himself was hardly ever mentioned in the media, even though complaints about the rude behavior of the President’s bodyguards have continued to pour in following the incident. For example, bodyguards did not allow the press to take pictures and videos of the president’s entourage in April 2011. On 6 December, journalists who flew to Donetsk to cover President Yanukovych’s official visit to the Yenakiyevo Steel Plant were subjected to an unprecedentedly thorough security check at the airport. Still, Mr. Kalinin remained unknown to the public until being appointed SBU Chief.


Apparently, such lack of publicity is perfectly typical for generals in the Special Services. Still, some facts regarding his background that have recently come to light give grounds for some predictions as to his future role as the SBU Chief.

This appointment was yet another perfectly predictable step in reinforcing “the family.” Mr. Kalinin’s former colleagues confirm this assumption. “The appointment of his personal security chief as the SBU Chief will tell analysts everything they need to know,” says Oleksandr Skipalsky, ex-SBU Deputy Chief. “He is the president’s loyal man, the president trusts him, and this should serve as a basis for conclusions.” According to another former employee of the law enforcement authorities, “as far as we know, he has never been a business owner… Thus, Kalinin will be totally loyal to the person who appointed him, the president, that is.”

Notably, the new SBU Chief served in top positions at the Alfa elite special operations unit during the Orange Revolution and retired right after the Orange Revolution. His return to positions that are important for the president under the current circumstances may mean that he had proven continuously loyal to Viktor Yanukovych during the critical period of November-December 2004. Therefore, he might turn out to be a valuable official for the government during the challenging upcoming parliamentary election in 2012 and the period that follows.

Meanwhile, Kalinin’s appointment as SBU Chief may result in an increased influence of the Russian special services on developments in Ukraine. Earlier, Valeriy Khoroshkovsky mentioned the SBU’s “common Cheka[1] past” with Russia’s FSB. Now, they might end up with a common future, unlike most former European FSU countries where the relevant authorities are moving away from leadership with backgrounds in the KGB.

The foreign counterintelligence experience Kalinin gained while working for the KGB was focused on struggling against the West, while today’s threats stem largely from the East, including ongoing trade and gas wars with Russia, energy dependence on Russia, controversial anti-Ukrainian statements from Russian politicians, Russian support of separatist movements within Ukraine, the presence of the Russian military in Crimea, and so on. How effectively will an SBU run by a former KGB officer be able to withstand these threats? How likely is the SBU to eventually focus its efforts on counteracting “Western interference” in Ukraine’s domestic political processes through close cooperation with the special services of Ukraine’s “big brother,” given the latter’s practical experience?

In any case, the new appointment at the SBU should not be interpreted merely as a need to have someone do the job previously performed by Valeriy Khoroshkovsky, another valuable employee of the president. From the “family interest” standpoint, putting a much needed and more loyal person into the SBU’s top chair is a perfectly self-sufficient goal.



[1]Extraordinary Commission, the first soviet state security authority, established in 1917 by Vladimir Lenin

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