January 17, 2005


How Top Spies in Ukraine Changed the Nation's Path (C. J. CHIVERS, 1/17/05, NY Times)

Kiev was tilting toward a terrible clash, a Soviet-style crackdown that could have brought civil war. And then, inside Ukraine's clandestine security apparatus, strange events began to unfold.

While wet snow fell on the rally in Independence Square, an undercover colonel from the Security Service of Ukraine, or S.B.U., moved among the protesters' tents. He represented the successor agency to the K.G.B., but his mission, he said, was not against the protesters. It was to thwart the mobilizing troops. He warned opposition leaders that a crackdown was afoot.

Simultaneously, senior intelligence officials were madly working their secure telephones, in one instance cooperating with an army general to persuade the Interior Ministry to turn back.

The officials issued warnings, saying that using force against peaceful rallies was illegal and could lead to prosecution and that if ministry troops came to Kiev, the army and security services would defend civilians, said an opposition leader who witnessed some of the exchanges and Oleksander Galaka, head of the military's intelligence service, the G.U.R., who made some of the calls.

Far behind the scenes, Col. Gen. Ihor P. Smeshko, the S.B.U. chief, was coordinating several of the contacts, according to Maj. Gen. Vitaly Romanchenko, leader of the military counterintelligence department, who said that on the spy chief's orders he warned General Popkov to stop. The Interior Ministry called off its alarm.

Details of these exchanges, never before reported, provide insight into a hidden factor in the so-called Orange Revolution, the peaceful protests that overturned an election and changed the political course of a post-Soviet state.

Throughout the crisis an inside battle was waged by a clique of Ukraine's top intelligence officers, who chose not to follow the plan by President Leonid D. Kuchma's administration to pass power to Prime Minister Viktor F. Yanukovich, the president's chosen successor. Instead, these senior officers, known as the siloviki, worked against it.

Such a position is a rare occurrence in former Soviet states, where the security agencies have often been the most conservative and ruthless instruments of state power.

Interviews with people involved in these events - opposition leaders, chairmen of three intelligence agencies and several of their senior officers, Mr. Kuchma, a senior Western diplomat, members of Parliament, the interior minister and commander of the ministry's troops - offer a view of the siloviki's work.

The officers funneled information to Mr. Kuchma's rivals, provided security to opposition figures and demonstrations, sent choreographed public signals about their unwillingness to follow the administration's path and engaged in a psychological tug-of-war with state officials to soften responses against the protests.

Ultimately, the intelligence agencies worked - usually in secret, sometimes in public, at times illegally - to block the fraudulent ascension of Mr. Yanukovich, whom several of the generals loathe. Directly and indirectly, their work supported Viktor A. Yushchenko, the Western-oriented candidate who is now the president-elect.

If only our intelligence apparatus supported democratic government as steadfastly...

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 17, 2005 9:44 AM

When push comes to shove, it is the Franco who saves the nation.

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 17, 2005 10:27 AM

When push comes to shove, it is the Franco who saves the nation.

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 17, 2005 10:28 AM

Or at least delayed the degeneration for 37+ years.

Posted by: ed at January 17, 2005 12:27 PM

Our intelligence apparatus supports government by Democrats not democratic government.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at January 17, 2005 1:36 PM

Our intelligence agencies support whichever administration is softer on double agents and drug smuggling.

Posted by: Bart at January 21, 2005 8:39 AM