Ukrainian Security Service’s specific form of vigilance

The average person in any democracy is likely to be very vague about what exactly their Security Service does. They will be much clearer about what it should not be doing. Most of the activities of Ukraine’s SBU [Security Service] over the last two years would fall into the second category.


There was alarm in early February when media magnate Valery Khoroshkovsky was replaced as Head of the SBU by Russian-born, KGB-trained Igor Kalinin.   This followed investigations into alleged spying by Volodymyr Strelko, Director of the Institute of Sorption suspected of leaking “secret information” from studies on the health impact of the Chornobyl Disaster.  It also largely coincided with the Presidential stamp of approval on two legislative moves which increase SBU scope and create a new subdivision for protecting “information security”. 

New reports of SBU activity suggest that the concerns were well-founded – and that those in power may be flexing all muscles before the coming parliamentary elections.

On Wednesday morning, well-known sociologist and intellectual, Yevhen Holovakha announced that all members of the Institute of Sociology’s Academic Board have been called for questioning to the SBU. This involves nearly 20 people, some with a high reputation in their field. The letter received threatens to bring them in for questioning by force if they don’t turn up, and warns of possible administrative or criminal proceedings. 

Following widespread media interest in this sudden flurry of activity, the SBU announced on their website that they were investigating a criminal case initiated on 15 February “over misappropriation of funds by individuals from the Centre for Adapting the Civil Service to EU standards of the Central Department of Ukraine’s Civil Service and the Institute of Sociology”   The presumption of innocence is not evident from the report, but the amount of 920 thousand UAH is mentioned.  The members of the Institute are to be questioned as witnesses.

The details in no way answer the points raised by Yevhen Holovakha, namely why all members of the Academic Council have been summoned and why the matter is under the SBU at all. 

Holovakha’s belief that the move is aimed at intimidation seems all the more credible given another report only two days earlier of similar SBU activities.

On Monday Mustafa Nayem reported at Ukrainska Pravda that teachers at the “Manager” specialized language centre had received “invitations” to the SBU “to give explanations”. The invitations were delivered by hand by people presenting themselves as SBU investigators.  There was no explanation as to why the people were being invited, only the signature of the Head of the SBU Department for Fighting Corruption and Organized Crime and reference to a particular article of the Law on the SBU.  The Law, neither in that clause nor elsewhere mentions authority to call somebody in “to give explanations”. 

It would appear that the Security Service measures which first set alarm bells ringing in 2010 are still continuing. The above measures, as well as ongoing “prophylactic” talks with civic activists and periodic suggestions that those receiving foreign grants are working against the State are depressingly reminiscent of Soviet times. 

The ideological coating has disappeared and the measures seem clearly aimed at keeping a grip on control.  It is no accident that the SBU conversations with civic activists, for example, from Democratic Alliance, have often focused on projects aimed at monitoring elections and their sources of funding.

These are not the tasks the Security Service of any democracy performs, nor are methods of intimidation and surveillance of members of civil society appropriate election campaigning methods.  



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