Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

State Security Service Facing an Overhaul

KIEV -- One of the toughest tasks facing new President Viktor Yushchenko will be overhauling the State Security Service, which has been linked to an array of devious and deadly activities.

The cases of other Soviet-bloc countries show that success or failure could determine how well democracy takes root in Ukraine -- but the issue is complicated by indications that security forces played a role in averting a crackdown on the Orange Revolution.

Since the 38,000-strong State Security Service, or SBU, was formed in 1991 after Ukraine's independence, it is alleged to have been connected to organized crime, shady weapons deals and the deaths of several prominent opposition politicians and journalists. It is suspected of involvement in the September dioxin poisoning of Yushchenko.

Throughout the region, security agency reform has been a mixed bag of results. The Czech Republic -- now a successful market-driven democracy -- dissolved its former communist secret police, the STB, after the 1989 Velvet Revolution and barred former high-ranking communists and secret police agents from holding public office.

By contrast, Belarus has retained unchanged the structure -- and the name -- of the Soviet-era agency, the KGB.

In Russia, the KGB was broken up into several agencies, but the main successor organization, the Federal Security Service, now has much of the clout of its predecessor. President Vladimir Putin has brought into government many high-ranking former security officials.

Ukraine's security agency is highly factionalized, with internal clans loyal to different political camps. Which one was dominant came under question the day after the Nov. 21 election, when demonstrators jammed Kiev to protest voting fraud after Yushchenko was declared the loser. As the rallies gathered force, a statement was issued in the name of the SBU, the Prosecutor General's Office and the Interior Ministry, saying the agencies were "ready to put an end to lawlessness quickly and firmly." A few hours later, however, the SBU denied it was a party to the statement, indicating perhaps tacit support of the protesters.

Then-Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who was declared the winner in November but lost to Yushchenko in a rerun, reportedly demanded police action against the demonstrators and fears of a violent crackdown were high.

Yulia Tymoshenko, a Yushchenko ally, told demonstrators a week after the protests began that police troops based near Kiev were on their way to break up the throngs. The raid never materialized.

Tymoshenko said in an interview that mid-ranking SBU officers switched allegiances and effectively sabotaged the deployment of troops. "In front of my very eyes, military intelligence officers and SBU counterintelligence people were available to give us real-time information about troop movements, when the ammunition was issued and who started to sabotage the orders," she said.

Several SBU officials and allies of outgoing President Leonid Kuchma have claimed that Kuchma and top security officials also played a significant role in averting conflict. A European diplomat in Kiev said that "the British and Americans ... were receiving reassurances [from Kuchma's office] that there will be no violence or police onslaught."

But General Serhiy Gusarov, the first deputy interior minister, denied that any assault against the demonstrators had been planned in the first place.

If SBU figures were key in allowing the protests to continue, it would seem logical to expect Yushchenko's administration's to reward them with advanced postings while getting rid of untrustworthy officers. A thorough housecleaning appears the more likely course.

Tymoshenko, who has said she expects to be named prime minister, said "new leaders of the security agencies should ... undertake investigations" and perform "serious reforms."

"We need to reform personnel selection and training, eradicate corruption and establish civilian control," she said.

Former SBU deputy head Volodymyr Satsyuk has already resigned and returned to being a member of parliament, which gives him immunity from prosecution. Yanukovych deputy Andriy Kliuyev, whom the opposition has accused of playing a key role in the Nov. 21 vote fraud, has also quit the SBU.

The question of whether Kuchma will receive immunity still hangs in the air, with Tymoshenko saying he must be held responsible "for everything that he did with the country."