By Paul Goble
Aleksandr Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s FSB, and Valery Khoroshkovsky, head of Ukraine’s SBU, have signed a five-year agreement that will allow Moscow again to put intelligence agents in Crimea, from which 19 such Russian officers were expelled at the end of last year for attempting to recruit Ukrainians as spies.
While the new accord reportedly allows Ukraine the right to approve or disapprove Russian officers to be sent there, something the 2000 accord Kyiv denounced in December 2009 did not, many Ukrainian analysts have expressed doubts that this provision will protect Kyiv’s interests and fears that the accord will have serious and far-reaching consequences for Ukraine.
Nadezhda Maynaya of “Glavred” interviewed two Ukrainian analysts to get their reactions to this latest development in the ongoing warming of Russian-Ukrainian relations. Their responses should set off alarm bells not only in Ukraine but also in regional and Western capitals (glavred.info/archive/2010/05/19/170153-4.html).
The behavior of Russian agents last year, Rostislav Pavlenko, the director of the School of Political Analysis of the Kyiv-Mohylev Academy, said, raises doubts as to whether any document Moscow officials sign or any statements they make can be trusted. After all, what the Russians did last year was prohibited by bilateral agreements.
“Today,” the Ukrainian analyst continued, “we observe in fact an invitation to the Russian special services to return to the territory of Ukraine,” a development that he said has at least three serious consequences. First, the presence of Russian special service officers in Ukraine has been legalized,” opening the way to more abuse.
Second, the accords create problems by setting up “a collision of legislation,” with Russian law calling for one thing and Ukrainian another. And third, Pavlenko said, “there can arise definite geopolitical and geo-strategic problems,” such as occurred in August 2008 when Ukraine took Georgia’s side following Moscow’s invasion of the Caucasus country.
Given that Ukraine has agreed to extend the presence of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol for another 25 years, there is certainly time for the appearance of a situation “when the Black Sea Fleet and the special services based within it can be used in actions that are counter to the interests of Ukraine.”
But the impact of this FSB-SBU accord is likely to be even larger, Ukrainian political scientist Yevgeny Zherebetsky argued. That is because the commanders of the Black Sea Fleet, immediately after the extension of the basing accord, began a “massive” downsizing, retiring some 7500 staffers, “of whom 6500 are civilians and citizens of Ukraine.”
In addition, the fleet plans to retire 550 officers, many of whom will like the civilians have relatively low pensions and thus be open as are the civilians for recruitment by the Russian special services for work against Ukraine as a way to supplement their relatively small benefit checks.
According to Zherebetsky, it is “very important for Russians to obtain control over Crimea” because it lacks warm water ports. But “if everything will develop so ‘well’ [for Moscow] as it is now, then the Russians will try to extend their influence to Odessa, Kherson, and Nikolayev,” in an arc extending from Transdniestria to Abkhazia.
For that purpose, he continued, “Russia needs a broad network of agents of the special services,” but its prospects for success if these agents are active are very good because “over the course of the period of independence, the Ukrainian leadership has done nothing so that Ukraine could obtain complete power over the territory of Crimea.”
Pavlenko agreed, and he added that “the official strengthening of the return of FSB agents to Ukraine are steps toward the development, legalization and creation of opportunities which are in no way connected only with the defense of the Black Sea Fleet” but rather are intended to create “a mechanism of influence on Ukraine.”
And this problem is going to arise very quickly, Zherebetsky added. One issue that seems certain to break into the open is the question of whether the Russian ships carry nuclear weapons. As a declared non-nuclear state, Ukraine cannot have military units on its territory that have such weapons, but the new accord makes it impossible for Kyiv to know whether they are there.
Moreover, even as this agreement was being signed, Russian officials were signaling that they want even more. One Russian leader suggested that the sailors in the Black Sea Fleet should have dual Russian-Ukrainian citizenship (news.liga.net/news/N1014381.html), and another said Moscow wants all of Sevastopol back (news.km.ru/rossiya_mozhet_potrebovat_sevast).