Vadym Skibitskyi: “We have an answer to the Russian leadership's statement that their units “are not there” in the Donbas”
The Ukrainian Week spoke to representative of the Main Intelligence Directorate at the Ministry of Defence about his department's work, Russian military in Ukraine and the threats it is facing
Which main areas of work can you outline today for the Main Intelligence Directorate?
It is clear which focus area is key for us today. The constant acquisition of intelligence on Russian aggression in the Donbas and Crimea. The number of divisions, their weaponry, control systems and tasks are of interest. We gather evidence of direct involvement of Russian military personnel in the conflict. This concerns both the latest models of weapons and military equipment that Moscow is testing in Ukraine, as if it were a training area, and the identification of persons involved in recruiting militants, supplying weapons and ammunition, training or commanding the terrorist forces of the "DPR/LPR". For example, we identified Russian Army Colonel Bushuyev, who commanded the so-called 7th Separate Motorised Infantry Brigade of the terrorist forces. Prior to his mission to Ukraine, he was chief of staff and deputy commander of the 83rd Separate Air Assault Brigade, stationed in the city of Ussuriysk, Primorsky Region, Russia. We have managed to find many such people and data about them is publicly available on our website. This is our answer to the Russian leadership's well-known statement that their units “are not there” in the Donbas.
This information complements the evidence base for Ukraine's case against Russia for the International Court of Justice. Now is the first time a state has been accused of supporting terrorists (Ukraine has filed a lawsuit against Russia for military intervention, financing of terrorists, the shooting down of MH17 in 2014 discrimination against Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians in the annexed Crimea – Ed.). Thanks to our data in particular, the Ukrainian leadership has been able to convey a real picture in the eastern part of our country to foreign partners. I can say from my own experience that in 2015 I was personally approached at NATO Headquarters, as well as in various EU structures, and asked if it was true that there were Russian soldiers in the Donbas. European politicians could not get used to the fact that the Russian leadership was lying so openly. We presented our data and convinced them that this is not a civil war or a local conflict, but covert aggression on the part of the Russian Federation. One of the results of such explanatory work is the consistent extension of economic sanctions against the Kremlin. At the same time, we do not only work on identifying the armed forces of the Russian Federation – more importantly, we make forecasts for Ukraine's leadership regarding the aggressor's next moves.
How realistic is it, in your opinion, to predict the behaviour of Vladimir Putin and the Russian military?
Indeed, the Kremlin is rather unpredictable. But as for the military, we understand that no large-scale operation can take place without prior planning and preparation. This is what we track. We see that today Russia has not been able to achieve its strategic goal, namely the return of Ukraine under its full control. But so far the Kremlin has not dropped these plans, so it is extremely important for us not to allow a repeat of the events of 2014.
What do you monitor besides the ATO and Russian actions?
We do not neglect other areas either. There are many of them, all defined by the relevant legislation. Some key ones are supporting national interests in the military, political, economic, scientific and technical spheres. Internationally, the Main Intelligence Directorate supports the fight against international organised crime and terrorism. We also join peacekeeping activities.
How do you rate the level of international cooperation? Does the MoD Main Intelligence Directorate receive assistance from foreign partners?
Development of cooperation with the special services of partner countries is one of our main areas of focus. As part of special programs, our partners provide significant assistance to the directorate. Above all, consultations regarding our reforms as we move towards NATO standards – it is planned that by 2020 there will be full compatibility with Alliance forces and the readiness to carry out tasks together. The relevant requirements are contained in the Strategic Defence Bulletin and the National Intelligence Program for 2016-2020.
This is a very important point, because for the first time in the history of the Main Intelligence Directorate we plan to conduct information and analytical work alongside our foreign colleagues in NATO structures. Processing our data and that of the Alliance together, evaluating it and preparing recommendations for the Ukrainian leadership and partner countries. This, in turn, requires new skills, new approaches, different thinking and, of course, good knowledge of foreign languages. A program has been developed that includes additional training for our officers, studying the procedures and regulations of the Alliance. The main thing is that we are conducting joint training sessions. In theory, this is integration with NATO even without obligatory membership.
Another type of assistance is the provision of certain technical equipment by our partners. Hostilities against such a powerful enemy in the military sense as Russia require the development of the entire Ukrainian military intelligence system. Our units should have the best and most advanced pieces of equipment. Therefore, we are actively working on our equipment at all levels, ranging from night-vision devices for men in our units to more serious intelligence tools that detect the movement of enemy equipment or their preparations for active hostilities.
In addition, there is significant exchange of information. Previously, before the Russian armed aggression against Ukraine, we also had dialogue with our foreign partners, but on a very limited list of issues -- data on possible threats to international peacekeeping contingents and the activities of terrorist organisations above all. Now we have a significant increase in our work with partners. In addition, this sharing of intelligence and experience is now beneficial for both sides. It is important for us to get knowledge from foreign colleagues, because they have invaluable experience – it will suffice to mention Iraq and Afghanistan. But our agents can teach the Americans themselves a lot – they have not opposed an enemy on the same level as the Russian Federation for a long time.
How is cooperation between the Main Intelligence Directorate and other law enforcement agencies organised?
Since the beginning of Russian aggression against our state, the whole system of interaction between Ukrainian intelligence agencies has changed dramatically. Today we have a unified informational field and exchange intelligence with other agencies. As part of the Joint Presidential Committee on Intelligence, we prepare assessments together on the most urgent issues concerning national security. A united intelligence information system is now being created, which will enable us to better coordinate our efforts.
Several years before Russian aggression against our country, the Main Intelligence Directorate issued a warning about that threat. However, as it turned out, the former state leadership was not interested in responding adequately to these warnings. How do you assess your current interaction with the new government?
We cannot comment on the actions of previous authorities. Only the law enforcement agencies and courts can evaluate their activity.
In turn, given the specifics of our work, we would not be so bold as to disclose the details of our interaction with the current leadership. However, I can say that we have significantly increased the number of informational documents that are now provided to interested authorities. Just for comparison: in 2016, one and a half times more analysis was sent out than in the previous year. So we can see the state leadership's interest in our data. One of the main topics in our documents is revealing the enemy's further intentions to continue its hybrid aggression against Ukraine.
Something new we have started recently is the preparation of daily briefings on the most important issues regarding the military, political and strategic situation around our country. Such briefings keep the military and politicians abreast of developments and help them to make decisions.
What are the main threats to Ukraine?
Today, Russia remains one of the main sources of threats for our country. The deployment of new and the expansion of existing Russian Armed Forces units in close proximity to the Ukrainian state border is a danger. We continue to record the formation of new military units and formations, as well as equipment and personnel movements. An interesting detail is that in some units, officers who have experience in conducting combat operations against Ukrainian forces in the Donbas are being appointed as commanders (in the Russian Army – Ed.). The occupied Crimea is being militarised. In addition to conventional weapons, the peninsula has the potential for the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons. The presence of Russian troops in the Transnistrian region of Moldova also causes some concern. This contingent could, if necessary, be used to destabilise the situation in southern regions of Ukraine. Therefore, our task is to discover any changes in the combat readiness of Russian units in good time and determine their purpose. Recently, risks regarding cyber-attacks conducted against Ukraine have become more relevant. From a military point of view, hackers could be interested in disrupting the communication networks of Armed Forces headquarters and commanders, in addition to interfering with arms control systems.
In addition, global problems remain relevant and are even becoming more acute. They include international terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the emergence of regional conflicts in different parts of the planet.