Vienna, July 9 – For entirely understandable reasons, there has been much speculation but little serious discussion about the specific role Moscow’s intelligence services have played in relations between Russia and the former Soviet republics in the internal politics of these states, and in the relationship between these countries and the outside world.
A notable exception to this dearth of discussions is provided in an article by Moscow State University expert Aleksandr Karavayev entitled “Methods of Adopting Political Decisions and the Role of the Special Services in Russian Policy in the CIS” that was posted online this week (www.ia-centr.ru/expert/5181/).
But an even more intriguing if necessarily more narrowly focused consideration of this question was offered by Moses Fishbein, a Jewish Ukrainian poet, in a commentary entitled “The Jewish Card in Russian Operations against Ukraine” that was published by the “Kyiv Post” ten days ago (www.kyivpost.com/opinion/44324).
Karavayev begins his discussion by noting that under Vladimir Putin, officials from the special services rose to senior positions in the Russian government but that their rise did not in many cases always lead to an increase in the role of the institutions from which they came, at least with respect to Moscow’s dealings with the Commonwealth of Independent States.
This “paradox,” he suggests, reflects the specific nature of that organization: It is a closed club of presidents, and relations among its members are more a reflection of personal friendships or antagonisms than about the interests of one or another country toward the others, something that the special services could affect.
But despite that, Karavayev continues, it is worth asking whether the “methods and practices” of the Russian special services could be employed in a useful fashion on the territory of the CIS, specifically in Ukraine. And he asks “do there exist untapped reserves of the FSB and SVR relative to Ukraine and in what continues could they be ‘made use of’?”
“For the foreseeable future,” the Moscow analyst says, “Russia will not see a ‘Ukrainian Nazarbayev,’ that is, a president who not just by style but in reality will be ready to work on integration projects with Russia. That means conflicts are inevitable. The difference will only be in their intensity.”
In that situation, the special services can play a role and are certainly active, Karavayev implies when he writes that “for some unclear reasons, [Ukrainian President Viktor] Yushchenko has not expressed his opinion concerning the infiltration of the Russian special services in the organs of power of Ukraine at various levels, even though he understands this perfectly well.”
But the Ukrainian leader “has refrained from launching a campaign of spy mania in Ukraine. Is that because to do so would be to play his last card? Or are there no forces” on which he could rely if he were to do so? Or – and this is a possibility Karavayev does not mention – is the penetration so great that calling attention to it would be an act of suicide?
If Yushchenko is not willing to do so, Fishbein certainly is. And in his article, he argues that “Russia’s special services are seeking to destabilize the situation in Ukraine, undermine its sovereignty and independence, create a negative image of this country, block its integration into [Western] structures, and turn Ukraine into a dependent and manipulated satellite.”
The Jewish Ukrainian poet and translator and winner of the Vasyl Stus Prize focuses on the specific ways the Russian special services have been seeking to play “the Jewish card” in Ukraine, in the hope of “set[ing] the Ukrainians and Jews against each other,” blackening Ukraine’s reputation abroad, and undermining its chance to become a member of NATO.
Fishbein takes as his point of departure Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s statement last January that Moscow’s desire to block the extension of NATO membership to Georgia and Ukraine “required precise and well-coordinated work on the part of all special security, defense and law enforcement structures and quite a high level of coordination among them.”
“I must say straight away,” the Russian president said, “on the whole the Federal Security Service [FSB] successfully carried out all its tasks.”
In making that statement, Fishbein argues, Medvedev not only declared that blocking Ukraine’s admission to NATO was “the work of Russian special services, the result of special operations that they had put into motion” but also acknowledged that “the Russian special services are conducting special ops against Ukraine, aimed at undermining its sovereignty.”
That is “a brutal violation not just of international law,” the Ukrainian writer says. It is “also a brutal violation of Russian laws,” given that the latter do not authorize the FSB “to conduct such special operations” either generally or particularly against a neighboring country like Ukraine.
According to Fishbein, the Russian special services continue their actions even now, with the number of people employed in FSB structures overseeing Ukraine up 150 percent, a trend that as the Ukrainian writer suggests “is reminiscent of the 1950s, when the underground Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) was active in Ukraine.”
Of particular concern to Fishbein is the way Moscow is using “the so-called ‘Jewish card’” against Ukraine. Instead of acknowledging as Fishbein has that there have been anti-Semites among Ukrainians as among other peoples but that most Ukrainians are as outraged by and opposed to anti-Semitism as anyone else, Russian writers often portray all Ukrainians and all Ukrainian history as blighted by that plague.
Not surprisingly, given his outrage at Moscow’s falsification of Ukrainian history and of the Ukrainian people, Fishbein devotes most of his article to a discussion of the facts of the case, including denunciations of anti-Semitism by people Russian authors routinely classify as anti-Semites and outright falsification of the historical record in Ukraine by Moscow.
But most interesting in the current context are the various examples he gives of the ways in which the Russian special services “continue to play the ‘Jewish card’ in their special operations against Ukraine.” All are instructive, but one is particularly noteworthy because it exactly parallels the methods the KGB widely used in Soviet times.
In April 2008, Fishbein reports, the Russian news agency Regnum carried a report that “an Israeli historian named Yury Vilner had published a book entitled Andrii Yushchenko: The Person and the ‘Legend.’” Its research “proves that during the Second World War, the father of the president of Ukraine may have been a camp policeman and Nazi informer.”
“Few people paid any attention to the stylistic shortcoming of the phrase ‘proves that … he may have been,’” or to other aspects of this work that subsequently was posted on the Internet. As posted, Fishbein continues, it was dedicated “To the humanist Aron Shneer,” a researcher and scholar at Yad Vashem in Israel.
Fishbein reports that he spoke with Shneer on the telephone but while the Israeli scholar had read Vilner’s text on the Internet, he “had no idea who Yury Vilner was.” And it quickly became apparent, Fishbein says, that “no one either in Israel or in Russia – or anywhere else for that matter – neither scholars nor journalists knew about the existence of this ‘Israeli.’”
The Kyiv poet said that in an effort to find out more, he looked at the ISBN number, which is “a unique numeric commercial identifier” for a book. In the case of Vilner’s text, that number was 969-228-292-5. Because the first three numbers identify the country of publication, Vilner’s book should have been published in Pakistan.
But a search in the ISBN data bank showed that “such a book did not exist,” Fishbein continues. And that “means that the ISBN was fabricated, and hence the ‘book’ itself and its ‘author’ are fabrications created and launched into circulation by means of anti-Ukrainian special operations” intended to “create difficulties” for Ukraine.
Few people have been as dogged as Fishbein in tracking down this and other Russian falsifications and slanders against Ukraine, but his work in this area deserves to be better known not only because it provides an answer to the question Karavayev posed but also because it explains why so many Ukrainians want to gain the protection of Western institutions like NATO.