Monday, April 23, 2007


Adam Larson
Caustic Logic/Guerillas Without Guns
Posted 4/23/07

Despite the little-seen bull import of Western assistance, most of the help for the Orange Revolution was provided from native Ukrainians and the wealthy Diaspora communities who donated money, space, supplies, time, and energy. As we’ve seen, municipal leaders like Kiev mayor Olmchenko were instrumental in allowing the protests to flourish. Others who sympathized with the movement pitched in by not doing things like cracking down. Petro Rondiak noted: “the riot cops were laughing at our jokes and I certainly doubt they would put up much resistance if...” The authorities simply refused to clamp down on their fellow citizens and all remained peaceful. As per Sharp’s strategy the protesters did what they could to co-opt the security forces, but in this case, for whatever reasons, the main effort behind this co-option came from within the security services themselves. And some of the assistance came just in time to prevent the Orange Revolution from turning red with blood.

The behind-the-scenes intrigue was well-related in an unprecedented January 2005 piece in the New York Times by Ukraine expert C.J. Chivers, who interviewed dozens of people involved, including ex-president Kuchma, to assemble his account. Chivers explains how Smeshko’s SBU and other Ukrainian security Agencies (collectively called siloviki) played an unusually powerful role throughout the Revolution – on behalf not of the government they worked for but of the opposition. Oleg Ribachuk, Yushchenko's chief of staff, called this siloviki support “a very important element” that aided their cause “professionally and systemically.” [2]

Opinions on motives differ – Yulia Tymoshenko felt the intelligence agencies were “hedging their bets” in a “complicated game.” But Ribachuk felt they were real allies who “risked their lives and careers” to help keep Yanukovych out of office. [3] They were reportedly motivated by personal aversion to serving a president Yanukovych, who was in his youth convicted of robbery and assault, besides his connection with corrupt businessmen, his unpopularity, and willingness to use fraud. Smeshko in particular reportedly loathed Yanukovych intensely. “They were doing this like a preventive operation,” Ribachuk said of the siloviki intervention. [4]

SBU Director Ihor Smeshko, back-channel ally of the Revolution
Long before the election, the siloviki and the opposition opened quiet lines of communication, including General Smeshko's assignment of an SBU general as secret liaison to Mr. Ribachuk. [5] Ribachuk said that he ultimately had several SBU contacts, with whom he met regularly. The officers leaked him documents and information from the offices of the President and Prime Minister, he said, and were sources for much of the material used in the opposition's media campaign. Particularly useful was the November 24 publication of a recording in which Yanukovych officials discuss exactly how the vote would be fixed: “we have agreed to a 3 to 3.5 percent difference in our favor. We are preparing a table. You will have it by fax.” General Smeshko refused to discuss the tapes in detail with Chivers. “Officially, the S.B.U. had nothing to do with the surveillance of Yanukovich campaign officials. Such taping would be illegal in this country without permission from the court. I will say nothing more.” [6]

After the November run-off fraud, The SBU leadership met at Smeshko’s office, and “contemplated a public resignation,” but as Chivers explains “decided to try steering the gathering forces from a clash, and to fight from within.” “Today we can save our faces or our epaulettes, or we can try to save our country," the spy chief was recalled as saying. [7] Chivers reported that at this time, late November, “General Smeshko agreed to provide [Yushchenko] eight specialists from the elite Alpha counterterrorism unit - a highly unusual step - and to arrange former SBU members to guard the campaign.” [8] It turns out this was agreed to in a secret meeting not three months after their last meeting on September 5, after which Yushchenko had “fallen ill” and essentially blamed Smeshko or his cronies for poisoning him. All indications are that Smeshko’s Alpha troops continued to protect Yushchenko’s campaign nonetheless, though from exactly whom is unclear.

The protection extended beyond the candidate himself and over the whole Revolution. As protests escalated, on the evening of November 28 over 10,000 troops from the Kuchma-allied Interior Ministry – 3,000 armed with guns, the rest with riot gear - were mobilized to Independence Square to put down the protests, by the order of their commander Lt. Gen. Sergei Popkov. [9] As the military convoy rolled into the night Kiev moved towards what Chivers called “a Soviet-style crackdown that could have brought civil war.” [10] But then the Siloviki stepped in. Oleksander Galaka, head of GRU (military intelligence) made calls to “prevent bloodshed.” Senior officials with the SBU learned of this mobilization and moved quickly to warn opposition leaders. SBU Director Ihor Smeshko claimed to have warned Popkov to pull back his troops, as has Maj. Gen. Vitaly Romachenko, the military counter-intelligence chief. [11] Popkov indeed pulled back and bloodshed – a Tiananmen Square in Europe - was narrowly averted.

Next: Away From Russia

[1] [1] Rondiak, Petro. “Kiev resident and supporter of the revolution: E-mail messages sent to friends abroad.” The Ukrainian Weekly, January 2, 2005, No. 1, Vol. LXXIII
[2] – [11] Chivers, C.J. “Back Channels: A Crackdown Averted: How Top Spies in Ukraine Changed the Nation's Path.” The New York Times. January 17, 2005. Accessed via:

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