Following is the text of remarks by Andriy Levus, chairman of the Subcommittee on State Security of the Committee on National Security and Defense in the Verkhovna Rada, delivered at the U.S.-Ukraine Security Dialogue VIII, “Securing Ukraine’s Sovereignty: The Road Ahead,” which was convened on February 14-15 at the Library of Congress in Washington. Mr. Levus is also a co-founder of the Inter-Party Parliamentary Anti-Corruption Association and a former deputy head of the Security Service of Ukraine. (A news story about the conference appeared in the March 5 issue.)
The main task for Russia is to destroy the structure of political authority in the Ukrainian state by exacerbating citizens’ trust in the government. According to this Russian-designed scenario, Ukraine will begin to disintegrate into various artificially created autonomous units.
Ever since Ukraine restored independence, Russia has not ceased in attempting to re-impose itself on our country. This is due to several reasons.
The first reason is the illusory pain of a dying mighty empire, an imperial myth that has been cultivated for centuries. It is understood by the Russian establishment that the empire is incomplete without Ukraine. Russians believe that our territory that gave birth to Kyivan Rus’ is an integral part of Russia.
The second reason is geopolitical. The whole of Ukraine, including Crimea, is of great military importance for Russia as an outpost in the “grand game” to counter the West.
The third reason for incessant overt and covert Russian aggression is the fear that Ukrainians, many linked by kinship, economic and political ties with Russia, can break through to the West. Real demonstrable progress in Ukraine will profoundly affect the situation in Russia itself. Russian citizens will see that they too can live in a civilized, democratic and affluent society.
That is why, when Viktor Yanukovych came to power, all of Russia’s actions were aimed at the destruction or subversion of the military and police, at taking over key strategic economic assets and seizing the information sphere. Most important was the elimination of the middle class as the bearer of progressive ideas. The plan was to turn Ukraine into a colony.
Vladimir Putin felt the threat of losing Ukraine forever when the Revolution of Dignity deposed the criminal regime and declared European integration irreversible. The response was the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas – a war designed to defend the Russian president, his power and the values of Eurasian civilization, which he personally represents: despotism, tyranny, totalitarianism and a slavishly subservient polity.
Putin believed that the operation co-named “Russian Spring” will destroy and fragment Ukraine. A significant part of the Ukrainian state was to be joined to Russia or to become a newly formed entity “Novorossiya”, and the rest a buffer zone. Thanks to the international community, including sanctions imposed by the West, and, above all, support of Ukraine’s civil society and the actions of Ukrainian special services, Putin realized that victory will not be achieved by direct military aggression.
The Russian president’s regime is now seeking to recolonize Ukraine through other means. The effort is global, and the goal is the destabilization of our country by discrediting government authority through conflicts and scandals, blocking the work of Parliament, perhaps, even mass protests.
The instruments of destabilization include controlling media through pro-Russian oligarchs and government through corrupt politicians who are in the ranks of both the revanchist and “democratic” opposition. In addition, the Russian oligarchs who control Ukraine’s natural resources can manipulate pricing of electricity, natural gas and other communal costs to create social upheaval. Social instability is further sown by “anti-corruption” activities: protests, scandals and other activities by thinly cloaked separatist associations, which, coupled with government indecision, may lead to a breaking point.
The main task for Russia is to destroy the structure of political authority in the Ukrainian state by exacerbating citizens’ trust in the government. According to this Russian-designed scenario, Ukraine will begin to disintegrate into various artificially created autonomous units. Most importantly, politicians in Kyiv with whom the Kremlin will be able to reach a compromise will gain power. These ends are served by political forces represented by the revanchist and populist opposition parties. If you analyze the statements of these two political forces on the situation in the country, you will find that they are virtually identical, synchronized and broadcast across the same media channels at the same time. Admittedly, they have different connotations, but this is only because they are directed to different social groups. Nonetheless, their common goal remains the same.
I would also like to touch on the Minsk agreements. The Minsk process has many contradictions. On the one hand, it allows time for Ukraine to reform and to mobilize for the liberation of Ukrainian lands and the realization of the goals of the Revolution of Dignity. For us, this is a respite between battles. On the other hand, the Minsk negotiations are conducted behind closed doors. This provides opportunities for Ukraine’s enemies to offer up interpretations and misrepresentations of the results of each round of talks to sow distrust of the Ukrainian authorities. Constant themes include betrayal or allegations that President Petro Poroshenko is ceding sovereign territory.
The calls of some representatives of the European Union for direct dialogue between the Ukrainian government and representatives of the terrorist groups “DPR” and “LPR,” as well as on holding elections first, before restoring Ukraine’s control over its border, is deeply troubling to patriotic citizens, military personnel and participants of the Revolution of Dignity. This is exploited by the Kremlin, which reacts according to its main hybrid war paradigm – create discontent in society.
If we look for points of heightened discontent in Ukraine itself, we note a certain cyclical synchronicity among manifestations of social protests, political crises, information dumps, anti-corruption scandals and increased acts of aggression at the war front. This has happened five times in the last two years. We can expect more of the same in 2017.
In its existential struggle with the Kremlin, Ukraine needs the full support of the West.
Our state is a shield and a spear in defense of the civilized world. We must do everything so that the shield is strong and the spear tip is sharp.
To stop Russia’s destabilization plan, Ukrainian authorities should:
1. Resume their dialogue with the nation, first and foremost with the most active part of society, which took part in the Euro-Maidan and the anti-terrorist operation (ATO). By their own actions, they have demonstrated their commitment to independence and democracy. Doors to government offices should be open to them. If the authorities were to re-engage and work with civil society, positive change would be irreversible and the following two points would be fully realized.
2. Remove Russia’s agents of influence from the economic, political and information spheres. It is naïve to speak of reform while the oligarchic pro-Russian mafia continues as a major player in Ukraine.
3. Continue the course of unpopular but necessary reforms in Ukraine. Polls and sloganeering from oligarch-controlled media channels should not factor into these difficult decisions.
In its existential struggle with the Kremlin, Ukraine needs the full support of the West. Our state is a shield and a spear in defense of the civilized world. We must do everything so that the shield is strong and the spear tip is sharp.
The West should stem the influence of marginal populists who delight in trumpeting themes of anti-corruption. Instead they should focus on the fundamentals: human rights, transparency, equal opportunities and freedom of expression – these values are for us holy and inviolable. The government is trying to comply with all democratic norms to ensure freedom of speech because it is an extremely important achievement of the Revolution of Dignity and part of the political culture of Ukrainian society. On the other hand, the difficult economic circumstances and Russia’s undeclared war against Ukraine compels a more critical look at the role of media that trumpets pro-Putin and anti-Western rhetoric. Indeed, media freedoms often are manipulated by pro-Russian oligarchs, who are preventing Ukrainian authorities from dealing effectively with disinformation, fake news and returning property stolen by the Yanukovych regime, and finally prosecuting those who resort to sedition and subversion to undermine our country.
In Ukraine we do have major problems with corruption, in place since the Soviet years and well over 20 years since independence. We all understand this, and each of us is engaged in the fight against corruption. We all are impatient with our government and Parliament. However, it is impossible to demand that Ukraine immediately stop corrupt practices and enter an ideal state. In a brief period one can only destroy. Profound economic and political reforms take time. There is an immense difference between home-grown corruption and the fight against the Russian oligarchs’ mafia in Ukraine. The first can and will be eliminated through reforms. The latter is a foreign entity that can only be eradicated. It should be understood that the fight against corruption cannot and must not question the existence of the Ukrainian state itself. This is Putin’s end goal in his disinformation campaign.
Many civic organizations, and members of Parliament and the administration on all levels from the national government to the village council, have committed themselves to these ends. And, thousands of Ukraine’s best young men and women have given their lives or have been maimed and crippled in fighting for these goals. What is difficult to communicate to you here in Washington is the undercurrent in society, a kind of positive tension that is inspiring millions of Ukrainian citizens who are determined not to allow the gains made on the Maidan to wither away. They are joining the military or providing support for our fighting men and women on the frontlines, helping wounded veterans and military service members’ families, or assisting nearly 2 million internal war refugees. Others are actively engaged in civic organizations monitoring government operations from the village level to the national government, advocating for progressive causes, implementing reforms, fighting corruption, and identifying and confronting acts of sedition and subversion.
One such organized movement is Free People – a politically non-partisan nationwide organization founded in April 2013. During the Revolution of Dignity, activists from Free People formed the 14th, 15th and 35th companies of Self-Defense Maidan. Members joined National Guard battalions from the moment of Russian military aggression. Others formed volunteer units to provide badly needed supplies to troops on the frontlines. For nearly three years, Free People and many, many other organizations like it are working on these two fronts: in the ranks of our military or supporting our troops.
I am referring to Free People as an example in explaining the way forward because I am also its chairman. There are many other excellent civic organizations and movements with which we work and coordinate activities. And, from my position in Parliament as chair of the subcommittee on national security and as immediate past deputy head of the Ukrainian Security Service, I and my fellow members in Free People and like-minded organizations have extensive relationships with thousands of dedicated and patriotic government officials and workers throughout the country, many of whom belong to this or other similar organizations. I am sharing this with you by way of explanation and not as self-praise, for many of our friends in the West do not fully understand or appreciate the extent and depth of civic activism and the strength of our civil society. Again, Free People is but one of many such organizations.
In addition to the aforementioned, today Free People is also deeply involved in the processes of de-occupation: stopping and preventing Moscow from meddling in our internal affairs.
Our movement is initiating a national roundtable, “Unity for Victory,” on the Memorial Day for the Heavenly Hundred, February 20. We are calling on the leaders of the national patriotic parties to unite on behalf of securing the promise of the Revolution of Dignity.
Leaders of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc, National Front, Batkivshchyna, Radical Party and Samopomich should stop the discord among them and return to the coalition European Ukraine of 2014. Together with civil society, they need to agree on strategic goals for the country’s development. In doing so, they also must reject populist politicking and dirty tricks, such as exploiting people’s hardships and manipulating their fears for political purposes.
We have determined that, since the Euro-Maidan victory, many political crises have been provoked or staged by the Kremlin’s meddling. Putin’s revanchist plan is to trigger early parliamentary elections to restore a subservient regime in Kyiv. This is why politics as usual is so very dangerous at this critical time.
A platform representing 15 main objectives has been developed for the national roundtable to consider. They encompass and update the key points of the coalition agreement European Ukraine, and include those noted earlier in my remarks.
We believe that our national patriotic parties will unite and work together for the good of Ukraine. With God’s blessings and America’s help, and that of all freedom-loving countries, the Ukrainian people will prevail in securing a bright future for themselves and their children.
Glory to America and to Ukraine.
God Bless America and Ukraine.