Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 25.03.2018
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU, Sluzhba Bezpeky Ukrainy) is 26 years old. The SBU has been integral to Ukraine’s war of national salvation against Russian invasion, which has been raging for four years. The 26th anniversary of the SBU happens to come at a time when the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) is being transitioned to the Joint Forces Operation.
The Anti-Terrorist Operation was under the command of the SBU. It is giving way to the Joint Forces Operation under the command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. This makes sense given that it is not “pro-Russian separatists” that Ukraine is fighting but Russian armed forces invaders that Ukraine is defending against. On March 24, the SBU put out a video on its YouTube channel called “Фільм Служби безпеки України 4 роки в АТО” (“Film of the Security Service of Ukraine: 4 years of the ATO”). The video recalls the concerted invasion by Russia in 2014 against Crimea, Odesa, Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv regions. Russia used “hybrid war” tactics including special forces soldiers with insignia removed, as well as heavy use of propaganda through television and social media. Russia’s invasion of 2014 succeeded in Crimea, partially succeeded in Luhansk and Donetsk, and failed in Odesa and Kharkiv. The SBU did not see its first notable successes against the Russian hybrid forces until the liberation of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk in Donetsk region. The first SBU casualty was an officer killed in combat in Sloviansk in April 2014.
After the Battle of the Donetsk Airport and the Battle of Debaltseve, the “ATO zone” in Donbas settled into trench warfare – from early in 2015 to today. The Armed Forces of Ukraine have borne the brunt of the fighting on the front lines, while the SBU have been making up the defence-in-depth to the rear. SBU officers regularly uncover arms caches, arrest smugglers, capture Russian soldiers (both regular and irregular soldiers), and uncover financial crimes. The SBU video shows that the ATO has been effective in containing Russian aggression: the area under de facto Russian administration has shrunk in size, and over 6,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in combat while invading Ukraine.
Those are Russian soldiers invading Ukraine. They’re Russian regular and irregular troops, led by Russian officers, paid by the Russian state, armed and equipped by the Russian armed forces. The SBU video showed the President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, holding up Russian passports belonging to Russian soldiers and Russian officers, who were captured in battle in Ukraine and became prisoners of war in Ukraine. The language and the perception of an “anti-terrorist operation” never truly fit the conditions of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Joint Forces Operation put the SBU-led ATO into the bigger picture of Ukraine’s all-nation defence from Russian aggression.
President Poroshenko congratulated the SBU on its 26th anniversary, and stressed its work over the past four years in the ATO. One of the most vicious tactics of Russia’s hybrid warfare invasion of Ukraine is sending sabotage and reconnaissance groups into the country. President Poroshenko said: “There are hundreds of exposed informants and detained militants, dozens of localized attempts of sabotage and prevented terrorist attacks on your account. Only last year, dozens of acts of terrorism and sabotage were stopped by the Security Service.” He noted that the SBU detained 591 people involved in terrorist activities, in gathering intelligence for the Russian invaders, and for giving assistance to the Russian invasion-occupation forces. Hostile propaganda and the financing of terrorism are also vital operational areas for the SBU.
Careful intelligence, clandestine surveillance, confidential informants, and patient undercover work by the SBU led to two major victories by Ukraine over Russian aggression. First, the so-called “protest camp” beside the Verkhovna Rada was broken up. Weapons were revealed, Russian FSB agents were unmasked, and a financial pipeline for terrorism stretching back to Moscow was uncovered. The second victory was the infiltration and exposure of a terrorist plot against the government in Kyiv. The principles of this plot are Volodymyr Ruban and Nadiya Savchenko (who are under arrest in Kyiv) and Aleksandr Zakharchenko and Oleksandr Timofeev (who are at large in Russian-occupied Donetsk). The backers of this plot are likely Viktor Medvedchuk and Vladimir Putin. It is only days since Ruban and Savchenko were arrested, but the SBU has been tracking the plotters for a year. President Poroshenko lauded the men and women of the SBU for saving many lives: “You revealed that hostile clique, which was preparing large-scale terrorist attacks in Kyiv with numerous victims, as they called it 'controlled chaos', coup d'etat, rebellion in Ukraine in the interests of the Russian Federation.”
26 years of the Security Service of Ukraine … but the ones that count are the last four, in the Anti-Terrorist Operation. Now Ukraine has a Joint Forces Operation and the SBU is a significant part of a much greater effort that will lead to the liberation of Donbas and Crimea. With the Joint Forces Operation, Ukraine has found a way to fight total war to defeat Russia’s “hybrid war” invasion.