As the trial of Ukraine’s fugitive ex-President Viktor Yanukovych continues, new evidence showing the former government had been warned about the Russia threat has been brought forward.
Prosecutors have put forward letters from the Security Service of Ukraine, which were addressed to the then state leadership. The documents were classified "top secret" until last month and have since been submitted as part of the Yanukovych case. Hromadske has also been given access to the letters.
Economic and Political Pressure on Ukraine
On January 15, 2013, the then head of the SBU, Igor Kalinin, personally sent a secret letter to Yanukovych, in which he talked about Russia's economic and geopolitical threats to Ukraine. The letter was based on information gathered by the Foreign Intelligence Service, the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense and the intelligence network of the SBU.
From the archive: Former First Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Andriy Klyuev (right) and former President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych during the cabinet meeting in Kyiv, June 1, 2011 Photo credit: UNIAN
"Over the past years, the Russian leadership has implemented a strategy aimed at restoring Russia's status as the leading geopolitical player. According to pro-government geopolitical scientists, this is impossible without renewed political influence on the ‘near abroad’ regions. Particular attention is paid to Ukraine,” one of the letters states.
The SBU then reported that Russian authorities were trying to establish complete political and economic control over Ukraine. To do so a "single center" was created to coordinate these issues.
As an example, the SBU pointed to the "domination" of Russian companies, in particular, in the field of natural resources, industry, and Ukraine’s financial sector. Furthermore, Russia tried to gain control over Ukrainian land and the agricultural industry.
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The letter warned that Russia’s wealth was largely controlled by the country’s political leadership and is used by the latter to achieve political goals.
To achieve such economic influence on Ukraine, Russia created a special interdepartmental group under President Vladimir Putin, coordinated by his assistant Vladislav Surkov and then-head of the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation, Mikhail Fradkov.
From the archive (left to right): Former SBU head Igor Kalinin, former Minister of Internal Affairs Vitaliy Zakharchenko, former Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka and former President Viktor Yanukovych (in the background) at a meeting coordinating law enforcement officials in Kyiv, November 13, 2012. Photo credit: Yevhen Maloletko/UNIAN
It was assumed that the group would create a basis for pressuring Ukraine to enter the Customs Union and create Ukrainian-Russian companies on the basis of state monopolies of Ukraine in order to prevent Western investors from coming there.
Meanwhile, in the humanitarian sphere, expansion of Russian initiatives, including language and education were envisioned.
There was also talk of collecting signatures for a referendum on uniting Ukraine with the Russian Federation.
Preparation for the annexation of Crimea
On February 17, 2014, the then SBU head, Oleksandr Yakymenko, sent a secret letter to the Presidential Administration about the preparation of Russian aggression. The letter was addressed to administration head Andrii Klyuyev and sent on the eve of the beginning of the most tragic phase of confrontation between EuroMaidan activists and security forces.
The letter states that both government and non-government structures of the Russian Federation were preparing to act to intensify separatist sentiment in Ukraine, justifying it as "protecting the interests of the Russian-speaking population."
According to the document, Russia was most active in Eastern and Southern regions of Ukraine, "where the main pro-Russian electorate is centered.”
Archive photo: Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich (right) congratulates Oleksandr Yakimenko on the appointment of SBU chairman, in Kyiv, on Thursday, January 10, 2013 Photo credit: Andriy Mosienko/POOL /UNIAN
Another factor that worked in Moscow’s favour, the letter stated, was that local pro-Russian politicians, feeling the Party of Regions weakening against the background of mass protests, showed signs of separation from the central government.
In the documents, the SBU points to an example where a congress of regional council representatives and the Verkhovna Rada of Crimea took place on February 12, 2014, in Yalta. There they declared the need for "decentralization and deep constitutional reform.”
A convention initiated by the "Russian Block" featuring 23 pro-Russian organizations took place on same day in Simferopol. According to the SBU, Russia sent politicians and officials to southern and eastern Ukraine, who were supposed to incite pro-Russian activities and provide organizational assistance.
From December 2013 to February 2014, Putin’s assistant Vladislav Surkov, Deputy Chair of the State Duma Igor Lebedev and State Duma deputies Oleksiy Zhuravlev and Dmitry Sablin, arrived in Crimea alongside a number of other officials. The result of the visits was the creation of the "Slavic Antifascist Front.” Part of its mission to was to appeal to Putin to “protect Russian-speaking compatriots.” The organization also drew in Crimean paramilitary structures.
Russia’s Cossack Council member Konstantin Zatulin coordiated the activities of the front and had to bring hundreds of representatives of the Volgograd Cossacks to Crimea to help “defuse” the situation on the peninsula.
Viktor Medvedchuk’s pro-Russian-oriented “Ukrainian Choice” organization also played a role in this. On January 29, 2014, "Ukrainian Choice,” "Great Russia,” "Russia United" and "Communist Party of Ukraine" held a congress in Kharkiv.
"The decision was made to create a united center for common policy that would be directed at the decentralization of Ukraine and the separation of the South and East of Ukraine, which would move towards Russia," the letter states.
The SBU then noted that all these actions were accompanied by ideas of federalization of Ukraine and turning to Russia for assistance, particularly with regard to military invasion.
Why have these letters been included?
The prosecution added these letters to Yanukovych's case as material evidence. According to prosecutor Ruslan Kravchenko, Yanukovych then understood the threat and realized that his appeal to Putin regarding leading Russian troops into Ukrainian territory was particularly dangerous.
Archive photo (from left to right): President of the motorcycle club “Night Wolves” Alexander Zaldostanov ("Surgeon"), Deputy of the State Duma of the Russian Federation Konstantin Zatulin, Head of the Sevastopol City State Administration, head of the city organization of the Party of Regions Volodymyr Yatsuba, and commander of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation Rear Admiral Alexander Fedotenkov on Nakhimov Square in Sevastopol, Crimea, July 21, 2012. Photo credit: Vasyl Batanov/UNIAN
Yanukovych is accused of treason and encroachment on territorial integrity, which carry a possible sentence of life imprisonment. According to the investigation, in March 2014, Yanukovych called on the leadership of the Russian Federation to bring in regular troops to Ukraine. He sent the corresponding letter to the Council of the Russian Federation and the Putin’s administration, according to the prosecutor's office.
The trial is taking place in absentia with Yanukovych hiding in Russia since his ousting in 2014.
/By Dmytro Replianchuk
/Translated by Natalie Vikhrov