Kiev Spy Welcomes NATO’s Moscow Overture

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine’s top spy has welcomed NATO’s decision last week to resume high-level ties with Russia, suspended after Moscow’s military standoff with Georgia last year.

SBU head Valentyn Nalyvaichenko

In a Financial Times interview, Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, head of Ukraine’s SBU [formerly known as the KGB] state security service, said Kiev also sought better relations with Russia, but would continue to crack down on “Russian politicians” who interfered in the country’s domestic politics.

“Good relations are when a neighbour does not stretch across the fence into your yard,” he said, referring to Russian support for pro-Russia political groups in Ukraine, including separatists on the Crimean peninsula, home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet.

Mr Nalyvaichenko insisted his own service was apolitical as he defended its recent raid on a state-owned energy company involved in the power struggle between President Viktor Yushchenko and the prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko.

The former diplomat, who was put in charge of the SBU three years ago by Mr Yushchenko, also argued that Ukraine had made big gains in democracy since the 2004 Orange Revolution, despite its continuing economic and political upheavals. “The risks are now more economic in nature,” he said referring to the financial crisis, which has driven Kiev to take an emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund.

Kiev, an aspiring NATO member and rare Western ally on post-Soviet turf, strongly backed Georgia in the war, sparking fears of potential conflict between Moscow and Kiev in Crimea. Some nationalist Russian politicians openly want Moscow to annex the peninsula but late last year Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, said publicly it was Ukrainian territory.

Moscow is also much involved in Ukraine’s politicised and lucrative energy sector. Fears resurfaced last week that Russian natural gas supplies via Ukraine to Europe could be cut off again after SBU guards raided state gas company Naftogaz, controlled by Ms Tymoshenko. The raid marked an escalation of tensions between the two leaders after they buried their differences to secure financial support from the IMF.

Mr Nalyvaichenko claimed that Naftogaz, on the orders of the government, had illegally stripped away ownership of more than $2bn worth of gas from Rosukrenergo, a gas trading intermediary, owned jointly by Russia’s Gazprom and Ukrainian businessman Dmytro Firtash.

Deputy SBU chief and billionaire Valery Khoroshkovsky headed the investigation despite admitting to joint interests in television channels with Mr Firtash, Gazprom’s partner in Rosukrenergo. Mr Nalyvaichenko ruled out a conflict of interest, but said another official would take charge of the investigation.

Mr Nalyvaichenko disputed allegations by Ms Tymoshenko that Ukraine’s president had lobbied on behalf of Rosukrenergo for it to regain the disputed gas supplies at the centre of last week’s raids.

He said he had offered to provide proof of Mr Yushchenko’s innocence to Russia’s Accounting Chamber, a public audit office, which was investigating Rosukrenergo’s Ukrainian shareholders.

Since then, Mr Khoroshkovsky appeared on his own TV channel to warn that the security services could next target government offices in a continued quest for documents to prove that gas was illegally transferred from Rosukrenergo to Naftogaz.

The west has repeatedly raised concerns about Rosukrenergo’s lack of transparency, not least because the intermediary has featured in the disputes between Kiev and Moscow that have periodically cut off energy supplies to the rest of Europe.

Mr Nalyvaichenko stressed however that the body was established by leaders in Ukraine and Russia before Mr Yushchenko became president. Gazprom has not publicly backed Rosukrenergo and Mr Putin described last week’s gas dispute as a “domestic” Ukrainian affair.

Source: Financial Times