The West is well aware of Russian actions in Ukraine that began with Russian armed forces annexing the Crimean peninsula in March 2014, as well as initiation of the war in Donbass, which unfortunately is still ongoing. However, most of the West’s attention is focused on military operations, leaving out more subtle methods of hybrid warfare. As stipulated by Russian military doctrine, non-military methods constitute 80 percent of the methods used in modern conflict.
Moscow’s attempts to interfere with political processes and elections in NATO countries have become a serious problem, and have been recognized as part of Russian hybrid war against the West. Ukraine is the largest country in Europe; its natural resources and industry remain crucial for Russia. Ukraine has been defending its independence with arms for five years now, and it will hold presidential and parliamentary elections next year. It’s obvious that Russia’s power to affect the process and the outcome of the elections in Ukraine is much higher than its powers in the West. Lacking the ability to defeat Ukraine without total war, Russia is doing its best to destabilize Ukraine’s politics and throw off its pro-Western course through political manipulation.
It’s worth mentioning that Russia has succeeded in doing it several times in the past. For instance, six months after the Orange Revolution, the pro-Western majority was torn apart, allowing notorious pro-Russian politician Viktor Yanukovych to become prime minister, and then president of Ukraine, creating the preconditions for Ukraine losing its territory.
To understand how Russia conducts these non-violent operations, and hold Ukraine, with its pro-Western population, in Moscow’s sphere of influence, we decided to speak to someone with a wealth of experience. We held a number of interviews with a senior British intelligence officer who started his career in Russia during the Cold War and was trained to uncover Russian special operations, operations of political influence, and disinformation campaigns. He pointed out that to work within societies that have a strong anti-Russian stance and affect pro-Western citizens, it doesn’t make sense to involve politicians and opinion leaders who are open Russophiles. Russia must engage agents who act as if they share the position of the audience they are influencing. This was typical of the Soviet “active measures,” the name for political war in the USSR, and the same is happening today.
We also received a report drafted by the British intelligence officer together with his colleagues on possible threats to the pro-Western course of Ukraine that emanate from Russian interference. The report features the names of people who are known in the West as avid supporters of democratic values. Among other names, our attention was drawn to that of Oleh Rybachuk, former vice prime minister and the head of the Presidential Administration of Ukraine, who has been actively engaged in civil society in recent years.
According to our source, during the reign of the USSR, Oleh Rybachuk was trained by the GRU (Soviet military intelligence) and later sent to perform special tasks in India, where he worked undercover as an interpreter in Zarubezhneft (Russian state oil and gas company), later headed by Nikolai Tokarev, Mr. Putin’s KGB superior. Mr. Rybachuk’s real activities had little to do with Zarubezhneft, as according to our interviewee, the Indian counterintelligence had undeniable proof that Mr. Rybachuk, as the Soviet security service officer, had regular contacts with local political parties and even provided them with funding. The source ruled out the possibility of Mr. Rybachuk terminating his cooperation with Russian government security services, as he still possesses extremely sensitive information about Russian agents in India, which is very important information for Moscow.
“These are all facts” our confidential source said. “Was Rybachuk part of Soviet Military Intelligence? Yes, this is a fact. Was Tokarev working in Germany commanding Putin? Yes, this is a fact. Was Tokarev appointed to run the Zarubezhneft? Yes, this is a fact.” The question remains as to what level of loyalty do these people have for each other.
Of course, many prior KGB officers left the service after the fall of the USSR, so prior affiliation does not prove any dual allegiance today. Our source suggests conducting a more thorough analysis of Mr. Rybachuk’s activities in Ukraine, who left the apex of the political scene and hides in the shadows of a number of civic organizations for which he acts as a board member.
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