On February 10, at an emergency closed-door session of Ukraine’s Security Council, President Leonid Kuchma fired two of his henchmen: Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) chief Leonid Derkach and State Guard Directorate chief Volodymyr Shepel. No official explanation for the dismissals was given, but the motive seem obvious. Special services failed to protect the presidential office from wiretapping.
Major Mykola Melnychenko–who released the scandalous audiotapes implicating top officials, including Kuchma, in crimes ranging from the disappearance of journalist Georgy Gongadze to falsification of election results (see the Monitor, December 13, 2000)–claimed that he had bugged Kuchma’s office for several months. Melnychenko, currently hiding in Europe, claimed to have some 300 hours of records of conversations which took place at the presidential office.
The SBU initially claimed that strict security made bugging the president’s office impossible. But on February 7, Deputy Prosecutor General Oleksy Bahanets announced that investigators had confirmed that Kuchma’s office had been bugged. It was admitted that at least some of the conversations–which were recorded on Melnychenko’s tapes, and whose transcripts were then released by opposition media–had indeed taken place. Bahanets claimed that the records implicating top officials in crimes were falsified, having been compiled with the help of special equipment. Regardless of the truth of this assertion, the security services did fail in one of their primary duties–to ensure informational security of the president’s office.
This was not the only major blunder Derkach’s agency made in the last year. On the eve of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s visit to Ukraine this past April, the SBU banned the publisher of English-language newspaper Kyiv Post, Jed Sunden, from entering Ukraine. This ignited an international uproar. In September, the SBU claimed that it had foiled a coup conspiracy by communist-oriented radicals. The “conspirators” turned out to be military retirees foraging for mushrooms in the woods north of Kyiv (see the Monitor, October 11, 2000).
Derkach’s most recent mistake was banning the German investor of Studio 1+1 TV Boris Fuchsmann from entering Ukraine last week. This too provoked media outrage. Studio 1+1 released a statement accusing the SBU of persecution of free media. The SBU failed to explain its decision in clear terms, saying only that Russia had also prohibited Fuchsmann from entering its territory. In fact, the SBU apparently got involved in a media war between Fuchsmann and the Israeli-Ukrainian businessman Vadim Rabinovich, once Fuchsmann’s partner at Studio 1+1, but then broke with Fuchsmann. Last week, web sites controlled by Rabinovich issued a transcript of a bugged conversation between Fuchsmann and a Studio 1+1 journalist, Vyacheslav Pikhovshek, in which Fuchsmann spoke disparagingly about Rabinovich. On February 11, Pikhovshek admitted that this conversation took place and hinted that the talk might have been bugged by the SBU. Rabinovich is believed to be a key business partner of Derkach’s son, reputed oligarch Andry Derkach, whose television directly competes with Studio 1+1.
Kuchma replaced Leonid Derkach with General Volodymyr Radchenko, 52, a Soviet KGB veteran who headed the SBU in 1995-1998. Under Radchenko, who is apparently not connected either to political parties or oligarchs, the SBU kept a low political profile. Until February 10, Radchenko served as first deputy to Yevhen Marchuk, the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council (Korrespondent.net, February 5, 7; Studio 1+1, February 9, 11; New Channel TV, February 10).
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