For the first time since the murder of opposition journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in fall 2000, the possible involvement of Ukraine’s Ministry of the Interior (MVS) has now come under scrutiny in Ukraine. Why now, after four years? With the presidential election looming in October, the unsolved Gongadze affair is one of the many dark clouds hanging over President Leonid Kuchma and his allies, possibly obscuring their hope of ensuring the election of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych as Ukraine’s next president. After London’s The Independent newspaper published leaked documents in the case (June 19, 24, and 26) and the Ukrainian opposition media picked up the new developments, the General Prosecutor’s office began receiving large numbers of letters asking, “If really they were involved in his [Gongadze] murder . . . We fear for our lives . . . ” (Ukrayinska pravda, July 14).
The First Deputy Head of the MVS, Mykhailo Kornienko, denied that his Ministry was involved in Gongadze’s murder (Ukrayinska pravda, July 19). But he did say that an inquiry would be launched into why the MVS had been following Gongadze. Kornienko ruled out questioning MVS General Oleksiy Pukach, the former head of MVS surveillance because, he claimed, Pukach had nothing to do with Gongadze’s murder.
Official testimonies leaked to The Independent (June 19) showed that Pukach ordered both the surveillance and the subsequent destruction of MVS documents after Gongadze was kidnapped on September 16, 2000. Pukach was briefly detained on the orders of the former Prosecutor General Svyatoslav Piskun in October 2003, but was released after Piskun was replaced by Hennadiy Vasyliev the following month.
On July 14 the Prosecutor General’s office ordered the MVS to investigate why Gongadze had been under surveillance. The date is significant because Gongadze himself had written to the Prosecutor’s Office exactly four years earlier, on July 14, 2000, that he was being followed and that his colleagues were being interrogated about him. He was told that the unmarked cars watching him belonged to the MVS.
President Leonid Kuchma’s remarks to then-MVS Minister Yuriy Krawchenko on the subject were caught on tape by presidential guard Mykola Melnychenko, who illicitly bugged Kuchma’s office from 1999-2000. The recording has Kuchma saying, “Well, what do you know, should every swine write to the General Prosecutor?” (Ukrayinska pravda, July 14).
As Gongadze’s colleagues at the opposition Internet newspaper Ukrayinska pravda pointed out (July 14), the fact that Gongadze was under surveillance by the MVS was already well known. The Parliamentary Commission into the Gongadze affair had long held this information, but its report has been blocked from discussion in parliament. The Melnychenko tapes and documents leaked to The Independent are also additional proof of the surveillance of Gongadze by the MVS.
If these materials had not been compiled and leaked, the authorities never would have been forced to come clean about the MVS placing the opposition under surveillance. The authorities would have continued, Ukrayinska pravda (July 14) believes, to hide behind its numerous and different stories about who murdered Gongadze, which range from drug addicts to organized crime.
During Kuchma’s second term in office, the MVS have increasingly been involved in surreptitiously watching the opposition. Nevertheless, until now the MVS had always denied allegations of politically motivated surveillance. An MVS statement complained that these allegations were “unprecedented attempts to compromise the police in the eyes of the people” (Interfax, September 5, 2002).
As the opposition increased their pressure on the authorities after the Kuchmagate crisis erupted in November 2000, the MVS also increased its political surveillance. One document leaked to the head of the Parliamentary Committee on Organized Crime and Corruption, Our Ukraine deputy Volodymyr Stretovych, was entitled “Reference information on the preparation by destructive forces for the holding of mass actions up to September 16, 2002” (Ukrayinska pravda, October 1, 2003). The document provides good insight into how the authorities view the opposition as an unnatural component of the Ukrainian polity.
During the preparations for mass anti-Kuchma protests in September 2002, thousands of members of opposition parties were called in for interrogation in the biggest round up since the Soviet era (Interfax, September 14, 2002). An internal MVS document from November 2002 discussed the mass demonstrations two months earlier and provided clear instructions for collecting intelligence on opposition ringleaders (Ukrayinska pravda, February 13, 2003). The data to be compiled included place of employment, income, size of family, political party membership, method of travel to the September 16, 2002 demonstration, who paid for the transportation, and if there was payment for attendance. Also, which deputies did they see, who organized the encampments near the Presidential Administration, and did they block transportation routes?
Another internal MVS document dealt with a second opposition demonstration on September 24, 2002 (Ukrayinska pravda, February 13, 2003). This document outlined what type of information the Presidential Administration instructed the MVS to collect. This included local party structure and opposition-sponsored activities. In particular, the government wanted to know of any internal conflicts that existed inside opposition groups.
Our Ukraine political coordinator Roman Besmertny revealed a secret MVS document numbered “287-Top Secret” that instructed the MVS to place parliamentary deputies under surveillance (Ukrayina moloda, August 30, 2002). Another recent MVS document sent to western Ukrainian MVS oblast branches ordered opposition sympathizers to be removed ahead of this year’s elections, especially if they supported challenger Viktor Yushchenko (Lvivska gazeta, June 22).
These documents provide good insight into to how the MVS see their role in the Ukrainian state. In particular, Interior Minister Mykola Bilokin advised his colleagues that they could not stand above politics. This would be wrong, Bilokin said, as the MVS was the “armed organ of the authorities.” Therefore, Bilokin predicted that when the authorities win the 2004 election the MVS “will drink for three days!” (Ukrayinska pravda, May 24, 2004). In a telling example of this viewpoint, Vasyl Vartsaba, head of the Trans-Carpathian MVS, was promoted to general in gratitude for fulfilling instructions to interfere in the widely condemned Mukachiv mayoral elections (Ukrayinska pravda, May 18).
The Prosecutor General’s Office was forced to admit that the MVS had placed Gongadze under surveillance. Yet, MVS illegal activity goes far beyond the Gongadze case. Since Gongadze’s murder in 2000, the Prosecutor General and the MVS have continued to use Soviet-era, KGB-style tactics against the opposition (maidan.org.ua, July 2). The same MVS Directorate Against Organized Crime units involved in Gongadze’s murder are still being deployed against the opposition (as seen in Mukachiv). These units are also implicated in the 12,000 complaints of torture received to date by the Parliamentary Ombudswoman on Human Rights (Zerkalo nedeli, March 6-12). With the MVS serving as the “armed organ of the authorities” it is difficult to see how the agency can stand aside and permit the presidential elections to be free and fair.