Valentyn Nalyvaichenko headed the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) following the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. A New York Times report published yesterday, Feb. 25, revealed that cooperation between the SBU and the US Central Intelligence Agency CIA, starting a decade ago, operates at a much closer level than what had been previously known.

Now a Member of Parliament, Nalyvaichenko gave his first interview about the contents of the Times’ piece to Kyiv Post.

The situation was complex when you took over the SBU in 2014, following the Maidan protests that saw the flight of President Yanukovych, right?

Yes, certainly. The Yanukovych regime, working with the SBU and the SBU Chief, had worked against the people of Ukraine. It was clear that we, the SBU, needed to start from zero. We could not recycle these pro-Russian people.

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The most reliable partner for building a new security reality for Ukraine, in my assessment, was to work with the United States as partners.

That is why, within the first hours after I arrived as head [of the SBU], I spoke to the embassy and CIA people… and that is how it all started, 10 years ago in February 2014.

You have described arriving to the SBU headquarters to discover classified documents “smoldering in the courtyard” of the intelligence service and that many classified documents were missing. What did you see?

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the head of the Security Service of Ukraine, Vasyl Malyuk, and the US Ambassador to Ukraine, Bridget Brink made statements.

Hour-by-hour I came to realize that the SBU was destroyed. All the files about the Revolution of Dignity [Maidan] had been burned, out in the courtyard of the SBU. Many key documents had been sent to Donetsk by Yanukovych’s people.

FSB and other Russian services were at work during the Revolution of Dignity – including their cyber department and others. It was clear that we needed a fresh start in all things cyber-related, too.

The CIA was very prompt and professional in assisting us in our goal of rebuilding Ukraine’s intelligence capabilities in cyber-defense, from scrap, with hardware and software, which we began to use to defend Ukraine from incursions that were being financed or backed by Russia. It was among the most important first steps: renewing cyber-defense.

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What other ways did America play a role in helping Ukrainian intelligence to get back on its feet?

Quickly we began training with our American partners to build up a new counterintelligence force in Ukraine – something that we accomplished within a few months.

Quickly, new counterintelligence was deployed, by my order, to Kherson and to areas being targeted by Russia, where we successfully captured enemies of high intelligence value, including Russian GRU and FSB officers.

Was it effective? [NOTE: Russia began its invasion of Ukrainian Crimea and Donbas shortly after the Revolution of Dignity.]

Our new counterintelligence officers began detecting and regularly capturing even more Russian intelligence assets. No time was lost – it was immediately effective.

We sent information daily,to the United Nations headquarters in New York about Russia’s crimes and their officers, whom we had detained, and were documenting what they said. Additionally, we provided the documents, in English, to the US government, CIA, US State Department, from the very first days.

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So what is the first step when building strong relations between intelligence services?

The first step is to build a bridge of trust. To do this, we had to first root out any of the traitors, moles, or other pro-Russian actors at the SBU. It meant that within a week, we fired over 90 percent of top SBU leadership. This also meant that we had to quickly find new people to replace them.

It was difficult, of course. However, without first cleaning up the Russian agentura at SBU, it would have been impossible to build up trust with CIA, MI6, BND, or others.

Some say that the Barack Obama White House was not interested in getting involved in Ukraine – what was your experience?

The White House under Obama was very supportive of our efforts to reform Ukraine’s Security Service.

In the beginning of March 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry, Victoria Nuland and others came to Kyiv. I personally spoke to them all. I told them what I had in mind, what we were designing with our American partners, what goals we wished to reach, and how important it was for Ukraine’s domestic security to have cooperation with the CIA and FBI.

The American leaders were very attentive and willing to support our plans.

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There was two-way cooperation because we had common goals: Expel Russians from our security service and to prevent the Russian special services from engaging in hostile operations against Ukraine and its citizens. In both cases, America supported such efforts.

Because of your actions in 2014, what advantages does Ukraine today reap?

A big advantage for Ukraine today is that it is working, and working effectively, with professionally trained SBU officers, especially in counterterrorism and counterintelligence, supported by our partners in the CIA and FBI. And it is now especially important, just as it was at the very beginning.

When you look back at that period, could more have been done?

We were dealing with a post-revolutionary situation in Kyiv. The security and the defense systems of Ukraine were mostly destroyed by these events – such as the Yanukovych Regime and Russians, who sought to disarm and disorient Ukraine. Russia intentionally influenced Yanukovych and his government to weaken the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), intelligence services of Ukraine, and defense of Ukraine.

This program that we launched was a high priority.

I am sure that for the American services, this cooperation has brought great profit to them as it has to us.

This cooperation guaranteed the security of our peoples as it allows us to defend ourselves from Russia’s meddling in elections, or from Russians conducting cyber-attacks, and from cyber-attacks against our banks and economies. But also, against weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferation. And all these threats are top of priorities for Ukrainians, and the same priorities for US and European states.

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You were formerly stationed at the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington, DC and regularly travelled to DC. What is your take-away about the situation in Congress?

When I visited Congress, I always met with Democrats and Republicans. I was able to demonstrate clear evidence of what Russians had done and the crimes committed by Russia against our – Ukraine and the US’s – security. It is not about Ukraine's or the US's security – it is about our nations’ mutual security.

Now, as a member of parliament, it is important that we build up bipartisan support and bi-partisan understanding of why security cooperation is vital. We must actively work with both parties in the United States to promote our nations’ national security interests.

Full disclosure: Mr. Nalyvaichenko and the article’s author, Jason Jay Smart, were colleagues, starting in 2014, on efforts to combat corruption and to promote Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

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