December 5, 2012

Victor Hvozd: “Patriotic Intelligence Must Be Aggressive...“

"Army of Ukraine" Magazine, № 5/2008

Colonel Viktor Hvozd agreed to give his first interview to “Vijsko Ukrajiny” as the Chief of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine on the eve of the International Day of UN Peacekeepers. So it is not accidental that our conversation started with the question about "Ukrainian trace" in the history of the world community peacekeeping activity. 

In my opinion, Ukraine's participation in the UN peacekeeping efforts is a unique phenomenon in the world. Sixteen years ago, almost at the beginning of its existence, our nation took a very bold step – it partly assumed the responsibility for maintaining peace and stability in the world together with other countries. Since then, over 20 thousand Ukrainian soldiers have participated in peacekeeping operations under the UN mandates. And today, in fact, Ukraine has become a recognized exporter of peace.

Viktor Ivanovich, as it is known, intelligence officers’ biographies are often shrouded in legends. Speaking about yourself, Victor Hvozd is said to be a person involved in establishing the Day of UN Peacekeepers...

Indeed, I had the honour to be one of the first Ukrainian "blue helmets". From 1993 to 1995 I served in the main UN Headquarters in former Yugoslavia, and later was appointed military attaché to Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. This work was closely interwoven with peacekeeping tasks, because there were our units there. And their activities lied among the functions of a military attaché.

In 2000, I was appointed the MoD representative to the UN Permanent Mission of Ukraine. At that time, as you know, Ukraine has become a temporary member of the UN Security Council and greatly enhanced its peacekeeping activity, having deployed its strong units in Sierra Leone and Lebanon in six months. Working at the UN headquarters, I participated in the Security Council meetings, worked with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and was responsible for our permanent liaison with the relevant representative bodies of this international organization. So I was lucky not only to witness, but also to participate in the events related to the establishment of the International Day of UN Peacekeepers.

It happened in 2001. During a visit of the Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time Anatoly Zlenko to the United States, there was a meeting of the Ukrainian mission. The national Foreign Minister offered to make some suggestions, the implementation of which would show the world community an active role played by Ukraine in the UN Security Council structure. In such a way appeared the idea to celebrate the Day of UN Peacekeepers.

At first, unfortunately, some countries expressed extremely negative attitude to the fact that it was Ukraine to suggest this. Apparently, many were dissatisfied that it was our young nation to put forward the idea that was, as they say, lying on the surface. However, we managed to reach the consensus – the decision on the establishment of the Day of UN Peacekeepers was taken on the next year's General Assembly. So, this year we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the UN peacekeeping activity and commemorate those who sacrificed their lives for peace and whose names are engraved on the UN Headquarters’ wall. Unfortunately, there are Ukrainian names, too, among them...

Your current work is also closely related to the peacekeeping ...

Of course, it is. National political and military leadership takes no decision on sending peacekeeping contingents without a thorough analysis of the information we provide. Moreover, the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine regularly monitors the situation in the zones of our mission’s responsibility. It does its best to ensure safe environment for the Ukrainian contingents’ actions. 

Usually, heads of secret services unwillingly talk to the press. That’s why our readers are eager to find out who is Victor Hvozd ...

Indeed; there is almost no room for publicity in the work of the intelligence officer. That is a reason of all that nonsense that you hear and read about yourself in a while. For example, some editions write that the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine is headed by a person who does not have any clue about the institution. That’s why I will try to clarify the situation.

I was born in the Ternopil region. In 1981 graduated from M. Frunze High Combined Arms Commanding College. Since then virtually all my life, with some interruptions only, was associated with intelligence.

And why did you choose exactly this profession?

It is hard to say. Probably that is due to the fact that in childhood I was attracted to the romance of military service and, besides, wanted to learn foreign languages. At school, I have repeatedly won academic competitions in English. All that did lead me to the college, which combined both my passions. In college, I studied Chinese ...

Is that why you got to the Far East?

Almost. First, I got to Transbaikalia, and then to Mongolia. In those lands, I served five and a half years in the intelligence battalion, first as an interpreter and then on the command positions. It was a usual service in the tank division intelligence unit. However, it differed from service in the Union because we carried combat duty in the Chinese border for several months. 

Have you been already married by the time?

I got married in half a year after my service in Mongolia had begun. It was almost impossible to bear those conditions alone. So since then, practically all my life, my wife goes along with me. Rough times temper and test. We lived there in the houses of barrack-type and in the so-called apartments. It was the life of an ordinary Soviet officer family.

After returning from Mongolia I was lucky to get to the Transcarpathian Military District. I was a commander of the motorized rifle regiment reconnaissance company. After that, I headed up the parachute reconnaissance unit. In a matter of fact, it was a long-range reconnaissance company – Special Forces unit. Then I was lucky again: in 1988 I won the title of the best company commander in the Special Force’s competition. Since then my career went up – I was transferred to the Transcarpathian MD Intelligence Headquarters for analytical work. In Lviv, I graduated from the National University law faculty. Then I served in the Balkans peacekeeping mission, in the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine, and in the military and diplomatic department of the MoD.

So, it was, in fact, you to become the first Chief of the DIU in the history of national military intelligence, who is a diplomaed intelligence officer. Having such a rich work experience, how do you assess the place and role of military intelligence in the national security system of Ukraine?

The point is that at each stage of our special service history it was headed up by a person who, in my opinion, was needed exactly then. First, it was Olexandr O. Skipalskyj - a man with enormous experience and high standing. Fortunately, he managed to set up the DIU functioning. It was extremely difficult - as there were no personnel, no logistics, and no educational establishments. He did really a lot.

Then there were other chiefs, but, really, no one of them was a diplomaed intelligence officer. However, I did not come to a nonentity. Thanks to my predecessors, today the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine is a well-organized institution, which properly functions and has a high standing. But it requires, as they say, a fresh stream. The philosophy of intelligence activity should be changed. And my personal objective is to bring our military intelligence to a qualitatively new level.

What do you mean?

The point is that the intelligence should work more efficiently. I am convinced - patriotic intelligence agency should be aggressive, but not passive. It is an axiom - in our high-tech world intelligence has to react appropriately. It is vital for us to have highly developed components of space, radio- , radioelectronic, and, of course, secret agents’ intelligence. This should be an efficient institution, able to cover the entire range of existing challenges.

And what were your first steps at the post?

First of all, I tried to find out the real conditions under which the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine operated. Then, I determined what should be done in order to reach the necessary level of operation. I also got acquainted with the personnel morale. And I must admit: but for the Defence Minister Yurij Yekhanurov it would be unlikely even to speak about the efficient, advancing role of intelligence on the first stage of my work.

At the beginning of the year we were given only 58 percent from our budget request. That meant the DIU could not support its officers even financially. Taking into consideration the situation in the parliament, while waiting the adoption of amendments to the budget meant only waste of time, Yurij Yekhanurov found the opportunity to help us. Fortunately, the DIU personnel understandingly overcome all those problems.

But the understanding can not last forever ...

My tasks as a leader are also not to lose the personnel and to provide institutional succession of generations. In the intelligence what is really important are people, but not the equipment or money. Sometimes a single person can do more than an entire division. This should be understood not only by those adopting laws, but also by those working in the executive branch. But the most essential is that our problems and of the army in the whole are understood by the head of our state. It gives hope of the process irreversibility. That’s why he decided that military intelligence should be headed by the professional intelligence officer and not only by a military man.

And how will your new intelligence philosophy respond to the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of Ukraine?

As an intelligence agency representative, I understand that Ukraine can not stay aside the general globalization process and can not combat the challenges threatening our country, on its own. Therefore, I strongly believe that society should understand that in the modern world the majority of states are eager to ensure their own national interests by joining a collective security system. In this context, the North Atlantic alliance is the most efficient military-political union among the existing ones. That’s why today we actively cooperate with intelligence agencies of NATO members and learn their experience. Since 2006, the DIU representatives have participated in meetings of the Ukraine - NATO working group responsible for civilian control over the intelligence sector. We have carefully studied the experience of intelligence services of countries recently joined the Alliance, especially regarding the transition to the NATO standards.

So, our philosophy entirely responds to the state top officials’ Euro-Atlantic axis - military intelligence of Ukraine should primarily work for its national interests. How does it work in practice? For example, Hungarian military intelligence has the national component providing information for the top state leadership, as well as another body cooperating with the same NATO institutions. Therefore, there is no conflict of interests.

Nowadays, taking into account the famous Russian allegations, many people are concerned about the issue of preserving good neighbourhood relations with our northern neighbour. Do you think that fears of people expressing pessimistic position on this issue are justified?

I am a military man and wouldn’t want to cross the line separating politics from military service. We have special institutions to respond appropriately to that kind of issues - that is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And its reaction was very harsh. As for the military intelligence, we are working in an ordinary way.

Another phobia associated with NATO is the increase of the terrorist threat for Ukraine. Is our country able to face such challenges?

It is difficult to predict anything in that situation as the threat of terrorism does not depend on Ukraine’s membership in this or that block. Usually, the danger lies in the general geopolitical situation factors in the region. I may be repeating myself, but Ukraine's membership in the collective security system, with powerful intelligence services, would only foster the effective counter threats activity.

Some time ago, there was a decision to establish Special Operations Forces in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The Special Operations Forces were to carry out anti-terrorism functions, among their other tasks. Could you tell more about these units? What were the reasons for their establishment?

They are formed on the basis of the Army intelligence units. They represent special forces regiments to respond immediately to the challenges that may arise or would threaten the Ukrainian citizens’ security in any part of the world. Today, the SOF are the most operatively capable troops of our armed forces. That is a very important component of the military intelligence, funded by a separate state program which, by the way, is completely fulfilled. Special forces gradually get new weapons, modern equipment, etc.. So, now the state does its best to keep these units ready in accordance with their status.

Viktor Ivanovich, what kind of intelligence do you see in the near future?

In two or three years, I would like to see it active, efficient and high-tech, as I’ve described it at the beginning of our conversation. And the main thing - it must be patriotic.