Oleh Pokalchuk: There is no significant difference between Islamists and adherents of «the Russian world»

When the war began the well-known Ukrainian social psychologist Oleh Pokalchuk started to work in the programs for the rehabilitation of soldiers who participated in ATO (anti-terrorist operation). He cooperated with the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine and other military and security agencies. Pokalchuk is still one of the best specialists of Ukraine in the field of psychological operations. In this interview for "Hvylia," he talks about how state institutions work in conditions of a hybrid war.

The talks on “reformatting the ATO” are continuing to circulate. This reformatting is expected to strengthen protection from the hybrid war, aggression from the Russian Federation. Experts and media are actively discussing what exactly can change at the legislative and executive level. Do you think that NATO standards can strengthen our defense? And are we ready for partnership with NATO?

The current situation around Russian aggression in Ukraine in Ukrainian legislation no longer satisfies anybody. The amendments to the Law of Ukraine “On the Basics of Domestic and Foreign Policy” and the Law of Ukraine “On the Fundamentals of National Security of Ukraine” mainly perform a decorative and aesthetic function. Given the public mood, this is useful, but not more. So, once again, it was underlined that joining NATO is one of the goals of Ukraine. But Ukraine will not be able to join NATO until it harmonizes its security standards by the standards of the Alliance.

But “NATO standards” are like "EU standards" or "BBC standards". You can think a lot about them as the highest virtue until you have to face them in detail. Standardization is the unification of everything that you have in a certain area with that what your allies have. In general, it is to spend less on logistics and management without duplicating functions due to a clear distribution of areas of responsibility etc. This concerns specifically army administration.

But the analytical and intelligence sphere is quite another matter since it concerns people, not iron or electronics. It's at least strange to share something like this. The first Director of the CIA, Allen Dulles, once said: “There are no friendly intelligence services, there are intelligence services of friendly countries.” Imagine an alliance of 29 different countries, which have different national interests apart from the common security!

Of course, intelligence data is not supposed to be open and sharable. But, perhaps, NATO’s practice of collecting data, analyzing and using it to protect the state interests could be useful for us?

A year ago, there was no “NATO intelligence”. In fact, it still does not exist in the form we are thinking about. But formally the structure was created and the former deputy chairman of German intelligence Arndt Freytag von Loringhoven is appointed to manage it. But the structure has a more political, coordinating function, just like, for example, the US National Intelligence, which coordinates 16 different intelligence structures.

Obviously, the Americans have made radical legislative conclusions after the 9/11 terrorist attack and seriously reformed the intelligence community. But Ukraine is still in its pre-war paradigm. It is wrong to say that we did not draw conclusions. But here is a brief overview of our legislative space in the field of intelligence. The function of public security is performed by the police, the state security is the task of the Security Service of Ukraine, but the general concept of national security is in its infancy. Hypothetically, the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine is responsible for this sector, but functionally it is just an advisory-coordinating body. Volodymyr Gorbulin conceived it and gave the start to the work of this body as a modern and normal structure, but Ukrainian bureaucracy could not cope with such competition. So, we have what we have.

Concerning NATO security standards, Ukraine should pay attention, for example, to cultural and ethnic characteristics in military analytics. In connection with threats from the Islamic state, it became obvious that ignoring this aspect could bring fatal consequences. One of the former CIA functionaries wrote a crushing critical book on this theme – “Imperial Hubris.” Now the CIA monitors daily about 2.5 thousand various documents.

The importance of the system of diverse assessments increases many-fold in the assessing of internal and external risks, as well as estimation of the military-terrorist threats. The Ukrainian bureaucratic reality responds to these challenges very mediocrely for various reasons.

Are there specialists and organiz
ations in Ukraine that can perform such analytics? Or do we need someone from abroad again?

At this stage, foreign experts are no longer needed for two reasons. First, they will never share their latest developments for the reasons which have been mentioned above. What they could offer to us it is the general methodological framework developed 8-10 years ago. It would not be superfluous, but we have already passed this stage of cooperation. They are more willing to collect our up-to-date information, but not to share their relevant information with us. Secondly, civil society in Ukraine reacts to the challenges of our hybrid war much more quickly (for example, it created the Support network of analytical organizations “Bastion”). In general, the Ukrainian society is quite filled with various high-qualified specialists: from the former profile staff – scouts, diplomats, and analysts – up to talented young people, for whom foreign languages and computers are no longer a bonus, but simply a given. They involved in volunteer activity from the first days of the occupation of Crimea and war. But now it's high time to turn from volunteers to professionals. None of the passionary impulses is no substitute for methodically organized activities.

Such activity is performed by the think tanks. For example, non-governmental think-and-do tank “Institute for Social and Economic Research” (ISER), which unites more than 20 experts in various fields. They use innovative approaches to provide changes in the country by combining the analytical work and proactive advocacy. When a center like this unites the like-minded people and sets out the goal to preserve Ukraine's independence and identity in the long term perspective, new approaches to work emerge: result-oriented activity, maximum engagement of civil society into changes, based on the common values. For example, now the ISER is launching a new Program for the development of integrated solutions in the field of human resources. Within this Program, the Institute plans to develop a methodology for assessment of risks in the field of homeland security, to analyze human behavior in the information space, in particular, in cyberspace. This activity is shaped according to the on the strategy for protection of common European values according to Ukrainian national interests.

How can an analysis of such a complex of risks really become a part in strengthening Ukraine's resilience to external and internal threats?

The ultimate goal of any analytics is concrete recommendations to legislators in whose area of responsibility is the adoption of certain documents in the field of national security. But we know, unfortunately, how the politicization of the relevant state structures influences upon the final product. And of course, we must take into account the serious competition of various state bodies to get financing from the state budget. There’s no secret, the situation is the same all around the world. Therefore, our task is to develop and offer such a methodological basis that would minimize such subjective influences or make them impossible. This kind of methodology will include a system of indicators (markers) of the respective threats, the development of crisis scenarios and the modeling of state and societal responses. The systems like this already exist in specialized institutions, but we see ways to improve and modernize them.

For example, everyone talks about coal smuggling in the certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, but none about fish smuggling in the Kherson region (you can replace the fish industry with amber, it doesn’t matter). Let's simulate the situation when the state suddenly takes radical measures to stop this activity. No matter what would be the reason for such decision – competition, elections or local authority’s issues – we have already seen all kinds of it. The consequence of this decision will be the deprivation of the usual financing of a large group of people, from bandits to local officials, although we often see that they could be connected to each other. Shadow jobs will disappear. The authorities traditionally do not compensate the losses due to this kind of ban although it is correct in general. Public discontent grows. Russian illegal agents and their legal political representations go more active. They offer “new jobs” for people to make them more motivated by the desire for economic revenge. Further development of the situation depends on the current state. It is possible to finance patriots through “gaskets”, so that at the right time they attack neo-separatists in front of cameras only for media outcomes, preferably with the blood (but ketchup is also suitable). It is possible to organize the pressure on the members of the local council, by supporting the already existing lobby to push the council to make anti-state decisions and abuse local authority. Well, the huge number of variants is possible.

Having a system of dynamic indicators, appropriate software, analysts, turning an array of data into information, we can prevent the adoption of the solutions which could be correct tactically, but disastrous in strategic perspective.

Can such kind of analysis and these kinds of analytical products be of value to our neighbors or other foreign partners? Now Ukraine is, in fact, a very important source of data and experience of confronting hybrid aggression on several fronts – military one in the East, as well as an information, cultural, religious one and so on. Is this work possible in cooperation with other countries? Where is the line between what needs to be open and sharable and what constitutes a high-level state secret?

As I said, since 2014, neighbors and partners have been taking more interest in our situation more carefully than we do by ourselves. Of course, for them, the problem of the Islamic state and the terrorism related to it, is the key one. But between radical Islamists and adherents of «the Russian world» there is no significant difference: both groups are totalitarian sects with a similar system of recruitment and destructive cults.  The battlefield of this war is, first of all, the culture and values. The West does not feel very comfortable to acknowledge publicly this fact because of the dominance of “cultural Marxists” and liberals in world politics. But these challenges urge the answer. Our closer neighbors from the Baltic countries and Poland understand this better than the Central Europeans. And we are already cooperating in this area.

Regarding secrecy, in the modern world, this is a very conventional value. If you even just look through the information about the CIA or the FBI, you will be surprised by the facts how active and publicly open are issues of their activity. These institutions have slightly different levels of secrecy, but the approach is the same. Secret are names, dates, details of budgeting, operational situation, tactical plans.

The West knows much more about us than we suppose, especially in the corruption related issues, and from time to time we can find the evidence of this in certain requirements of sponsors. The state, of course, must protect information of national importance, especially from Russian agents. There’s nothing to discuss. And we are just ready to help the state. But in current circumstances, even the information which seems out-of-date and not secret could turn out to be very important. This is the subject of our interest.

Which public authorities and agencies in Ukraine need this kind of information? Is there any one body in Ukraine that should consolidate such information?

On the one hand, such information is required by a large number of state institutions and organizations: the National Security and Defense Council, all power agencies, the army, the National Guard, the National Police, affiliated institutions. Of course, first of all, these are politicians. The state bodies are supposed to provide them with information for effective lawmaking. But state structures work within the framework of bureaucratic regulations and rules, under which initiative isn’t welcomed. This is the nature of bureaucracy. At the same time, the middle level is full of quite qualified professionals who understand current challenges. There really are wonderful, intelligent, highly patriotic people. I would not say that there are a majority of them, but anyway, they are. That's why we cooperate with them all this time, just like friends and volunteers.

As I have already said, the National Security and Defense Council should consolidate this kind of information, and its recommendations influence the political decisions. At least theoretically, it should be so. But this is a strategic level.

At the practical level, it is the Anti-terrorist Center under the Security Service of Ukraine and its coordination groups. The Center’s task is to develop conceptual bases and programs for combating terrorism, work out the recommendations aimed at improving the effectiveness of measures concerning the identification and the elimination of the causes and conditions which are conducive to the commission of terrorist acts and other terrorism related crimes.

Concerning “NATO standards”, from which we started the conversation, there are three levels of analysis – tactical, operational and strategic. In our post-Soviet methodology, there are only tactical and strategic. Tactical is often called as “operational”, but this discrepancy. We would like to help our friends to understand specifically this level of public communications and the threats, which arise at this level.

(The article was published on "Hvylia" on July 14, 2017)