The Belarusian-Ukrainian spy scandal, being an unpleasant episode in bilateral relations, is aggravated by the information wave raised in Ukraine. In this case, objective analysis is replaced by the loudness of statements.
About the «document». The high emotinal point of this scandal was demonstrated by the publication of a document that allegedly was handed to Ukrainian journalist Pavel Sharoiko before his arrest. By the way, the story is extremely interesting. Although some Ukrainian public figures try to use it as a confirmation of Mr. Sharoiko’s innocence and provocation against him by the Belarusian secret services, there many questions about this. And these questions are by no means adressed to the mythical «hand of Moscow».
The version, promoted in Kyiv is the following: during a meeting with Pavel Sharoiko, a correspondent of the Russian NTV television channel tried to hand to him some secred documents. The Ukrainian journalist refused to accept them, having suspected the provocation. On the way from the meeting with his Russian counterpart Mr. Sharoiko was detained by the Belarusian State Security Committee (SSC). An analysis of Ukrainian specialists shows that the avove mentioned documents were fake. Which confirms the fact of his detention being groundless. So, Pavel Sharoiko should be immediately released and Belarus should apologize in connection with the actions of its counterintelligence (source).
This version is very interesting, but it does not answer the obvious and very important questions:
- With whom exactly did P. Sharoiko meet: with a real NTV journalist or a person who pretended to be such a person?
- What was the purpose of the meeting? At what point did the issue of the documents arise (during the meeting or when they agreed on it)? Why did the Russian «colleague» decide that such information might be interesting to Pavel Sharoiko?
- Where exactly did the Russian and Ukrainian journalists meet? Why Pavel Sharoiko was detained on the way back from the meeting, and not at the moment of being handed the «documents»? After all, in this case, the story would have been much more convincing. Or was the venue outside the SSC’s zone of authority? Besides the personal and working residences of President Lukashenka, only diplomatic institutions are «SSC free».
- If Pavel Sharoiko refused to accept the «documents», then how did they end up in Kyiv?
The claims by the Ukrainian side, that the documents used as bait were fake, sound quite strange. Does someone seriously think that Belarusian SSC would take responsibility for the risk of secret data leakage and use real documents? And for what?
The situation is quite tricky. As it often happens, both sides do not tell all the details. At the same time Ukraine demonstrates mostly emotions while Belarus at least shows some facts. Although it is impossible to assess their quality and adequacy of interpretation.
What is the real problem. The intelligence activity is a routine and necessary function of any state. Naturally, first of all, the situation draws attention of those who are closer – from the neighbours, regardless of the level of military-political relations. Even allies spy on each other.
Belarus and Ukraine in this sense are not exceptions. Earlier, Aliaksandr Lukashenka publicly recognized the work of the Belarusian intelligence in Ukraine (source). One could have heard some hints from Kyiv that the Belarusian officers of the OSCE mission in Donbas are somewhat more than just international officials. It is logical to assume that Ukrainian intelligence services also have interests on the territory of Belarus.
The task of counterintelligence (and the KGB is a special service of universal competence) is to control the activity of foreign intelligence services, letting them get what is possible formally and secretly, but not critically important. Another task is suppressing the activities of foreign intelligence in cases where their interests exceed certain acceptable limits.
The fact that the SSC began to act harshly instead of, for example, launching a long-term operational game, is an indirect evidence of the Ukrainian intelligence’s interest in the issues that are considered critical in Belarus. Naturally, we will not know the essence. But this is another sign of a complete lack of political confidence between Kyiv and Minsk. Which is much bigger problem for Belarus than for Ukraine.
What’s next. Minsk will not make any apologies and Pavel Sharoiko will remain in custody. The SSC will conduct the investigation as soon as possible (as far as the legal formalities and circumstances of the case allow). The criminal case will be sent to the court. The trial will be closed, which is usual for this kind of processes. This is due to the fact that during the trial the methodology and tactics of operational-search activities, which is classified as secret information, can be discussed. Sharoiko will be found guilty and the term of imprisonment will be long. After that, the Belarusian and Ukrainian sides will begin the procedure of exchanging their spies. On November 2, 2017, during the meeting in Abu Dhabi, Aliaksandr Lukashenka and Petro Poroshenko discussed this issue. There is a verbal agreement between the leaders of the two countries on the issue. In order to implement it, the both sides required the «silence regime», which was finally broken by the Ukrainian side.
It is necessary to pay attention to three important points. Firstly, the official Kyiv took a restrained position. Secondly, the latest statements of Pavel Sharoiko himself can be regarded as his plading guilt. Thirdly, there is reason to believe that Pavel Sharoiko began to speak only after meeting with the Ukrainian diplomat, making sure that his issue is being solved at the highest level. All this testifies that Poroshenko-Lukashenka’s agreement on exchange remains actual and both sides want to solve this issue as soon as possible.
The best option in the current situation is to stop fueling the situation and give diplomats the opportunity to finish what the leaders of the two countries agreed to in Abu Dhabi. Otherwise Aliaksandr Lukashenka, being a man of mood (and during the last year — of a bad mood) may consider himself free from agreements with Petro Poroshenko. Which is extremely undesirable for the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations, which are already difficult.