One meeting and two lessons

The Kyiv-based International Institute of Management (MIM-Kyiv), which has decidedly taken one of the topmost places in the hierarchy of business education in Europe, is also becoming a high-level intellectual stage where one can see outstanding personalities of the epoch. Recently MIM students had an opportunity to meet Yevhen Marchuk, Ukraine’s former prime minister, founder and head of the Security Service, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, and minister of defense. What prompted this meeting are the two events that do not seem, at first glance, to be closely connected. Ukraine fully met the commitment it had made before: assisted by the US and the IAEA, it dispatched the last batch of highly-enriched nuclear materials to the Russian Federation. And on March 25 this country marked the 20th anniversary of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). Who else in this country possesses this array of now declassified historical information on these matters but General of the Army Marchuk, as the first SBU chief, was directly involved in drawing up the president of Ukraine’s final decision to turn Ukraine into a nuclear-free state? Incidentally, Ukraine’s nuclear-free status was enshrined in the Declaration of Political Sovereignty:

“The Ukrainian SSR solemnly proclaims its intention to become a permanently neutral state in the future, which will join no military blocs and will adhere to the three non-nuclear principles: not to possess, not to manufacture, and not to acquire nuclear weapons.”

MIM students and faculty filled the spacious room to hear a first-hand account of this country’s history in the making.

Mr. Marchuk outlined the subject of his lecture in no uncertain and clear-cut terms: dangers to Ukraine’s national security in contemporary history, which he helped, one way or another, to avert. In his opinion, citizens of this country should know and understand the inner essence of these historical episodes. For history has a propensity to repeat itself, and if you do not know it, you are likely to make mistakes or fail to understand the decisions being made today, such as the one about removing the highly enriched uranium.

Why did Ukraine scrap its whole nuclear capacity? Is this good or bad? These questions are still worrying very many people. There has been so much sincere misunderstanding of and, naturally, all kinds of speculation about this. According to Mr. Marchuk, one should know that independent Ukraine inherited the Soviet Union’s largest military grouping: more than one million servicemen, three military and one border-security districts, and the 43rd Strategic Missile Force Army whose headquarters was based in Vinnytsia. There were 210 launching silos in Mykolaiv and Vinnytsia oblasts for battle-ready SS-18 and SS-24 missiles. Each of them could carry 10 nuclear warheads, each of them being equal to 30 bombs dropped on Hiroshima. In addition, Ukraine had three huge arsenals of nuclear weapons, nuclear arsenals for long-range bombers (Pryluky, Uzyn, and Poltava), and an incredible number of tactical nuclear weapons, especially in the Crimea, including those for air defense purposes. Of strategic importance were facilities in Dnipropetrovsk and Pavlohrad, as well as the missile repair base in Sarny, Rivne oblast, and some factories in Kyiv and Kharkiv.

Military doctrines of the two opposing blocs – NATO and Warsaw Treaty – were also based on the powerful surveillance facilities, with the leading role played by spy satellites that continuously watched all the nuclear installations on the territory of a likely enemy. As a result, the two sides planned to carry out triple preemptive strikes at each launching site and nuclear arsenal. Ukraine was in fact a target for the first triple nuclear strike. This could have been done by the nuclear cruise missile-armed bombers flying along the USSR borders. The second strike would have been delivered by US land- and submarine-based strategic missiles. All of these weapons were targeted on political centers, nuclear power plants, Dnipro hydroelectric stations, as well as large chemical works, chlorine storages, etc. And the third strike could have been carried out by the nuclear-tipped cruise missiles which, launched in the Mediterranean Sea, were able to reach Chernihiv.

So in case of a nuclear war, which was not a remote possibility, Ukraine would have turned into a lunar-landscape desert. “This would have wiped out all forms of life here for thousands of years,” says the general who also estimated at the time the tragic consequences of the likely nuclear attacks. “We had to think twice whether or not to leave all that nuclear potential in Ukraine,” Mr. Marchuk recollects. “And now we are often reproached that nobody in the world reckons with Ukraine because it has surrendered its nuclear arms. Sheer nonsense! Germany and Japan are nuclear-free countries which were utterly ruined in World War II, but they are very much reckoned with. Nobody in Ukraine had ever been in charge of launch installations. Even Colonel General Mikhtiuk, commanding officer of the 43rd Missile Army, not always knew what exactly his missiles were targeted on. A colonel or a general would come at a certain time from Moscow’s General Headquarters, take a program module from his attache-case and substitute it for the one installed before. And nobody else could do this.”

As the arms race was drawing to a close, Marchuk says, both sides invented mobile launchers. In the Soviet Union, these were railway-mounted installations in the guise of freight trains which often changed their location. The US built 100-km-long underground tunnels of our metro type for their MX-1 missiles. It was practically impossible to detect them. Nevertheless, the two sides learned to this, too.

This means that you can possess nuclear weapons only in case you can constantly monitor the expected enemy’s nuclear installations, including strategic missile launch early warning devices, which costs quite a pretty penny. “Otherwise, what’s the use of having nuclear arms?” Marchuk says persuasively. “For you will thus become a first-strike object.” But that-time independent Ukraine could neither manage nor use nuclear weapons. “Many are saying now that if we had nuclear arms, we would be feared and very much respected. This is the viewpoint of a dilettante and layman. To hope that the world will respect you more because you can deliver the first nuclear strike and remain scot-free and that the retaliatory strike will not wipe you off the face of Earth is the thinking of a pithecanthrope.”

The US and NATO were very well aware that Ukraine was unable to handle these weapons because there was centralized command and Russia could block all the launches at any moment. What is more, neither the US nor the other NATO states were hostile to independent Ukraine. The same applied to China. Who shall we threaten with nuclear weapons? But all the nuclear states, including Russia, could see very well that any unauthorized actions on our part were fraught with grave danger.

“Moreover, every nuclear charge – a very sophisticated independently targetable device fitted with electronic flight-control systems and filled with weapons-grade plutonium – has a shorter life than other ammunitions. Plutonium is extremely aggressive, and the inherent radiation damages the flight-control systems in the course of time. So the service life of this military load is much shorter than that of conventional ammunitions. Bedsides, all those warheads were made on the territory of Russia. Accordingly, only the one who manufactured this very intricate super-secret item can dismantle it when its service life expires. Any other one would turn into a monkey with a grenade in hand,” Marchuk notes.

“And where and how can one dispose of these juggernauts when they run out of their service life?” Mrachuk asks and answers: “Luckily, there were people in the know. Before making a decision on renouncing the nuclear weapons, President Kravchuk held a lot of various consultations and meetings with military experts and scientists. We needed to understand what risks and dangers this country would face if we were to leave the nuclear weapons behind. It turned out that about 30 to 40 percent of nuclear ammunitions would have their life expired by 1991, while that of the rest would in approximately 1997. What were we supposed to do with this gigantic mass of the most dangerous ‘wealth’ afterwards? We would have to pay Russia colossal money for the dismantling alone. Besides, both the US and Russia believed that the nuclear weapons must be amassed only in Russia as the legal successor to the USSR, where the entire cycle was concentrated – from production and usage to disposal. Therefore, very serious international pressure was being exerted on Ukraine which still had a gigantic arsenal of nuclear weapons, especially when Belarus and Kazakhstan had already given them up.”

Besides, this country’s leadership also took into account the colossal costs of maintaining this nuclear missile capacity. And, what is more, to become a full-fledged nuclear missile power (Ukraine had a basic scientific and technological capacity to do so), this country would have to doom itself to international isolation and severe – far more severe than now – economic hardships for many decades on end.

As a result of an agreement, Russia compensated Ukraine for strategic warheads with fuel for nuclear power plants. Weapons-grade plutonium cannot be used as nuclear power plant fuel, and Russia was supplying fuel for Ukrainian nuclear power plants on a fair and free basis for 18 months. Today some people are saying with reproach that the government might have bargained for more. “We might,” Marchuk agrees, quite skeptically, and gradually switches to the next point of his lecture. “In addition to being compensated, Ukraine also managed to help adopt the so-called 1994 Budapest Memorandum on the nuclear states’ guarantees.”

The Memorandum on Security Assurances in connection with Ukraine’s accession to the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was signed in Budapest on December 5, 1994.

Mr. Marchuk explains that the memorandum provided no comprehensive guarantees of Ukraine’s security, as it is sometimes maintained today in a broad interpretation of this document. In his words, the question was of guarantees from the nuclear club members with the US at the head to Ukraine which was giving up its nuclear weapons voluntarily rather than as a result of some international ultimatums. “The guarantee was that these countries would allow no nuclear blackmail of Ukraine in any form and protect it if necessary,” Marchuk says.

“This issue came up again when the Tuzla island crisis broke out,” he reminds the audience. “None of the analysts and forecasters could even imagine and simulate a situation like this. As the defense minister at the time, I can say things went very far and it was a serious shock.” Our side noticed an increased level of radio exchange on the Taman peninsula. Our surveillance airplane made photographs of a dam being built towards the Ukrainian island (spit) of Tuzla. The fast pace of construction, the dam’s strength and width showed it was no laughing matter. The dam would cross the Ukraine-Russian border well into the territory of Ukraine. The state border between Ukraine and Russia in the Strait of Kerch was and still remains non-delimited.

Our military could not immediately understand and explain the purpose of this construction. Nor was there any trust in the Russian versions that the dam was supposed to change the sea current to prevent the Russian shore from being washed out, etc. There seemed to be no common sense in such explanations, for the dam was intended to cross the Ukrainian border.

Some artistic companies began to rehearse on the Taman peninsula for some festival in Tuzla. We were told the dam would be used as a road to Tuzla, a place of merrymaking and fraternization, for absolutely peaceful purposes, and Ukraine should not worry at all… Likewise, in the early 1990s, a lot of heavily-built guys disguised as Kuban Cossack singers and dancers made their way to the Crimea across the Strait of Kerch. It was the time when the then Crimean President Meshkov was preparing a referendum on the peninsula’s future. The Tuzla events somewhat resembled this technique.

The Tuzla crisis erupted when President Kuchma was to go on a very important visit to Brazil, where he planned to sign a new agreement on an international space project. As is known, the equator is the most suitable place for launching spacecrafts. And a tense situation suddenly occurs. At the same time, a regular G8 summit is being held in South-East Asia. President Vladimir Putin of Russia has flown there, while it is very important for Kuchma to get to Brazil. “As the minister of defense, I was responsible for the defense of Ukraine’s territory under the Law of Defense,” Marchuk reminisces. “As the Constitution and the Armed Forces Law envisage, the border security force and I were to take measures to protect the state border not only from an armed enemy but also from the intervention of a large number of foreign civilians who display disobedience to border guards. Meanwhile, the construction of the dam was drawing to a close, with some work still to be done within two or three days. And although nobody in the Ukrainian political leadership and ministry of defense could seriously imagine a real military conflict with Russia, our General Headquarters was forced to plan retaliatory military measures. Besides, over there, they thought up a small stratagem. They found a 100-m-long old barge and sank it exactly in the place where the dam was to pass. It’s not much of an invention but why not try it? Everybody’s nerves stood on edge. Still worse, Kuchma repeatedly fails to get in touch with Putin. The phone operator on the other side answers: ‘Mr. Putin cannot speak – there’s a G8 summit going on.’ It was a political game, of course. Our president is nervous. I get in touch with Russia’s Minister of Defense Sergei Ivanov, our Foreign Minster Kostiantyn Hryshchenko is also taking measures. He goes to Moscow on this occasion, carrying a large number of the aerial photos of this dam, and meets his Russian counterpart. Moscow calms us down and asks not to exaggerate things. So, in this situation, we fly and land in Brazil, hold negotiations, and sign documents. Kyiv reports that the construction pace is on the rise and they will reach the state border just the next morning. In the absence of the president and the minister of defense, the most senior military person in Ukraine was Colonel General Zatynaiko, Chief of the General Staff, an experienced battlefield soldier. And Kuchma makes a right decision: we fly off at night. We are flying over the ocean towards the sun, but there is still no communication with Putin. And only when we were approaching Rabat, Morocco, Putin contacted us. The president said: ‘We have agreed that we will be landing in Simferopol, not in Kyiv. All the military go home: they to Moscow, you to Kyiv. Only the political figures are meeting in Kerch.’”

“This episode is very instructive,” Marchuk continues. “I said later in an interview that what had happened was a very good thing. We understood what it meant to bear responsibility for our country’s sovereignty, integrity, and security.

“Yes, the Russians are our friends, and only a schizophrenic could suppose there would be a war against them. But the situation became so critical and dangerous that nobody could imagine this. So we must conclude that we should keep our weather eye open even when we deal with such a historically close partner and remember that he is our political rival. Moreover, the Tuzla thing showed, unfortunately, that Russia may pursue an unpredictable policy towards Ukraine.”

The MIM audience tried to look more deeply into the problems Mr. Marchuk spoke of, and their questions showed great interest in the way political problems are being tackled. For example, the first question was about the deep-seated motives for building a dam in Tuzla. “It was a political provocation, the political component of a purely Russian nature caused by the parliamentary elections in Russia,” Marchuk answered. “Russia is still using techniques like this. At the time, we could guess the essence of that action, but we did not know the line to which they could come. At the same time, the Tuzla events rallied in the Crimea the forces that had never sat down at the same negotiating table before. The situation was so tense that even an accident could lead to unpredictable consequences. It was a very dangerous action – also for the international image of the two countries.”

What aroused the great interest of the audience, i.e. practicing businesspeople, was Marchuk’s answer to the question about corruption, about whether it poses now one of the main threats to the country’s national security. “As far as threats to national security are concerned, corruption is dangerous because it undermines trust in all the branches of the government,” Marchuk noted. “On the other hand, corruption in fact blocks heavy, billions-worth, investments, such as those made, for example, in Poland.” The former National Security and Defense Council secretary added that the anticorruption law now in force in Ukraine is beneath criticism. He recalled that he once suggested instituting the National Bureau of Investigations (it was one of Marchuk’s conditions under which he agreed to work as council secretary after the 1999 elections). The concept was that this organization should consist of about 300 people. The law was to have authorized these people to conduct investigation and search operations (investigation was a disputable point) in all the top spheres of public administration, including the Presidential Administration, the Verkhovna Rada staff, the Cabinet of Ministers, the Security Service, the Interior Ministry, and the Tax Administration. Marchuk cited the experience of the US FBI which also began fighting corruption in the white-collar area. Then Kuchma suddenly instructed that all actions to establish the NBI be discontinued.” Marchuk made it clear that what caused this was the fact that the corrupt saw they were in danger. “The Prosecutor General, the SBU chief, and the Interior Minister came to me,” Marchuk quoted the president as saying, “and said: Marchuk wants to be the Ukrainian FBI chief and seize us all by the scruff of the neck.” Marchuk explained that forming the NBI on the pattern of the early US FBI would have essentially changed the corruption situation in this country. “Only an agency with such powers can spotlight this problem on an integral level, approach any member of the governmental staff, and take operative measures against an MP who may have a loophole on the border, bribe judges, etc.”

Summing up this interesting conversation, Iryna TYKHOMYROVA, president of the MIM-Kyiv business school, said to The Day:

“The meeting between Mr. Marchuk and MIM students was part of the SE MBA program for topmost managers and business owners in various economic sectors and fields of activity. We are trying to buff up one of the fundamental characteristics of business education – its practical bias – by inviting to the institute the people who possess unique knowledge and experience and can share theirs achievements in business, the management of large industrial enterprises or governmental bodies. The key advantage of this kind of meetings is free exchange of opinions and exclusive information, which helps understand the intricate mechanisms of making important managerial decisions, including those on the governmental level. The debates that occur in the classroom from time to time allow business school students to simulate their own variants of important decisions and analyze their consequences for the further development of business.

“Our students are saying that communication with such a high-ranking statesman as Yevhen Marchuk made a lasting impression on them. They called this lecture one of the most interesting among those held in our business school. All the students noted that the meeting with Mr. Marchuk was extremely interesting and useful. ‘Now we have a better idea of the current events, we managed to take a closer look at their hidden roots,’ the students told me. How and why crucial political and economic decisions were made, what their consequences were and what effect they have had on today’s events – all this was the subject of our recent dialogue with Mr. Marchuk. I have noticed more than once that such complicated world-view issues as public ideology, formation or transformation of the system of national values, role of the personality in history, etc., are perceived and remembered much more effectively at meetings like this than during a comprehensive theoretical study.

“I hope the two-hour meeting of SE MBA program participants – the heavyweights of Ukrainian business – with such an extraordinary personality as Yevhen Marchuk is a good beginning in our cooperation.”


A few days before the meeting of MIM students with Yevhen Marchuk, I had an argument with my wife. A physicist by education and a mother who had to take her child away from a radiation-polluted and almost panic-stricken Kyiv in 1986, she, oddly enough, defended the opinion that, if Ukraine had nuclear weapons, it would be enjoying more prestige and respect in the world. The “bellicosity” and patriotism of our women are universally known. To tell the truth, many men are also joining them today. Unfortunately, far from all of our compatriots understand that nuclear weapons are, so to speak, a very heavy and costly thing that cuts both ways. The one who wields it can also easily find himself on the receiving end.

Mr. Marchuk showed this very convincingly in his MIM lecture. But was the audience prepared for this frank conversation? The point is the present-day politicians have taught us to believe in populism. They usually say what they are expected to say rather than what they really think. And very few, especially in a pre-election period, dare say something unpopular out loud. Marchuk has been always analyzing facts and opinions for a long time, painstakingly, and from all sides, and when he comes to a conclusion, he has the courage to openly say unpleasant and even bitter things. And, on the other hand, he has never forgotten to say a good word about an individual in whom he saw a lot of flaws and whom he scathingly criticized but who sometimes deserves to be praised. Did he have a chance to be elected for the highest political office in 1999, given his and our qualities? There must have been a slim chance. And what happened then was quite an unpleasant but regular occurrence. After the elections, we woke up in immature country. But we immediately saw an example of true service to this country, when Marchuk restrained his own ambitions. This step deserves great respect for the fact that, by the efforts of a military serviceman, a general of the army, and the Security Council secretary, Ukraine got rid of the nuclear weapons, thus doing a tremendous favor to the Ukrainian people and the cause of peace in our restless world.

Shall we ever see the renewal of a world-view trend, when advantage will be given not to the power-thirsty politicians but to the true statesmen who are pragmatically and rationally doing good to their current compatriots and the generations to come? This time will undoubtedly come. Listening to Marchuk, once dubbed as quiet force, the MIM audience, which included middle-aged and young people, could not but arrive at the same conclusion.

And, to conclude these reflections, here is one more argument in favor of nuclear arms disposal, which Marchuk told The Day in a private chat after the MIM lecture. He noted that, under almost all ministers of defense, there had been explosions at certain military arsenals in this country, which endangered the life of many people. “Can you imagine,” he said, “what would have occurred if we had left nuclear weapons in Ukraine and something of the kind had happened at our nuclear arsenals?” Which of the Chornobyl disaster contemporaries can deny this argument?