What Does the Law on National Security Adopted by the Verkhovna Rada Mean?

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard



The Verkhovna Rada adopted the presidential bill on national security and defense at the first reading. According to the idea, this draft law will allow the defense sector to come closer to NATO standards. It is desired to send it off for a second reading at the end of May, after finalising and coordinating it with foreign partners.

“Strana” analysed why this law is needed and why it is generating noise.

What this draft law will change

There are several key provisions.

Firstly, there are personnel innovations – from 2019 the Minister of Defence and his deputies will be appointed from among civilians (i.e., the current minister Poltorak, as a military person, will be forced to resign).

On the one hand, a civilian Minister of Defence is an international practice. On the other hand, NATO standards assume that the Ministry of Defence itself should retain only administrative leadership functions. But in the presidential draft law military-political leadership is left for the Ministry of Defence, and the commander-in-chief – i.e., the person who is in the highest military position – will be subordinated to the civilian minister.

Currently it is the commander-in-chief of the UAF who is the Chief of the General Staff, but these positions will be divided. The head of the General Staff will be subordinated to the commander-in-chief. And it is the President who will appoint and dismiss people from this position.

Actually, the expansion of presidential powers written in this draft bill is one more basic innovation.

The President is the Supreme Commander and controls the sphere of security and defense. The range of his powers is wide – from decrees and giving ranks to introducing martial law. It is also the President who approves the strategy of national security, military security, and cybersecurity approved by the National Security and Defense Council.

One more innovation is the clear enumeration of 15 departments and bodies that are a part of the security and defense sector. These are: Ministry of Defence, UAF, State Special Transport Service, Ministry of Internal Affairs, National Guard, National Police, State Border service, State Migration Service, State Emergency Service, SBU, Department of the State Guard, State Special Communications Service, office of the National Security and Defense Council, and intelligence bodies.

I.e., it turns out that the leading will of the President also extends to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and also to the border, migratory, and “emergency” services and the National Guard that currently falls now within his powers.

This is an interesting “message” for the Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, who recently declared that Poroshenko isn’t his chief.

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Complaints about the presidential draft bill were already expressed by the Head of the EU Delegation in Ukraine Hugh Mingarelli, the ambassador of the US in Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, the chief representative of NATO in Ukraine Aleksandr Vinnikov, and the head of the Advisory mission of the EU in Ukraine Kyastutis Lanchinskas.

Their condemnation was caused, in particular, by the uncertainty concerning the special services. In the law it mentions the SBU – that this Service is under the control of both the President and the Verkhovna Rada. But in Article 19 of the bill it is specified that the SBU will obey only the President, and the head of SBU only reports to parliament once a year. The EU and NATO want parliamentary control over the SBU.

The innovation about the General Staff of the Supreme Commander doesn’t suit both the EU and NATO. The President signed the decree on the creation of a General Staff with the absolutely confidential provision for it in September, 2017.

The bill cements the status of the General Staff – the National Security and Defense Council will be able to create it under certain special conditions.

National interests grew poor

It is also noteworthy that in comparison with the current law “On the Foundations of National Security of Ukraine” of 2003, the concept itself of defending national interests was significantly narrowed.

Previously priority national interests, among other things, were the development of spirituality, moral basis, the intellectual potential of the Ukrainian people, strengthening the physical health of the nation, creation of conditions for the preservation and strengthening of familial institutes, creation of the conditions for the fully-fledged life of the child, security, wellbeing, and the development of the child in a safe atmosphere.

In the new bill the concept itself of national interests underwent considerable changes, all the aforementioned moral values were excluded from it.

Now fundamental national interests are State sovereignty and territorial integrity, development of the economy, civil society, growth of the level and quality of life of the population, EU integration, and NATO membership.

“This will destroy the Ukrainian army”

The member of parliamentary committee on questions of national security and defense Ivan Vinnik (“Bloc of Petro Poroshenko”) predicted to “Strana” that the final vote on the bill will take place in the middle or end of May.

“It is unlikely that it will be earlier because of the May holidays,” he commented.

Even during the submission of the draft bill by the head of the National Security and Defense Council, in the sessional hall the “Samopomich” faction stated its disagreement with this draft bill.

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The member of the “Samopomich” faction Taras Pastukh stated that at first the President sabotaged the adoption of the law for a whole year, and then finally submitted a draft bill that expands his powers.

“The bill was written by those whose activity it has to regulate. Imagine for a second that the law on the tax office was written by tax inspectors. We, probably, would receive a law in which masked raids, unlimited rights, and zero or just declarative control over the activity of this service would be legalised. The presidential bill was written in the National Security and Defense Council, the members of which are those who this law has to extend to. And it was submitted by the President of Ukraine, in whose hands all power is de facto concentrated. Rhetorical question: are they ready to write a bill in which all the activity of the Ministry of Defence, the Ministries of Internal Affairs, Security Service of Ukraine, etc. will become transparent and accountable before the people? Are they ready to write a law in which they will provide the transparent spending of money? Are they ready to show the merits that the rank of General is sold for, as is done for those who still 3-4 years didn’t have anything, and now they have fortunes that businessmen who have 20 or more years of experience dream of?” said Taras Pastukh.

Later the vice speaker Oksana Syroid supported the words of her fellow party member, stating that this bill is a “35-page fraud”. She stated that the Soviet control system is thus being cemented.

Syroid, in particular, said that this law, if it is adopted, “will destroy the Ukrainian Armed Forces definitively”.

“Instead of introducing a system of control and command that would allow us to finally change the system of governance that came from the Soviet Union, it is being cemented and plunges into bigger administrative chaos. And this will lead to the fact that there won’t be soldiers in the Armed Forces who are ready to fight,” said Syroid.

Ivan Vinnik, in turn, categorically doesn’t agree with the thesis of the vice speaker Oksana Syroid about “cementing the Soviet system of governance of the Armed Forces”.

“In the ‘Soviet army’ a civilian minister can’t exist. And in other aspects references to the Soviet period are simply ridiculous. For example, is it possible to imagine that the Soviet KGB reports to the Supreme Council of the USSR? Absurdity! But the SBU will report to the Verkhovna Rada after the adoption of the law. It is the status of the Ukrainian special services that is being changed, which will be charged with investigating economic crimes concerning the entire State. For example, if ‘Gazprom’ tries to introduce agents in ‘Naftogaz’, this will be an infringement on the interests of the State and the affair of the SBU,” said Vinnik.

Western partners want additional guarantees

The experts questioned by “Strana” believe that by suggesting to parliament to adopt this draft bill, the authorities are concentrated on fulfilling several tasks. First of all – to report to the West, who insisted on preparing this draft bill.

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The Ukrainian authorities don’t hide that the bill was developed “in close interaction” with experts of NATO, the US, and the European Union. At the beginning of March the head of the Pentagon James Mattis after a meeting with the Minister of Defence Stepan Poltorak paid special attention to this question, having stated that he expects the adoption by the Verkhovna Rada of the law on national security.

“The motives of foreigners are clear – western partners want to receive additional guarantees of control and transparency concerning the deliveries of weapons to Ukraine. In fact, the US set clear conditions in front of Ukraine: if you want Javelins or other lethal weapons, then change the method of control and management of the Armed Forces. They don’t trust anybody here, and it is precisely this that numerous publications in the western press about corruption in military sector of Ukraine point out,” said the interlocutor in the presidential party to “Strana”.

The second reason for the emergence of this draft bill is the need to replace the “agenda”.

“This is the beginning of electoral campaign. And that’s why the authorities try to change their rhetoric – instead of increasing prices – which stirs people, instead of increasing tariffs, they adopt the law on national security, said the People’s Deputy Sergey Levochkin (“Opposition Bloc”) to “Strana”.

The expert of the “house of democracy” Anatoly Oktisyuk considers that the draft bill is needed also as a basis for further PR that the current authorities in the near pre-election future will put an accent on – the entry of Ukraine into the EU and NATO:

“Besides strengthening control over law enforcement bodies, on the eve of the electoral campaign there is other obvious aim – to cement in law the objectives for accession to the EU and NATO. Then it will be possible to use it as a starting point to enter it into the Constitution”.

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