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Sluzhba Bespeky Ukrayiny (SBU)
Security Service of Ukraine

Security Service of Ukraine - History


Main Directorates




Educational Establishments


With more than 30,000 employees, the SBU is more than seven times the size of the U.K.'s domestic security service, MI5, and more than four times the size of Israel's Mossad national intelligence agency. Besides performing the traditional intelligence-gathering and counterintelligence roles of most domestic spy services, the SBU's thousands of agents also conduct activities that fall under the scope of law enforcement in most Western democracies, such as combating economic crimes and corruption. According to Ihor Smeshko, who served as head of the SBU from 2003 to 2005, that has made the agency "the most powerful institution in the country."

"Ukraine has used the war as an excuse to not reform the SBU," said Mark Galeotti, a senior associate fellow at London's Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and author of the recently published book Armies Of Russia's War In Ukraine. Over the years, abuse of its power -- including accusations of blackmail, corruption, arms trafficking, secret jails, torture, and links to Russian security services -- has cast a shadow over the SBU.

The Security Service of Ukraine (Sluzhba Bespeky Ukrayiny, or SBU) is a law enforcement agency responsible for protecting the state security of Ukraine. It is responsible for state security (including secret police tasks), external security and non-military intelligence, counterintelligence, "crimes against state and people" (counter-terrorism, smugglish, weapons trade, ect), as well as the personal security of the President, the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament), and other officials and institutions. The SBU was formed on September 20, 1990 as a successor service to the KGB branch in the Ukrainian SSR and inherited virtually all of the Ukrainian KGB's personnel.

The Minister of Internal Affairs is a member of the Cabinet of Ministers, while the SBU enjoys special status within the executive branch and reports directly to the President. The SBU may not conduct intrusive surveillance and searches without a court-issued warrant. The Office of the Prosecutor General has the constitutional responsibility to ensure that law enforcement agencies, including the SBU, observe the law; however, the extent to which the Prosecutor General used his authority to monitor SBU activities and to curb excesses by security officials was unknown. The Constitution provides citizens with the right to examine any dossier on them in the possession of the SBU and to sue for physical and emotional damages incurred by an investigation; however, necessary implementing legislation had not been passed, and the authorities did not respect this right in practice.

The need to reform the former Union and republican systems of state security authorities arose right after Ukraine declared its independence. On September 20, 1991, by adopting the Regulation "On Establishment of the National Security Service of Ukraine," the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine (Ukraine's Parliament) liquidated the State Security Committee of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine (Ukrainian KGB).

In the shortest possible time, it was necessary to resolve issues relating to the formation of new departments while staffing them with professionally trained officers committed to building up independent Ukraine, and creating a regulatory and legislative framework. On March 25, 1992, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine approved the Law "On the Security Service of Ukraine," which became yet another proof of Ukraine's firm course toward building a democratic state ruled by law. Unlike their predecessors, officers of the new Ukrainian Security Service got an opportunity to operate based on an explicit legal base - the Laws of Ukraine "On the Security Service of Ukraine," "On Operational and Investigative Activities," "On Organizational and Legal Principles in the Fight against Organized Crime, " "On State Secrets", "On the Fight against Corruption," etc.

Being conscious of new internal and external political realities that took shape after Ukraine declared its independence and guided by Ukraine's intention to become a member of the world community of civilized democratic states that would play an important role in the world, the SBU has unconditionally gave up the idea of applying an embracing global approach and using the image of the main enemy or hostile side, as well as uncivil and inhumane methods of operation in its activities. From the very outset, the SBU provided active assistance to the country's top echelon in resolving extremely important issues by priority directions of the statehood development, year by year building up its potentials and responding with flexibility to changes in operating conditions. The SBU, as a special-purpose law enforcement authority established in conformity with new principles, has its own role in the system of state authorities.

Nowadays, the SBU is capable of carrying out fully any of the tasks that are specified by the Law of Ukraine "On the Security Service of Ukraine" or set by senior state officials. To this purpose, a special emphasis is laid on top priority and most important tasks, which are appropriate only to a secret service and which can not be resolved by anyone except the security services.

These tasks include protection of state sovereignty, the constitutional system, the state's territorial integrity, the economic, scientific and technical, and defense potentials of Ukraine, the vested interests of the state and the rights of its citizens from spying and subversive activities of foreign intelligence services, as well as from encroachment of separate organizations, groups, or individuals. Dedicated efforts are being made with respect to prevention, identification, preclusion, and detection of crimes against the peace and security of the world, as well as against terrorism, corruption and organized crime in the domains of administration and economy, and other illegal acts directly endangering vital interests of Ukraine.

Intelligence and counterintelligence activities have been the most important functions of the SBU*. But the point is that new policies in this domain are introduced and relevant adjustments to the way they are carried out are made depending on the changes taking place in the world, in particular in the area of international relations. Abandoning the "totalitarian" concept in carrying out counterintelligence search, the Ukrainian Security Service implements differentiated policies for organizing countermeasures against foreign intelligence services. In the new historical period, the SBU's position on implementation of counterintelligence measures is grounded on a principle subordinated to provisions of the legislation in force to protect on this basis civil rights and freedoms, society and public interests both within and outside the territory of Ukraine by specific means and methods appropriate for a state security service.

In compliance with the prescribed requirements, counterintelligence officers have terminated illegal activities of several foreign intelligence agents and frustrated efforts of some Ukrainian citizens to pass abroad information of a political, scientific, technical, or economic nature.

In 1992, the SBU uncovered and stopped the espionage activities of G. Sarkisian, a stateless person, and A. Tkachenko, a Ukrainian citizen, who collected information on modern anti-aircraft missiles, fulfilling the tasks of a foreign intelligence service in this country. In 1994, Ukrainian counterintelligence conducted an operation aimed at quashing acts of provocation against Ukraine by a 32-year old Swede Eric Olaf Estenson, which resulted in his expulsion from this country and extradition to Swedish authorities. While in Ukraine, Estenson planned to obtain parts of nuclear warheads, from which he intended to assemble a 20-30 megaton nuclear bomb in Stockholm to blackmail the Swedish government into providing $2 billion as financial assistance to Ukraine.

There are many examples of other successful counterintelligence operations. In particular, the Ukrainian counterintelligence prevented a number of efforts to smuggle large shipments of armaments from and into the territory of Ukraine. The SBU also thwarted attempts to steal technologies and dual-use materials from Ukraine and to carry out illegal operations with nuclear materials and radioactive substances. Due to these preventive measures, Ukraine succeeded in meeting its obligations with respect to non-proliferation of mass destruction weapons and delivery vehicles.

In compliance with the legislation in effect, the SBU carries out information processing and analysis to support Ukrainian state officials in the implementation of Ukraine's foreign and domestic policies aimed at state development, strengthening of defense and economic capabilities, and fostering of international cooperation. Information and analytical support of central and local Ukrainian authorities is one of the priority activities of the Security Service of Ukraine. Assessments, proposals, and prognoses made by SBU analysts play a significant role in the information and analysis support system of state decision making. They also constitute the basis of an internal system for detecting and counteracting internal and external threats to national security. The highest appraisal for the work of SBU analysts, and the SBU as a whole, is when their information products are utilized at the governmental level to make relevant decisions.

SBU's officers strive to focus their efforts on the protection of the most vital spheres of society. At present, the economy is one of such spheres. Just for that reason, it has been quite natural for the SBU to establish the Department for National Economy Counterintelligence Protection within its structure. This department is designated to be the leading element within the SBU's system charged with the development of strategies and tactics for the protection of national economic interests, and detection and preclusion of economic crimes.

In accordance with its authority, the Security Service of Ukraine carries out counterintelligence activities to counteract large scale embezzlement of public or collective property, stealing, or illicit use of budget resources in financial, banking, and credit sectors, as well as funds drawn from privatization or foreign trade. In this connection, the Security Service is involved in monitoring the receipt and use of ear-marked state and foreign loans.It also participates in the returning of currency assets from abroad and in expert assessment of large contracts with foreign companies. One of the SBU's tasks is to counteract money laundering. Thus, the Security Service operates not only in order to protect but also to improve the economy.

From the very beginning of its establishment it has been one of the top priorities for the Security Service to combat terrorism. In many countries this problem has superseded other threats and has come to the forefront. Just because of the preventive and protective measures that were taken, there has been no large scale and grave acts of terrorism in Ukraine. Recently, some terrorist actions have been uncovered in cooperation with other law enforcement bodies.

In particular, the SBU has averted illegal extremist acts against several diplomatic missions that some foreign individuals intended to commit in the territory of Ukraine. Any attempts to unfold preparation of terrorist acts or find shelter from criminal prosecution for such activities while staying in Ukraine are and will be decisively stopped by the Security Service.

There has been no manifestations of terrorism in Ukraine in its classical notion. However, sometimes the SBU has to deal with various threats to commit violence against Ukraine's politicians, representatives of public authorities at all levels, and leaders of political parties and civic organizations, as well as with kidnapping and hostage taking.

Taking into account the seriousness of the problem, a number of laws was adopted in Ukraine with an objective to foster the effectiveness of combating terrorism. In addition, a new area of responsibility of Ukrainian law enforcement officers has been legislatively established -- to ensure security of individuals participating in criminal justice. Within the SBU, the Directorate for Combating Terrorism and Protection of Criminal Justice Participants deals with such issues. Its officers conducted over 300 operations to apprehend particularly dangerous criminals and to free hostages. There have been no cases associated with harm coming to persons who are under protection of the Directorate's officers. Law enforcement measures, in particular those taken by the Security Service of Ukraine, that were coordinated with the leadership of the country made it possible in some areas to stem or localize unlawful activities of criminal organizations. Special units responsible for combating corruption and organized crime are faced with tasks to be more effective against existing criminal organizations that commit interregional and transnational crimes.

In order to fulfill this task, the Security Service of Ukraine has activated and continues its operations to combat drug trafficking, which are particularly targeted at exposing and eliminating interregional and transnational drug trafficking organizations, transportation routes of narcotics and drug raw materials into Ukraine and via its territory. In 1997 and 1998, officers of the Security Service of Ukraine prevented in cooperation with customs officers and border controllers a number of attempts of transnational narcocartels, in particular Colombian and African ones, to organize a peculiar "transit bridge" for moving large shipments of "heavy" drugs (cocaine, hashish, and heroin) to Western Europe through the territory of Ukraine. As a result of three operations alone, law enforcement officers seized 624 kilograms of cocaine, 250 kilograms of cocaine paste, and over six tons of hashish worth of hundreds of million dollars at black market prices

For the successful conduct of such operations, the SBU has established close contacts with Interpol and foreign law enforcement agencies. Considering the global character of these problems, various questions are currently resolved in close cooperation with foreign intelligence and security services. In the meantime, the SBU has reached agreements on liaison and cooperation with foreign intelligence services and law enforcement agencies of over 50 countries. These partnership contacts provide for effective work and bring good results.

On the basis of agreements that have been concluded, meetings and joint consultations are held to discuss issues on combating organized crime, terrorism, narcotrafficking, etc., and to exchange opinions and information. Meetings of the Council of Heads of CIS Security Services (SORB) are held regularly. This results in successful conduct of operations on seizure of large shipments of drugs, arms, and smuggled goods, and leads to arrests of criminal organizations' members. The arrest of A. Mnjoyan, an inhabitant of Yerevan, was one of the first such notable cases, when agents of SBU's special units mounted an operation in the southern Ukrainian city of Odessa in response to a request by senior officials of the National Security State Administration of the Republic of Armenia. He was sought for committing five made-to-order and two attempted murders. In particular, among his victims were the former head of the National Security State Administration of the Republic of Armenia and the mayor of Yerevan.

At present, one cannot but take into the account the cardinal changes that have recently taken place in the understanding of security. This notion embraces a fairly broad circle of questions that are of concern to each country. In addition to protection of territorial integrity, inviolability of national borders, and military, economic, and political factors, the question relates to the security of the entire region or, in other words, the ability of states to jointly meet new challenges and threats, in particular proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, drug trafficking, international terrorism, organized crime, illegal migration, and environmental disasters. So, while in the present operating conditions in the world, which continuously vary and are characterized by a greater openness of society, increased cooperation at all levels, and Ukraine's active entering into the world community, the Security Service of Ukraine makes all possible efforts for the state to be on firm ground in Europe and in the world.

Thus, the concept of the new Ukrainian security service is based on the SBU's commitment to protect the interests of the Ukrainian people and national and human values.

The SBU constantly informs the public on various aspects of its activities by reporting results of its operations in the mass media. Publicity has become an essential condition in the functioning of the Security Service. Many people write letters or visit the SBU to show their worries and concerns about the development of some events. Visitors are received at the SBU's Public Reception Office, located on: 35, Volodymyrska St., Kyiv, Ukraine. A repousse on the facade of its two-storied building indicates that the prominent Ukrainian scholar, historian, and statesman Mykhailo Hrushevskyi worked in it between 1927 and 1930.

In fulfillment of the prescribed tasks, the Security Service of Ukraine makes all possible efforts to ensure peace and order in Ukraine and that the results of its efforts coincide with the hopes of its compatriots.

The reform of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) uses the experience of the European Union, SBU chief Oleksandr Yakymenko said at an international conference of chiefs of EU intelligence services and law enforcement agencies in Yalta, 27 September 2013. "We study the advanced model of the operation of the security sector in EU countries in order to harmonize the activities of the Ukrainian secret service to European standards. This experience is actively used in the process of reforming the SBU," the SBU press office quoted Yakymenko as saying.

The SBU chief noted that the secret service is actively involved in fulfilling the tasks of the EU-Ukraine Association agenda. In particular, SBU professionals developed a national counter-terrorism concept, focusing on strengthening cooperation with foreign intelligence services as a key in countering new challenges and threats. This document is approved by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine.

The conference participants discussed issues related to combating international terrorism and religious extremism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, combating cyber crime and organized crime. Also, the participants stressed the need to continue the ongoing consultations between the Security Service of Ukraine and representatives of secret services of EU countries for a joint response to modern transnational threats.

The intelligence agency is now partnered with 111 secret services and law enforcement agencies of 59 countries on the basis of international law, relevant treaties and agreements. The conference was attended by representatives of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine (NSDC), Security Service of Ukraine, delegations of intelligence services and law enforcement agencies of EU member states.

Days after the country’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, fled to Russia, the director of the intelligence service, Oleksandr Yakymenko, surfaced in Russia, having defected with four other top spies and a dozen or so subordinates loyal to Moscow. In the chaotic aftermath of the Euromaidan uprising in February 2014, thousands of highly classified files were stolen and taken to Russia on the orders of Yakymenko, who fled to Russia with Yanukovych, four other senior SBU officials, and about a dozen experienced subordinates. After the Russian invasion of Crimea, thousands of Ukrainian spies switched sides and began reporting to Moscow.

Ukraine's parliament dismissed the head of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), Valentyn Nalyvaychenko. In a vote at the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada on 18 June 2015, a total of 248 lawmakers supported President Petro Poroshenko's request to fire Nalyvaychenko. The 49-year-old was appointed three months before Poroshenko was elected in May 2014 and was never seen as a supporter of the head of state.

NATO envoys and members of the European Union Advisory Mission in Ukraine (EUAM) even drew up a reform proposal in 2016 that was meant to outline the initial steps needed to fix it and bring it into line with NATO standards. The proposal suggested the SBU be stripped of its law enforcement functions, which would be handed over to the newly created National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) and the National Police. That would leave the SBU to work strictly as an intelligence agency, focusing on counterespionage, counterterrorism, cybersecurity, and security analysis.

During his inauguration speech on May 20, 2019, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on Ukraine's parliament to dismiss heads of the SBU Security Service of Ukraine, the Prosecutor General's Office, and the Defense Minister. Head of Security Service of Ukraine Vasyl Hrytsak resigned as the SBU press service reported. “I fulfill the promise and inform publicly: today, I file the report on my dismissal from the post of the SBU Head to President-elect of Ukraine. I also report that according to the order established by Military statute, all deputy heads of the SBU and members of my team filed the reports, all of them who defend Ukraine on the most difficult days of the Russian armed aggression,” Hrytsak said.

An international advisory group composed of representatives of the European Union, NATO, and the United States attended a 13 August 2019 meeting with acting Security Service chief Ivan Bakanov and National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) head Oleksandr Danylyuk to discuss reforming the security agency, which is known by its Ukrainian acronym SBU. Danylyuk, a former finance minister appointed to the NSDC by Zelenskiy, told the BBC's Ukrainian Service ahead of the meeting that a law was being finalized to overhaul the security service to "make its core functions of counterintelligence and combating terrorism stronger..."

The SBU's infiltration by Russian agents has also been an obstacle to reform and will likely continue to be as Zelenskiy's team moves ahead, although perhaps to a lesser degree than in the past. The SBU had for decades been riddled with Russian spies working for its Federal Security Service (FSB), as well as pro-Russian sympathizers and turncoats eager to double up on paychecks. However, since the war began in 2014 and many were forced to show their true colors, their numbers dwindled.

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Page last modified: 19-08-2019 16:37:05 ZULU