Hailed from KGB [Soviet Union’s Committee for State Security], General Marchuk became in his lifetime an uncompromising opponent of his “colleague” – Lieutenant Colonel Putin
Yevhen Marchuk, one of the most powerful political figures in the history of modern Ukraine, died at the age of 80. Marchuk was one of those standing at the origins of the modern Ukrainian state. Suffice it to say that he was the first head of the Security Service of Ukraine in 1991-1994, served as deputy prime minister, and headed the Government of Ukraine from 1995-1996. He was considered a serious rival of Leonid Kuchma in 1999. After losing to him, Marchuk worked as the secretary of the National Security and Defence Council and the minister of defence of Ukraine.
Involuntarily, parallels with another member of the KGB personnel cohort, Vladimir Putin, come to mind. Both led their country’s security services, headed governments and ran for president, one successfully, the other not. By the way, General Marchuk was the first to try to respond to then public demand for a “powerful hand” by launching the 1999 election campaign to create the image of the “Ukrainian de Gaulle.” But de Gaulle was a hero from a foreign pantheon, not very understandable for the post-Soviet electorate, and nostalgia for the lost stability of the USSR was still felt, so the general was overtaken by three leftists – Petro Symonenko, Oleksandr Moroz, and Natalia Vitrenko – in the first round. It was after the first round that Marchuk received the post of secretary of the National Security and Defence Council in exchange for public support for Leonid Kuchma. The special operation “Successor” turned out to be a great success for Putin, who got into the image of highbrow secret service agent a la Standartenführer Stirlitz, a Soviet spy from a movie loved by millions of Russians.
As the secretary of the National Security and Defence Council, General Marchuk crossed President Putin’s path. NATO was preparing for a powerful enlargement with the help of seven countries of the former Warsaw Pact and the USSR. In November 2002, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Estonia received the Alliance’s Membership Action Plans. In March 2004, those countries became full-fledged NATO members. The Ukrainian leadership understood that it had to decide on this process. It was at a meeting of the National Security and Defence Council on 23 May 2002 that Ukraine’s intention to join NATO was first officially announced. President Kuchma then stated, “We know that no one has ever fought inside NATO. And I wish we never fought, that is the main goal of our policy. This is a pragmatic goal, in the interests of all Ukrainians because European security cannot be built without Ukraine.” Marchuk put it clearer: “Due to changes in the situation in Europe, further adherence to Ukraine’s policy of non-alignment is hopeless, and, in some cases, harmful.”
Russia reacted painfully to both NATO enlargement and the prospect of Ukraine moving in the same direction. The Kremlin also read Brzezinski and understood that the loss of control over Ukraine would mean the loss of Russia’s status as a Eurasian superpower. The country’s leadership began to apply considerable pressure.
On the one hand, Putin began to make efforts to drag Ukraine to his side, to seduce its leadership. Efforts to breathe life into the Commonwealth of Independent States, an amorphous organisation that emerged from the ruins of the Soviet Union, intensified. In early 2003, Kuchma was appointed as its head. And, in May 2003, an agreement was reached at the CIS summit on the formation of the Common Economic Zone – the union of Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. In September, the agreement was solemnly signed under Kuchma’s perfunctory chairmanship in Crimea.
On the other hand, in September 2003, Ukraine was informed that it should not flirt with NATO, because… Allegedly, at the initiative of the Krasnodar Krai governor, the construction of a dam connecting the Russian peninsula of Taman with the Ukrainian island of Tuzla through the Kerch Strait began. Moscow kept silence, not responding to attempts by the Ukrainian leadership to find out what was really going on. At the height of the confrontation, the head of the presidential administration, Aleksandr Voloshin, made a scandalous statement: “Russia will never leave the Kerch Strait to Ukraine. It’s enough that Crimea is Ukrainian … It’s time to stop mocking at us. If necessary, we will do everything possible and impossible to defend our position. If necessary, we will drop a bomb there!” Back then, it all looked and sounded like a stupid joke, something that cannot be said now with the benefit of experience.
Eventually, during a personal meeting, Putin and Kuchma settled a conflict in which Ukraine showed its readiness to defend its own sovereignty and territorial integrity. Yevhen Marchuk was the defence minister then. He continued to take a principled stand, and, as a result, in June 2004, the President approved a new Military Doctrine of Ukraine, which stated, in particular: “Given that NATO and the EU are the guarantors of security and stability in Europe, Ukraine is preparing for full membership in these organisations.” But already in July, both under pressure from Russia and given the reluctance of European partners to make steps forward, as revealed during the NATO summit in Istanbul, Kuchma changed this thesis to a vaguer one about “substantial deepening relations with NATO and the EU.” In September 2004, Yevhen Marchuk was dismissed from the post of defence minister: Ukraine was preparing for the presidential election and government’s candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, who had Russia’s support as a significant resource.
In fact, since then, Marchuk has ceased to play any significant role in the political life of Ukraine, and for Vladimir Putin everything was just beginning. Ten years later, during Poroshenko’s presidency, the veteran of Ukrainian politics headed the NATO– Ukraine International Security and Civil Cooperation Secretariat and later became Ukraine’s representative in the Contact Group’s security working group in Minsk, where he briefly replaced Leonid Kuchma in 2018 and headed the Ukrainian negotiating group.
In an interview with Radio Liberty, given by Yevhen Marchuk a month before his death, he commented on the Russian-created conflict episodes surrounding British and Dutch ships during the Sea Breeze 2021 exercise. “Maybe this will once again show the West: do you see who we are dealing with? So, let’s take it seriously. We understand that you do not want to fight, and we do not want to fight. But you have a lot of mechanisms to drive this devil into the stall. It cannot be driven into a dead end because it can do a lot of silly things. It must be driven into the stay sector by various mechanisms. Half of the Black Sea is yours, NATO’s, and you can’t conduct training? Do you now understand what you have achieved pursuing such a liberal policy towards Russia?”
General Marchuk passed away, but his questions to NATO, which Ukraine failed to join in his lifetime, remain unanswered. Meanwhile, Putin is not going to die.