Many achievements in the sphere of secret diplomacy were made during the times of Bohdan Khmelnytskyi, who attached great importance to the intelligence activity, in some cases personally meeting and sending emissaries and giving them all the instructions. The Hetman managed to establish a systematic flow of valuable information not only from the trains of enemy troops and the environment of some political figures, but also directly from the Polish and Lithuanian capitals, very important at that time. Among the spies operating in foreign corridors of power was Polish King Jan Kazimierz's personal Kamerger Vasyl Vereshchaka. The Ukrainian nobleman participated directly in secret meetings of the leadership of Rzeczpospolita. He sent all the extremely important military and political information to Bohdan Khmelnytskyi by couriers (via confidential channels).
To the cohort of the most prominent international extra-class intelligence officers operating in the 17th–18th centuries belongs Hetman of the Right-Bank Ukraine Pylyp Orlyk's son, Hryhoriy Orlyk. During his forced emigration to Europe, having an excellent command of six languages, at the age of 24 he became an adjutant of the Polish Crown Hetman Poniatowski. By some quirk of fate, the Hetman's son got into the sphere of intelligence of the French King Louis XV. For the successful secret mission (to deliver Louis XV's father-in-law Stanislaw Leszczynski from France to Warsaw) the King awarded Orlyk the Order of Saint Louis, presented him with a diamond and granted him a Count patent on the name of Chevalier de Laziski. For several years, under the guise of a Swiss Guard officer, a Persian merchant, a servant or a French doctor, Hryhoriy Orlyk had been performing secret tasks in Turkey and Crimea. Living abroad, he persistently sought support for the Zaporizhzhyan Cossacks' liberation struggle; he conducted deep intelligence on the territory of Ukraine, visited incognito Zaporizhzhyan Sich, had many confidential assistants among the Sichivites and foreigners.
With the patriotic tide of the proclamation of the Ukrainian People's Republic, the spirit and valour of the Ukrainians got renewed vigor for the sake of the centuries-old goal – to retain, build and defend their independence and statehood. 1918 became the starting point in the history of the Ukrainian Intelligence. Then, under the Central Rada (Council), the armed forces and special services of Ukraine were built. After all, the threat of the Soviet Russia’s aggression remained quite real. In March 1918, the new Chief of the General Staff of the UPR Army Colonel O. Slyvynskyi conducted a structural reorganization.
The Intelligence Department of the 1st Quartermaster-General Office, headed by Volodymyr Kolosovskyi, was created as part of the General Staff. At that time, the Ukrainian intelligence focused on analyzing the situation on the fronts of Soviet troops in the Don and Kuban, given the direct adjacency of those regions to the borders of Ukraine. The second important task was to collect intelligence about the armies of other states. The secret information received by the Department was included into daily intelligence reports for the Command of the UPR Army. At the same time, the Department was developing recommendations for the UPR’s Military Attaches abroad.
The main methods of work of the Intelligence Department were as follows: collecting intelligence through agents, through interrogating prisoners and citizens who were in the territory of a potential enemy, analysis of foreign publications, which contained information important for the Ukrainian security service, and exchange of confidential information with intelligence agencies of Ukraine’s allies. Despite the personnel and logistical difficulties, the UPR Intelligence had laid a solid foundation for the further building and development of national intelligence agencies.
During the Soviet period the intelligence service in Ukraine was a regional component of the joint all-Union intelligence machinery of the USSR national security apparatus. At that time any originality, special way and character of the Ukrainian Intelligence were out of the question. For decades, the words “Ukrainian intelligence officer” had been absorbed by the concept of the “Soviet intelligence officer”. In the USSR, few people dared to look beyond the Soviet time's frames, let alone to try and positively portray a representative of the intelligence of Ukrainian emigration structures. Therefore, often prominent heroes – intelligence officers lost their national identity. In the society's conscience lived a combined positive image of Soviet intelligence officers such as Makarov-Koltsov, Isaev-Stierlitz, Belov-Weiss, Burlakov-Vikhor, Abel-Fischer, Molodyi-Lonsdale…
After the independence of Ukraine was proclaimed, the Main Directorate of Intelligence was established as part of the National Security Service of Ukraine. Its organizational and staff structure was approved by a special order of the Head of the National Security Service of Ukraine (December 28, 1991). The Directorate was tasked with defining in a short time the development strategy, basic principles, forms and methods of activity in the classical directions of work of modern intelligence in independent Ukraine and to establish constant informing of the top leadership of the state on actual problems of national security.
On the basis of the units of strategic radio intelligence of the KGB and the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Ministry of Defense of the USSR, in 1992 was created the Department of Radio-Electronic Intelligence and Counterintelligence of the Security Service of Ukraine (Department “R”). In 1999 it was granted the status of the Main Department “R” of the SBU (Security Service of Ukraine).
An important step in the strengthening of legal foundations of Ukrainian intelligence was the Law of Ukraine “On the Intelligence Bodies of Ukraine”, adopted in March 2001. It enshrined the aims, major tasks and principles of work of the foreign intelligence bodies, outlined their rights and scopes of activity, the order of interaction between them and other government agencies, the procedure of relations with foreign special services, etc.
In February 2004, the Intelligence Department of the Security Service of Ukraine was created by the Decree of the President of Ukraine, on the basis of the Main Directorate of Intelligence and the Main Department of Radio-Electronic Intelligence and Counterintelligence of the Security Service of Ukraine. This decision of the state authorities helped the Main Department “R” turn into full-fledged Technical Intelligence.
The current period of the activity of the Ukrainian Foreign Intelligence began on the 14th of October 2004 – with the signing of the Presidential Decree “On the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine”. Since then the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine (SZRU) has been operating as an independent state agency. December 1, 2005, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted the Law “On the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine”.
An important stage in the development of Ukraine's Foreign Intelligence was the joint work of the intelligence agencies of Ukraine with the consultative assistance of partner countries – France, Germany, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, the United States of America, the United Kingdom and Romania, as well as the NATO Liaison Office – draft Law of Ukraine “On Intelligence of Ukraine”. The draft law envisages, inter alia, introduction of democratic civilian control mechanisms, as well as rules that will strike a balance between transparency of parliamentary control and the need to protect sensitive intelligence information. The role of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine as the main coordinating body for the joint activities of the intelligence community is increasing. The draft law envisages taking into consideration current trends in the development of state bodies in accordance with the standards of the Euro-Atlantic community and international practice and creating the legislative basis for practical cooperation with partner services from NATO and the EU. Currently, the draft Law “On Intelligence of Ukraine” is being actively improved and finalized for consideration and adoption by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.
Today's Ukraine is becoming an important factor in European security, and the role of the Ukrainian Foreign Intelligence is key in this process. Today, the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine is working hard to provide the country's leadership with strategic information, to expose hostile plans and intentions, to protect national interests, and to promote Ukraine's foreign policy interests.