Putin’s Wars Come Home to Russia — Despite Moscow’s Efforts to Hide the Bodies

Russian combat losses in Ukraine are sufficiently large that they have already had an impact on demographic statistics, pushing up to anomalous heights the number of dead in three Russian regions in 2014-2015 and possibly prompting Moscow to send bodies to various places to conceal just how large these losses are, Tatyana Kolesova says.

Kolesova, who works with the Petersburg Observers group, told Radio Liberty’s Tatyana Voltskaya that the official figures were striking because the usual causes of mortality from accidents and alcoholism had not increased and yet the number of dead had soared in Voronezh, Nizhny Novgorod and Krasnoyarsk oblasts.

She says that the only conclusion she could reach was that “the appearance of this anomalous mortality in May 2014 was connected with the fact that a significant number of Russians were participating in military actions on the territory of other countries,” in this case Ukraine.

In these three oblasts alone, she says, there were 6312 “excess” deaths in 2014 and 2015 than one would have expected on the basis of figures for the pre-war year of 2013. Moreover, increases in the number of deaths was marked in every month and not in one or two as one might have expected from an accident or an epidemic.

And there is another problem: officials clearly registered these deaths in these three places even if it may not have been the case that the people who died were from there, Kolesova says. That leads to suspicions that officials in these regions but perhaps not in others were prepared to cooperate with Moscow in seeking to hide these combat losses.

Given how many problems there are with official statistics in Russia, no final conclusions can yet be drawn, although one other expert confirmed Kolesova’s findings that the death numbers she points to were truly anomalous.

There is no reason to assume that the Russian government isn’t continuing to do the same thing now to hide continuing losses in Ukraine and Syria lest Russians come to recognize what the true cost of Putin’s wars are for them, especially given Moscow’s denial of Russian involvement in the former and downplaying of its ground role in the other.

But there is another reason to suspect that Moscow is trying to hide these losses: It has a long tradition of seeking to cover up losses it doesn’t want anyone to talk about, not only in its reports about deaths from the Holodomor and the GULAG but in other far more recent events as well.

The author of these lines was exposed to a horrific example of this after the violent clashes between Armenians and Azerbaijanis in Sumqayit in February 1988 when Soviet officials shipped the bodies of victims to morgues across the USSR so that no one place would know just how many died and in this case how they died.

Putin’s new National Guard – what does it say when you need your own personal army?

The idea of creating a National Guard (NG) for Russia bringing together public security forces under a single command has been raised periodically and always abandoned for very good reasons, not least the lack of any apparent need to have a Praetorian Guard on steroids. In 2012, for example, I didn’t think it likely: it would upend the balance of power within the security agencies, create a monster, and not really meet any true security need.

So what does it say that Putin today announced that such a natsgvardiya was going to be formed? After a meeting with security luminaries include MVD Interior Troops commander (and new NG head) Viktor Zolotov – a trusted ex-bodyguard – he announced [my translation]:

Decisions have been made: we are creating a new federal executive body on the basis of the Interior Troops – creating the National Guard, which will handle the fight against terrorism, the fight against organised crime, and in close cooperation with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, will continue to perform those functions which are [currently] performed by the OMON (riot police), SOBR (SWAT) and so on.

We will arrange, as we discussed with the Interior Minister [Vladimir Kolokoltsev], not only in the decree, but in a future federal law, so that there will be no discord in order to get everything working smoothly and clearly. I hope very much that the troops of the National Guard will effectively perform their tasks, as has been the case up now, and that they will strengthen the work on the areas that are considered priorities.

The NG will thus also take over the OMON and SOBR, making it a powerful paramilitary security force, with elements right across the country.

Meanwhile, the Federal Drugs Control Service (FSKN) and Federal Migration Service (FMS) will be brought under the MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs), albeit remaining separate services. (Again, an idea which had been mooted before.) This may be a consolation prize for Kolokoltsev but appears, unsurprisingly, to have been a bitter pill for FSKN chief Viktor Ivanov, moving from independent director to ministerial subordinate.

The creation of a National Guard is a big deal. We await details, but here are a few first observations:

1. No discussion, no lead time. As with so many crucial decisions, this came essentially unheralded, underlining the extent to which policy comes from a small, tight circlearound Putin. It is not just that they have good operational security; they also clearly see no reason to prepare the public in advance. This is just the way politics goes these days.

2. Big worries in a little circle. There is no real reason for creating the NG out of the Interior Troops (VV) and other forces unless you have a serious worry about public unrest. Let’s be clear, whatever Putin says the militarised security forces of the VV and now NG have little real role fighting crime or terrorism; they are public security forces, riot and insurrection control and deterrence assets. The OMON and SOBR do play a certain role, but detaching them from the investigations elements of the MVD actually reduces their value in fighting crime. (And the MVD will likely have to recreate some kind of SWAT forces of its own.)

3. Putin’s Own. The NG, as a federal agency, will be directly subordinated to the government, without a minister in the way. With Zolotov at its head, then it is even more clearly a personal, presidential Praetorian force, under a maximalist loyalist. This may not only be a force to keep the masses in check, but also the elite.

4. Upsetting the power ministry balance. In the past, there was a key desire to retain a degree of balance between the various security agencies. The MVD has now been weakened (and having the FMS and FSKN is by no means enough of a recompense), and the Federal Security Service (FSB) has a more direct rival in the domestic security stakes.

5. I see from the text of the law that FGUP Okhrany, the private security corporation of the MVD, is being transferred to the NG. This is a major blow to the MVD, as it made quite a bit of revenue for them. It also raises questions about the future of the Vnevedomstvennaya okhrana, the police’s private security department, which was often a good way for cops to do some paid overtime and eke out their salaries. Will they still be able to do this? If not, then that may well be a further encouragement to more petty and predatory corruption by cops seeing their real wages shrink (as bonuses have also already been cut) and options legally to make up the shortfall vanish…

Yes to security in Europe

The choice that Dutch citizens will make on 6 April is not only about a trade agreement between the European Union and Ukraine. It is about the future of the European way of life to which the Netherlands contributes so much. Russia has adopted an open policy of dividing the European Union and undermining the security of its members, of which the referendum questioning the Association Agreement is simply a small part. Since the faked Russian parliamentary elections of 2011 and the protests by Russian citizens that followed, Russian leaders have defined pluralism and civil society as alien to Russia, treating them instead as implants from Europe that must be suppressed. Rather than simply oppressing Russian citizens at home, the Putin regime identifies the European Union as the source of these values, and seeks to destroy it.

In 2013, Russians proposed a Eurasian Union as an alternative to the European Union. “Eurasia” sounds bland in Dutch, but in Russian it refers to a tradition of presenting the West as decadent and Russia as the source of all true values. The founder of the contemporary Eurasian movement, Alexander Dugin, is a self-proclaimed advocate of fascism. Eurasianism as politics began with the attempt to coerce Ukraine into joining the Eurasian Economic Union. When this failed, Russian invaded Ukraine, first from the south in spring 2014, and then from the southeast in summer 2014. In violating the territorial integrity of a sovereign state and annexing some of its territory, and in supporting terrorist activity within Ukraine, Russia violated essentially every major element of the European security order. Aside from bringing about some ten thousand deaths and two million internally displaced people, the Russian intervention in Ukraine involved other war crimes, one of which directly affected Dutch citizens. According to the investigations carried out by Bellingcat and Correctiv, one of the numerous Russian military convoys to cross the Russian-Ukrainian border in 2014 was a detachment of the Russian 53rd Air Defense Brigade, which brought a BUK anti-aircraft missile launcher for use inside Ukraine against Ukrainian forces. On 17 July 2014, this BUK launcher evidently targeted and destroyed Malaysian Airlines Flight 17.

The ongoing Russian war in Ukraine, horrifying as it is, is simply a part of President Putin’s campaign against the European Union and its moral and political traditions.

The Europe of today depends upon historical lessons drawn from the wars and the totalitarianisms of the past. Putin has rehabilitated the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, the Nazi-Soviet alliance of 1939 that began the Second World War. Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union jointly invaded Poland that September, and, after a joint victory march, divided its territory between them. The Soviet Union was still Nazi Germany’s ally when Germany invaded the Netherlands in May 1940. In rehabilitating the Hitler-Stalin alliance of those years, Putin presents both Stalinism and National Socialism as normal political systems, and the Second World War as normal European politics.

This should give pause for thought, not least because so much of Russia’s current attempt to destabilize Europe involves alliances with the far right. Russia has organized meetings of European fascists and funds the Front National in France. Its media support separatism in the UK and elsewhere, and Putin and Dugin both support Donald Drumpf for president of the United States of America. The Russian bombing of Syria drives Muslim refugees into Europe, where Russian proxies can then organize religious conflict — as in the entirely fake “Our Lisa” scandal in Germany earlier this year.

In the past two years, Russia has crossed lines that seemed impregnable, and violated taboos that seemed permanent. That one European country would invade another? That the 1930s would be presented as a useful model for the future? The next line to be crossed is the manipulation of democratic societies so that they choose the path towards weakness and poverty. This involves the massive deployment of cleverly prepared lies, the handiwork of people who seek to export the permanent confusion of the Russian media to Europe itself. When a Russian weapon apparently downed MH17 during a Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russian television had the audacity to claim that what had transpired was a failed attempt by Ukrainians to assassinate President Putin. Even as the bodies of the true victims were scattered across fifty square kilometers of countryside, Russians were instructed that their leader, and by extension Russia itself, was the true victim.

The people who manufacture such lies are now at work in Europe, targeting similar lies at the Dutch public, in the hope of generating an atmosphere of confusion and fear. The referendum of 6 April will not be the first. In November 2013, Ukrainian students, young men and women, went out to the streets to protest in favor of the Association Agreement. Ukrainian protestors knew full well that Ukraine was not about to become a member of the European Union. They simply regarded, and quite understandably, an Association Agreement as a step towards the kind of life that Europeans take for granted. They could see the point of the institutions that their Dutch counterparts value: an open society, the rule of law, free trade.

Bohdan Solchanyk, a young scholar whom I knew, was indistinguishable from young Dutch or German or French peers in outlook, in appearance, in references. He read poetry and worked on local history and read Tony Judt. With his beard, his earring, his beautiful girlfriend, his multiple languages, his habit of thoughtful deliberation, he was unmistakably a European of his generation. Unlike his peers in the EU, he believed that he had to protest for a normal and decent future. In late 2013 and early 2014, under Russian pressure, the government of Ukraine had many of the protestors beaten, or kidnapped, or tortured, or finally shot. Bohdan Solchanyk was killed by a bullet to the brain from a sniper. In his referendum, the votes were counted in blood. Yet people persevered. After the mass murder that claimed the life of Bohdan Solchanyk and a hundred other protestors, the Ukrainian president fled in panic to Russia. A new government, legitimated by free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections, and with the support of the vast majority of the population, did sign the Association Agreement. The protestors’ cause, from the first, was nothing more than the normality that Dutch citizens can take for granted.

Dutch citizens are fortunate that they can still vote for European freedoms in the ballot boxes, rather than having to risk their lives on the streets. May it remain so.

In the difficult task of reforming Ukraine, the hard-won Association Agreement is one of the major victories. What might appear to be a local Dutch question now has general significance. To vote “no” is to endorse the Russian effort to destabilize the European Union from within, and to encourage the continuation of Russia’s wars in the EU’s neighborhood. Dutch citizens are fortunate that they can still vote for European freedoms in the ballot boxes, rather than having to risk their lives on the streets. May it remain so.

The origins of Donetsk separatism

Donetsk separatism only truly became a noticeable problem in 2014. Until then, almost no one believed that it existed.

Crimea was long considered the only potentially dangerous region in this regard. A certain degree of Donbas isolation was acknowledged, but this was initially written off as the result of machinations by oligarchic clans who sought to turn the local population against other regions of Ukraine and reaffirm the myth of the Donbas as the nation’s leading breadwinner.

This was partly true; these clans are still able to divide and to rule. They skilfully directed the wrath of the Donbas’ depressed mining communities against similarly disenfranchised workers from western Ukraine. While average people squabbled with each other on the Internet, the clans were quietly appropriating the Donetsk region’s industries. However, the very same Party of Regions officials from Donetsk and Luhansk who convinced their electorates that the Donbas is a “special region” with the right to occupy a dominant position in Ukraine were more often themselves the captives of stereotypes.

Donetsk separatism existed long before it was popularized by the Party of Regions. It is not about “Donetsk–Kryviy Rih Soviet Republic,” whose existence was noted only by the Bolsheviks who invented it and Donetsk native Volodymyr Kornilov, who wrote a book on it. In the USSR, the Donbas showed no discernible desire for independence. The first signs of separatism appeared in the mining regions at the end of the 1980s before the dissolution of the Soviet Union. However, this phenomenon was primarily economic and not national in origin.

Solidarity became the foundation of the Donetsk miners’ separatism. The popular assertion that “Donbas feeds the entire country” originated among them. The profession had been heroized in the 1920s-30s, with the mine worker portrayed by official propaganda as a true Atlas on whose shoulders rested the economic power of the whole country. And as the Donbas was a major coal mining region of the Soviet Union, its residents, of course, overflowed with a sense of self-worth. It was here that the saying “miners are the guardians of labour”was coined; it was here that the legendary Soviet miner Alexey Stakhanov set his world record; it was the Donbas that a famous Soviet poster named “the heart of Russia”.

Miners strike, Donetsk 1998
Miners strike, Donetsk 1998

Inspirational newspaper editorials about Donbas miners were common until the late 1970s when the region achieved its peak for coal production. Coal output has been decreasing ever since. After the discovery of huge oil fields in Siberia, the Soviet fuel and energy industry began switching from coal to oil and gas. Priorities and investments changed. For the next two decades, the holdings of Donbas coal mining companies remained practically unchanged, with mines continuing to operate without renovation. In the 1980s the coal industry of the Ukrainian SSR inevitably deteriorated, hitting a crisis at the end of the decade that resulted in massive strikes.

Agitators for Narodniy Rukh successfully exploited the miners’ discontent to convince the population of the Ukrainian SSR that Ukraine was the economic engine of the Soviet Union and it was dragging backward regions along. These words resonated with the miners, who were also convinced that “our backs bend while Moscow rests”. Rather than demanding regional autonomy for the Donbas, they wanted greater economic independence for the Ukrainian SSR so that money would remain in Ukraine, and pushed the Parliament to adopt a law to that effect. Thus, for these economic reasons, they voted for Ukraine’s independence in the referendum of 1991. Until recently, many patriotic Ukrainians regarded the Donbas workers’ support for independence as a sign of their increased national consciousness.However, the workers were not in fact moved by patriotism, but rather a desire to keep mining revenues closer to home.

Just two years later, the mood in the Donbas changed dramatically. Prosperity did not follow the collapse of the USSR, and the economic crisis of the late 1980s gave way to the horrors of the early 1990s. In 1993, strikes broke out once more in the region, and again the miners demanded regional autonomy—only this time from Kyiv. As in 1989, they were convinced that their hard work was simply feeding parasites, only now the subjects of their discontent were not the peoples of Central Asia and Moscow, but the residents of Kyiv and Western Ukraine. One of the organizers of the strike was Yukhym Zviahilskyi, a long-time MP, member of the Party of Regions more recently, and a red director, who skilfully manipulated the coal miners’ discontent while simultaneously convincing the authorities that he was helping to resolve the conflict. In the wake of the protests, he moved to Kyiv and was appointed the first Vice Prime Minister. As a result, the fire was gradually extinguished with his help, yet the political demands for Donbas’ regional autonomy remained unsatisfied.

However, the Donetsk elite did not abandon the idea of separatism, and continued to agitate the situation. In 1994, together with the parliamentary elections in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, an event occurred that some called a “local referendum” and others a “deliberative poll”. By law, it was not possible to conduct a referendum, so another term was officially used. The survey consisted of four items, the first of which concerned the government of Ukraine. Donbas residents were asked if they would support federation as well as granting official status to the Russian language.

This event was organized in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions by “regional advisory commissions for the deliberative polling of citizens”, which were at the command of regional deputies. The “referendum” was a pre-election move. Ukraine held both parliamentary and presidential elections in 1994, and local elections were held in the Donbas region. After the elections, the results of the “referendum” were no longer mentioned. It is difficult to say how accurate they were, but 80% voted for the federalization of the Donbas at the time.

Protesters in Luhansk against government Berkut forces, 1998
Protesters in Luhansk against government Berkut forces, 1998

Separatist slogans were once again commonplace during the many miners’ strikes in 1996-1998, but the movement never seriously took shape. Once Viktor Yanukovych had taken office as Prime Minister for the first time in 2002, the Donetsk clan ceased to play the separatism card, expecting that all of Ukraine would soon be in their hands and there was no longer any sense in blackmailing Kyiv. After Yanukovych’s career had taken off, separatist agitation declined significantly, even giving way to patriotic rhetoric. Regional elites were quite willing to love Ukraine if the country lived by Donetsk’s rules. But after the failure of the 2004 elections, Yanukovych’s regional separatism again received a major boost.

Unfortunately, all this time the central government in Kyiv failed to take measures to combat the virus of separatism in Donbas. The result of this failure became visible in the tragic events of 2014.

By: Denys Kazanskyi

Who committed treason in Ukraine?

The publication of the minutes of the National Security and Defence Council meeting on 28 February 2014 is interesting for what it confirms and what it points to as to who committed treason. Several things are quite striking.

The first is recognition of mass support for Russia among Crimean residents which is not surprising as pro-Russian sentiment was always high in this region. Secondly, recognition of mass defections and fears of mass betrayals among local siloviky. This is in fact what happened. The defection of the majority of Ministry of Interior, SBU, military and prosecutor’s office personnel constitutes one of the biggest single acts of treason in modern history.  Third, a sense of disorientation on the part of the US. This is not news to anybody who knows President Obama who I compared to Yushchenko in terms of his indecisiveness. Fourthly, recognition that armed resistance is futile because Ukraine had no large and well equipped security forces. Finally, weak political will to react in any way possible by nearly all Euromaidan leaders, including Tyahnybok, Yatseniuk and Tymoshenko.

But, the minutes of the meeting tell us much more as they point to the heart of the treason of the Yanukovych presidency and why they should be accountable for their actions. The following 4 treasonous steps were permitted by Yanukovych to be undertaken by Russia:

1. Under Russian citizen and Minister of Defence’s Dmitri Salamatin the database of conscripts was destroyed. Under Ministers of Defence Salamatin, Pavel Lebedev and Mykhaylo Yezhel, Ukraine’s military budget was severely reduced and military equipment was sold or transferred to Russia. Salamatin planned to reduce Ukraine’s armed forces to 75, 000 by 2017. Russian citizen Yuri Boriskin was appointed head of the General Staff at the Ministry of Defence. Yezhel’s daughter is married to an admiral of Russia’s Pacific Fleet.

2. The head of Yanukovych’s personal bodyguards, Viacheslav Zanevskiy, was a Russian citizen.

3. During Yushchenko’s presidency, Russia’s intelligence services operated covertly but under Yanukovych they were permitted to operate overtly in the Crimea, Donbas and elsewhere without hindrance. 90 percent of SBU activities were directed against the opposition in the form of illegal wiretapping, surveillance and organisation of vigilantes for election fraud and violence against opposition members and journalists. The FSB was given complete reign over the SBU and commandeered data on 22, 000 officials and informants. Hard drives and flash drives not taken to Russia were destroyed. Valentyn Nalyvaychenko said they took ‘everything that forms a basis for a professional intelligence service.’ SBU Chairman Aleksandr Yakymenko, Russian citizen Igor Kalinin and 4 top intelligence chiefs fled to Russia. 235 SBU agents were arrested of whom 25 were charged with high treason, including the counter-intelligence chief. After the Euromaidan all regional SBU directors were replaced. The FSB reportedly introduced surveillance technology on Ukraine’s mobile telephone network. The extent of Russian intelligence penetration came to light in spring-summer 2014 when Ukrainian missions in the ATO were compromised by intelligence leaks that provided the Russians and separatists with sufficient time to consolidate their positions in the crucial first months of the conflict. Obviously, not all the traitors have been removed from the SBU and over the last 8 months, 30 SBU officers have been arrested for corruption and treason.

4. During the Euromaidan, 30 FSB officers visited Ukraine on 3 occasions in 13-15 December 2013, 26-29 January and 20-22 February 2014 and used the SBU sanatorium at Koncha Zaspa, near Kyiv as their base of operations. Their main liaison was SBU Counter-Intelligence Chief Volodymyr Buk. Their goals were to increase protection of their Russian assets; ensure continued access to SBU files, special communications and headquarters; provide training for ‘antiterrorism’ exercises; and supply anti-terrorist and crowd control equipment for the SBU Alpha special forces and Ministry of Interior Berkut to destroy the Euromaidan.

Who is accountable for this mass treason?

Obviously at the top of those who committed treason are Yanukovych and key members of the Donetsk clan such as the Kluyev brothers, Borys Kolesnikov and Renat Akhmetov. Yanukovych and Andriy Kluyev have fled to Russia, Serhiy Kluyev was permitted to flee in summer 2015, and Kolesnikov and Akhmetov live peacefully in Ukraine and the latter has parliamentary immunity. Akhmetov and Yanukovych had a business and political relationship since the 1990s and to believe the oligarch had no knowledge of the treason taking place is not credible.

A second group who committed treason are the gas lobby who joined and aligned with the Party of Regions from 2006. Serhiy Lyovochkin was Chief of Staff for all of Yanukovych’s presidency except for 1 month (he resigned in late January 2014). Again, it is not credible to believe that Lyovochkin had no knowledge of the massive treason taking place or of the massive corruption. Nevertheless, he suffers from no consequences as he negotiated a backroom deal with Petro Poroshenko in mid March 2014 in Vienna. Today he is on no Ukrainian wanted list and has parliamentary immunity.

Dmytro Firtash and Yuriy Boyko, 2 other prominent gas lobby leaders, also gained massively from corruption under Yanukovych. Firtash is only wanted by the US, but not by Ukraine (according to Prosecutor-General Shokhin) for criminal charges while Boyko has parliamentary immunity. Firtash has always been Russia’s agent of influence in Ukraine, as a lengthy Reuters investigation pointed out.

Other members of the Azarov government either fled to Russia or continue to live in Ukraine. One cabinet member received the support of the gas lobby and was elected as Ukraine’s president. How much did the other members of the government know what was taking place under Yanukovych?

What was permitted to take place under Yanukovych was treason of a massive scale that nearly destroyed Ukraine. If Ukraine’s civil and military volunteers had not defended Ukraine in 2014, Putin’s NovoRossiya project would have won and crippled Ukraine as an independent state.

Has anybody been held accountable for this treason? Has anybody been criminally charged? Why is Lyovochkin still a free man when as Chief of Staff he had to know and participate in these criminal acts.

Is Russia Insider sponsored by a Russian oligarch with the ties to the European far right?

The emails leaked by the Anonymous International last year give us a few insights into the workings of the English language pro-Putin propaganda website Russia Insider.

Its editor Charles Bausman launched the website in September 2014, and described the rationale behind the website as follows:

“It was started in September 2014 by a group of expats living in Russia who felt that coverage of Russia is biased and inaccurate. […] The problem is media control by a few corporations and interest groups, and their close ties with governments and business interests. Instead of challenging, questioning, and fostering open discussion, they tend to promote those interests.”

Ironically, this is what Russia Insider itself has been doing since its launch, namely publishing and republishing pieces of Russia’s disinformation warfare against the West and Ukraine.

Charles Bausman, editor of Russia Insider and a regular commentator for Russia Today (RT)
Charles Bausman, editor of Russia Insider and a regular commentator for Russia Today (RT)

The leaks reveal that Bausman, rather than relying on crowdfunding for Russia Insider, asks for money from a Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev via his associate Alexey Komov.

There were several interesting articles devoted to Malofeev in the international and Russian media. In the context of this blog, Malofeev is known for providing financial assistance to the pro-Russian extremists in Eastern Ukraine (for this very reason Malofeev was sanctioned by the EU, Norway and Switzerland), organising homophobic conferences in Russia, assisting French far right politicians in getting Russian money, and building European far right alliances.

Komov is a no less interesting figure. He is an employee of several organisations founded and funded by Malofeev, as well as a representative of the homophobic World Congress of Families in Russia. He is also an honorary president of the Lombardy-Russia Cultural Association, Russia’s front organisation in Italy established by the far right Lega Nord party. Komov even gave speech at the party’s congress at the end of 2013 that elected Matteo Salvini as its leader.

And here’s a series of communications between Russia Insider’s Bausman, Komov and Malofeev:

Charles Bausman to Alexey Komov (2 October 2014):
Alexey, take a look at our stats, - click the button in the footer. They are very, very strong. I still need money!!  Any chance of resuming the conversation?

Alexey Komov to Konstantin Malofeev (2 October 2014):
Charlie, however, has created a good website - http://russia-insider.com/en - a high-quality, pro-Russian and popular one. He wants to cooperate...

Charles Bausman to Alexey Komov (18 October 2014):
This has links in to my TV appearances. I've been on 4 times now. Any reaction from K?

In his last email, Bausman also sent to Komov his CV that gives us a few interesting details.

It is interesting to note that Bausman was born in West Germany (Frankfurt) in 1964, but then lived in Soviet Russia, “due to father’s long-term assignment” there in 1968-1972 (one wonders what that assignment was about). According to his CV, Bausman was educated in the US, but has been living in Moscow since the late 1980s. He also states that “in virtue of professional and family connections”, he has “multiple high-ranking connections to the European and American media”, as well as “investment and political spheres”.

What is not clear is whether Bausman has eventually received any financial help from Malofeev (the leaked mailbox belongs to a fourth party), but his willingness to “cooperate” with a Russian oligarch who is close to the Kremlin and has been providing funding for the war in Eastern Ukraine is quite revealing.

Dmytro Yarosh’s resignation from the Right Sector

The recent resignation of Dmytro Yarosh from the leadership of the Right Sector may be a sign of the forthcoming changes in the strategies of both the Right Sector and the Ukrainian state.

In order to understand the significance of Yarosh’s resignation statement, one needs to consider two important points related to Ukraine’s domestic situation and international relations.

First, the Right Sector has evidently radicalised its rhetoric and actions after the signing of the Minsk II agreement in February 2015. Many fighters of the Right Sector battalion and its affiliated Ukrainian Volunteer Corps (also known by the Ukrainian acronym DUK) were unhappy about the “hybrid ceasefire” implied by the Minsk II agreement, as they preferred to continue fighting against the Russian invaders and their separatist proxies in Eastern Ukraine. Some members of the Right Sector were also unhappy about Ukraine’s new government and, especially, President Petro Poroshenko, who appeared, for some ultranationalists, as traitors of the Ukrainian revolution.

It would be too easy to explain the unhappiness of some members of the Right Sector about the “hybrid ceasefire” by their alleged bloodthirst. The war opens up many opportunities to those engaged in it. Of course, war, in a sense, is a desired state for many ultranationalists; they have “genetic inclination” for war. However, this argument has a limited explanation power with respect to the unwillingness of some members of the Right Sector/DUK to end the fighting. Some fighters have used the war as a way to avoid prosecution for the actions that the state would consider not entirely legal. They thought that their military feats would buy them a “legal” way out of Ukraine’s legal framework. In a few cases, that did happen, but in general several members of the Right Sector/DUK were held accountable for their illegal actions.

While there are many other explanations why the Right Sector is unsatisfied with the Minsk II agreement, the crucial point is that the Right Sector has become the most radical opposition to Poroshenko and the government. They still crave a national revolution, as they believe that the revolution that started with the Euromaidan protests was an unfinished revolution, or was not a revolution at all. Thus, the Right Sector is a direct threat to the constitutional order in Ukraine, especially given the fact that the Right Sector/DUK fighters have arms that can be used against state officials. Not that the Right Sector can stage a coup détat – they have neither sufficient human resources nor ample public support for this – but their actions may lead to further destabilisation of the weak Ukrainian state, and the Russian invaders can use this destabilisation to their avail. This is something that Yarosh, being a relatively moderate and balanced politician, understands well. And this is why Yarosh acted as a mediator between the state and the extremists in the Right Sector. However, the frustration among the Right Sector’s fighters grew stronger, and they started asking the leadership of the organisation “to give them the order”.

Second, the Western powers have consistently demanded from the Ukrainian authorities to put all volunteer military units under the army or police control. The Ukrainian authorities clearly see the point: not only do the autonomous military units constitute a threat to the state, their existence sours Ukraine’s relations with the West too. On 3 November this year, the Council of Europe published CoE Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks’s report that, in particular, said:

The Commissioner also raised issues related to the volunteer battalions’ integration into the regular army and the police. His interlocutors in the Ministry of the Interior reiterated that the process had been completed with regard to those volunteer battalions integrated in the police force. The prosecutorial authorities informed the Commissioner about a verification procedure launched by them into the activities of all members of volunteer battalions.

But a more important part of the report is this one:

The Commissioner has not yet had a possibility to discuss these issues with the authorities at the Ministry of Defense and other relevant security structures. However, he is aware of credible reports implicating the existence of armed groups which continue to enjoy a high degree of independence and do not appear to be fully incorporated in the regular chain of command. Most frequent references are made in this context to the groups affiliated with the Right Sector (Pravyi Sector). This issue should be addressed without further delay.

What does Yarosh’s resignation mean? It means that he will no longer be a mediator between the state and the Right Sector’s extreme wing, and will no longer cover up for the violent and aggressive actions of particular members of the Right Sector. What it also means is that the state may have become serious about the threats that the Right Sector pose.

What will the state do?

1. The state may deliver an ultimatum to the Right Sector: either they integrate into the army or the police, or they will be crushed as an illegal armed group. This ultimatum will most likely lead to a split within the Right Sector: some fighters will prefer to join the army/police, some will choose the underground activities. A split into more than two groups is also possible.

2. Those who will choose the underground activities will most likely be destroyed. As the destruction of the stubborn fighters of the Right Sector/DUK may lead to a larger revolt against the authorities (dissatisfied fighters of other military units may join this revolt too), the state will:

2.1. wait until the extremists make an obvious mistake that will be perceived by the general public as a legitimate reason for the state to crush them – this can be either a direct attack on the state authorities or a blatant violation of the Minsk II agreement;

2.2. or it will use the security service agents within the extreme wing of the Right Sector to provoke that mistake.

The economics of rebellion in eastern Ukraine

In April 2014, angry mobs and armed men stormed administrative buildings and police stations in eastern Ukraine, waving Russian flags and proclaiming the establishment of “Peoples’ Republics” in Donetsk and Luhansk. At the time, some observers predicted that the “pro-Russian” uprising would spread to other parts of southeast Ukraine, throughout the vast territory Russian President Vladimir Putin referred to as historical “New Russia”.

Contrary to these forecasts, the rebellion remained surprisingly contained. No region outside Donetsk or Luhansk experienced large-scale armed conflict or fell under rebel control. Not only were separatists unable to realize the project of a greater “Novorossiya” (‘New Russia’) stretching from Kharkiv to Odesa, they failed to consolidate their grip even within the borders of the Donbas. Not more than 63% of municipalities in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts were under rebel control at any time during the first year of the conflict, and less than a quarter of these territories showed resistance to government forces during Kyiv’s attempt to liberate them.

What explains local variation in rebellion? Why is rebel violence more intense in some areas than in others? Why have some towns in eastern Ukraine remained under government control while others fell to the separatists?

The most common answers to these questions have fallen into one of two categories: ethnicity and economics. The first view expects rebellion to be more likely and more intense in areas home to large concentrations of ethnolinguistic minorities – in this case, Russians or Russian speaking Ukrainians. According to this logic, geographically concentrated minorities can overcome some of the collective action problems associated with rebellion – such as monitoring and punishing defectors – while attracting an influx of fighters, weapons and economic aid from co-ethnics in neighboring states. Among others, Vladimir Putin too has cast the Donbas conflict as a primarily ethnic one: “The essential issue is how to ensure the legitimate rights and interests of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in the southeast of Ukraine”.

An alternative explanation for rebellion is economic opportunity costs. According to this view, as income from less risky legal activities declines relative to income from rebellious behavior, participation in rebellion should rise. As Maidan and the Revolution of Dignity proclaimed adherence to European values and set the path towards Europe and away from the Custom’s Union with Russia, the opportunity costs of rebellion declined in the Donbas. As a heavily industrialized region with deep economic ties to Russia, the Donbas was uniquely exposed to potential negative economic shocks caused by trade openness with the EU, austerity and trade barriers with Russia. A rebel fighter with the Vostok battalion summarized this view: “Many mines started to close. I lost my job. Then, with what happened during the spring, I decided to go out and defend my city”.

In an article forthcoming in the Journal of Comparative Economics, I evaluate the relative explanatory power of these two perspectives, using new micro-level data on violence, ethnicity and economic activity in eastern Ukraine. I find that local economic factors are stronger predictors of rebel violence and territorial control than Russian ethnicity or language. Ethnicity only had an effect where economic incentives for rebellion were already weak. Separatists in eastern Ukraine were “pro-Russian” not because they spoke Russian, but because their economic livelihood had long depended on trade with Russia and they now saw this livelihood as being under threat.

The economic roots of the pro-Russian rebellion are evident from new data on violence and control, assembled from incident reports released by Ukrainian and Russian news agencies, government and rebel statements, daily ‘conflict maps’ released by both sides, and social media news feeds. The data include 10,567 unique violent events in the Donbas, at the municipality level, recorded between then President Viktor Yanukovych’s flight in February 2014 and the second Minsk ceasefire agreement of February 2015. Figure 1 shows the geographic distribution of rebel violence and territorial control during the first year of the conflict.

1-eng

To explain variation in the timing and intensity of violence and control, I considered the proportion of Russian speakers residing in each municipality, and the proportion of the local labor force employed in three industries, differentially vulnerable to post-Euromaidan economic shocks. These included machine-building, which is heavily dependent on exports to Russia, highly vulnerable to Russian import substitution, and currently lacks short-term alternative export markets. At the other extreme, there is the metals industry, which is less dependent on Russia, and a potential beneficiary of increased trade with the EU. Finally, I considered employment in the mining industry, which had grown dependent on Yanukovych-era state-subsidies, and became highly vulnerable to IMF-imposed austerity measures. Given the relative exposure of these industries to post-Euromaidan economic shocks, one should expect the opportunity costs of rebellion to be lowest in machine-building towns and highest in metallurgy towns, with mining towns falling in the middle. Figure 2 shows the spatial distribution of these variables. I also accounted for a host of other potential determinants of violence, like terrain, logistics, proximity to the Russian border, prewar electoral patterns, and spillover effects from rebel activity in neighboring towns.

2-eng

A statistical analysis of these data reveals that a municipality’s prewar employment mix is a stronger and more robust predictor of rebel activity than local ethnolinguistic composition. In municipalities more exposed to negative trade shocks with Russia (municipalities with high shares of population employed in machinery and mining), rebel violence was more likely to occur overall, and was more intense. For a median Donbas municipality, an increase in the machine-building labor force from one standard deviation below (4%) to one standard deviation above the mean (26%) yields a 44% increase (95% credible interval: a 34%-56% increase) in the frequency of rebel violence from week to week.

These municipalities – where the local population was highly vulnerable to trade disruptions with Russia – also fell under rebel control earlier and took longer for the government to liberate than municipalities where the labor force was less dependent on exports to Russia. On any given day, a municipality with higher-than-average employment in the beleaguered machine-building industry was about twice as likely to fall under rebel control as a municipality with below-average employment in the industry.

By contrast, there is little evidence of either a “Russian language effect” on violence, or an interaction between language and economics. The impact of prewar industrial employment on rebellion is the same in municipalities where a majority of the population is Russian-speaking as it is where the majority is Ukrainian-speaking. Russian language fared slightly better as a predictor of rebel control, but only under certain conditions. In particular, where economic dependence on Russia was relatively low, municipalities with large Russian-speaking populations were more likely to fall under rebel control early in the conflict. The “language effect” disappeared in municipalities where any one of the three industries had a major presence. In other words, ethnicity and language only had an effect where economic incentives for rebellion were weak.

The seemingly rational economic self-interest at the heart of the conflict may seem puzzling, given the staggering costs of war. In the eighteen months since armed men began storming government buildings in the Donbas, over 8000 people have lost their lives, and over a million have been displaced. Regional industrial production fell by 49.9% in 2014, with machinery exports to Russia down by 82%. Suffering heavy damage from shelling, many factories have closed. With airports destroyed, railroad links severed and roads heavily mined, a previously export-oriented economy has found itself isolated from the outside world. If local machinists and miners had only known the scale of the destruction to come, the economic rationale for rebellion would surely have appeared less compelling. Yet when choosing between a high-risk rebellion to retain one’s economic livelihood and an almost certain loss of income, many people chose the first option.

From a policy standpoint, the economic roots of the Donbas conflict should be seen as good news. Despite the ethnocentric media coverage of this war in Russia and the West, the data show that attempts to divide Ukraine along ethnic or linguistic lines are likely to fail. These results can also explain why the conflict has not spread beyond Donetsk and Luhansk. Home to a large concentration of enterprises dependent on exports to Russia, highly subsidized and traditionally shielded from competition, the Donbas became exposed to a perfect storm of negative economic shocks after the Euromaidan. No other region in Ukraine, or the former Soviet Union, has a similarly vulnerable economic profile. Without a compelling economic motive, a pro-Russian rebellion is unlikely to occur elsewhere in Ukraine.

By: Yuri M. Zhukov, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Michigan

Moscow opts for conspiracy theories to explain the Flight 9268 crash

The crash of the Metrojet Flight 9268 operated by Russian airline Kogalymavia has presented Moscow with a dilemma: what explanation of the crash would be most useful for the Kremlin’s positioning both domestically and internationally? Essentially, there have been two options:

1. A mechanical failure.

The Russian media reported that Flight 9268 experienced technical problems and the pilot asked for a landing in a nearest airport. The Russian media also quoted various people in Russia – family members of the crew, technicians, and other third parties – saying that, in the past, there had been oral reports of the technical problems that the pilots and crew had with the aircraft. Explaining the crash of Flight 9268 with a reference to the mechanical failure was apparently the safest option for Moscow. Since Russia is engaged in the erratic campaign of saving the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria by bombing civilian population, anti-Assad rebels, and, occasionally, ISIS terrorists, the technical explanation presents a picture of a dramatic casualty in no way related to Putin’s Syrian campaign. Naturally, this explanation also points to the corrupt practices in Russia (an aircraft experiencing technical problems should never have been used by the Kogalymavia airline), but all the Russians are aware of the devastating corruption in their country, so “it’s fine”.

2. A terrorist attack.

Almost immediately after the crash, ISIS terrorists claimed responsibility for the incident. This directly linked the crash to Moscow’s Syrian campaign, and implied that ordinary Russians paid a costly price for Putin’s adventures. Hence, admitting that the terrorist attack was the cause of the crash of Flight 9268 could be a blow to Putin’s image domestically: for the Russian audience, he presents the Syrian campaign as something distant and, at the same time, beneficial for Russia’s international standing, but the terrorist attack brings the war back home. A similar situation in Spain (an al-Qaeda cell claimed responsibility for the 2004 Madrid train bombings) resulted in the withdrawal of the Spanish troops from Iraq. If Putin admits that an Egyptian cell of ISIS has been behind the crash and continues his Syrian campaign, his popularity in Russia my decrease. On the other hand, acknowledging the terrorist attack could still be useful for Moscow in terms of its international image: “the Russians are fighting the war on international terrorism, and Russia and the West are in this together, hence Russia is no longer a pariah state, so do lift the sanctions and accept us to the club of the global powers”.

Nevertheless, Moscow sees the first option as the most useful. After all, even the prospect of Russia’s heightened international standing can only be used by the Kremlin for the purposes of consolidating Putin’s regime, but Moscow’s cost-benefit analysis shows that the threats to Putin’s domestic image in the case of accepting the second option are more significant than the potential benefits.

Moscow’s current problem with the first option, however, is that British and US intelligence services increasingly point to the terrorist attack as the cause of the crash, thus narrowing Moscow’s maneuvering space. And the recent reports in the Russian and international fringe media hint that Moscow may have come up with a third option.

3. ‘The West did it’

On 6 November, Russia’s international Sputnik website published Finian Cunningham’s article that bluntly asked: “was it really terrorists, or was it British MI6 agents palming the deed off as terrorists?”. The same day, a conspiracy website published an article by Sorcha Faal arguing that the Russian intelligence service had allegedly captured and arrested “two CIA assets for masterminding the Sinai plane crash of Flight 9268”. The same argument was reproduced by Sean Adl-Tabatabai, a long time follower of David Icke who believes that a secret group of reptilian humanoids controls humanity. On 8 November, Russia’s chief propagandist Dmitry Kiselev, published an article implicating that an explosion on Flight 9268 could be a result of the agreement between the “Western coalition” and ISIS.

Thus, Russia’s third option is admitting that the terrorist attack was the cause of the crash, but this terrorist attack itself was a Western plot against Russia.

This version may seem absurd to everyone who is not prone to conspiracy theories, but it is also extremely dangerous. It means that, indeed, the consolidation of Putin’s criminal regime at home is far more important for the Kremlin than the international cooperation, and that Moscow is ready to escalate its war on the West. The Kremlin keeps on instilling anti-Western hatred into the Russian society by feeding it with conspiracy theories, and this hatred may lead to psychological acceptance of even more aggressive approach towards the West. As Voltaire wrote, “those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities”.

Peace at Last in Ukraine? Analyzing Russian Goals

As we await the form of the local elections in the areas of the Donbas occupied by the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (the DNR and LNR), there is much speculation in the Western media whether the Minsk agreement will be upheld. Much revolves around Russia’s intentions, as well as the attitude of the militant separatist leaders who wish to use the elections to remove their fiefdoms from Ukraine.

Over the past days according to the reports of the OSCE and other sources, overt conflict in the separatist regions seems to have ended and some of the separatist leaders have either been removed or else appear to have migrated—at least for now—to the Russian Federation. Vladimir Putin is reluctant to remain involved in a war that is going nowhere, but costing Russia sorely in terms of commitment of weaponry and manpower, and even more in terms of alienation from Europe and the United States.

Some observers have noted a sustained buildup at Tartus, Russia’s military base in Syria in support of the forces of President Bashar Al-Assad. Predictably, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov denies any increase in Russian forces and maintains that it is little changed from earlier.

Nonetheless, that Russia has increased its commitment to Syria while reducing that to the territories of ‘Novorossiya’ in the Donbas is evident. It is unclear whether in the event of a Ukrainian attempt to regain its former territories there would be much opposition in the Kremlin. Rather, as almost occurred in the summer of 2014, Russia might prefer to abandon the separatist regimes and leaders to their fate.

How can such a move be equated with the apparent commitment to Ukrainian separatists and the construction of ‘Novorossiya’?

Some reasons can readily be dismissed, such as the decisive impact of Western sanctions. Sanctions have had some effects, but there is no indication that they have had a serious impact on Putin’s popularity or Russia’s ability to withstand prolonged recession.

Instead, more important are the following. First, the annexation of Crimea has proven extremely costly, and has become more a symbolic triumph than an act of wise statesmanship. True, many Crimeans may have supported it. But providing services to Crimea is difficult, and the peninsula, other than providing bases for the Russian Black Sea Fleet, has little to offer.

Second, the militants, unsurprisingly given their dearth of ideas and commitments, have failed to attract support of he populations in the areas they control. A case in point is Aleksandr Zaharchenko, the leader of the DNR, who continues to make bellicose statements as the peace process makes advances. Though there are many important distinctions between the DNR and LNR, both require conflict to make advances rather than periods of stability. Both require the continued investment of Russian troops, equipment, and personnel that Moscow is no longer prepared to offer given the remote chance of long-term success.

Third, and related, ethnic Russians in Ukraine and Russian-speaking Ukrainians outside the small separatist enclave have no interest either in joining Russia or supporting a prospective full-scale Russian invasion. Even Sergey Aksyonov, the appointed leader of Crimea, would make little headway in a free election, as was evident in the last pre-annexation elections when his party achieved less than 5% of the vote. When pro-Russians failed in their attempted takeover of cities like Kharkiv in the late spring of 2014, it was evident that Vladimir Putin had misinterpreted the signs of support in Ukraine.

In short, opposition to Euromaidan did not signify pro-Russian sentiment or separatism. Most opponents of the protests in Ukraine would, given the choice, put up with the new government, particularly if it secured economic stability, just as they endured the turbulent years of the Yushchenko presidency, or for that matter the corruption of the Yanukovych years. Insofar as the concept of ‘Novorossiya’ existed, it was limited to a small coterie of gunmen and Russian idealists who for a time had the backing of the Kremlin.

Fourth, Russia has moved on. One of the few identifying aspects of the Putin leadership, as with his personal image, is the need for instant triumphs without sustained commitment, images over concrete achievements. That requires foreign policy maneuvers that might enhance the prestige of the regime and allow it to maintain profitable contacts with the Western world. Rhetoric aside—and there has been much of it—Moscow prefers to keep the lines open to the markets of the West while adopting the role of a major player in international affairs.

As far as Syria is concerned, perhaps the logic is that by maintaining Assad in power, Russia can persuade the West that it is better to keep it as a partner rather than an adversary. Just as in 2001, Moscow and Washington can join forces against terrorists, in this case the Islamic State. That is not to say that such a policy will receive much sympathy in Washington, which perceives such intervention as exacerbating the conflict.

Another theory is that by intervening in Syria, Russia will bring the West to the negotiating table, with an agreement that if the Russians keep out of that conflict, they might be given a free hand in Ukraine. But as argued above, that is not what they are seeking at present. Rather the goal is to be recognized as a significant power—in short, it is alienation that rankles rather than sanctions. Russia would like to return to the G8 and believes that there is a possibility of doing so.

Where does that leave Ukraine? Over 8,000 have died in the Donbas conflict to date and over a million residents have left the region. Analysts in the West continue to debate whether there is a civil war or a Russian war in Ukraine. The correct answer is probably a little of both. But the fact remains that the rebels would not survive for long without Russian support. Once they lose it, and given the Kremlin’s current acceptance that an invasion would be highly unpopular both in the area and at home, the likelihood is that DNR and LNR will once more come under Ukrainian control.

None of the above should lead to a conclusion that the Russian government recognizes the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Rather it prefers to wield influence from afar, to ensure that in terms of security interests, both Ukraine and Belarus are in the Russian sphere. A new accommodation with the West would then, in theory lead to the return of economic growth, decreased commitment of military personnel and equipment, and assurance that there should be no further buildup or expansion of NATO.

There is also herein an assumption that there must be some logic to Russia’s latest policy moves, an apparent commitment to the peace process of Minsk as well as to the government of Syria. In reality such moves may be no more than feelers to elicit the reaction of Western powers. Still, Russia is clearly dissatisfied with the status quo, in Ukraine and elsewhere. And that is bad news for the leaders of the DNR and LNR.