The pact between Donetsk separatists and Ukraine’s richest man

A former leader of Ukraine’s separatists and terrorist organization, the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), has come forward with information that links the group to a pact forged with Ukrainian billionaire Renat Akhmetov that has so far protected the port-city of Mariupol and his business interests in the region.

According to Alexander Borodai, a Moscow native who was instrumental in both the Russian invasion of Crimea and insurgency in Donetsk, Akhmetov has struck a deal with the DNR that has put him in a “favorable” position.

Akhmetov currently has many enemies in the Kyiv establishment, Borodai explains, namely rival oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky. Ukraine also has a limited number of ports, the largest being in Odesa, which is consequently controlled by Kolomoisky – who he says would never allow Akhmetov to operate there. The only means of exporting goods would then be via Mariupol, the port city said to be the next target of Russian-backed forces.

Mariupol has not been taken by the DNR because of an ongoing agreement between its leadership and Akhmetov. Borodai confesses that DNR forces left the city so “so that he can export products from the occupied territory” and that he has become an oligarch financing the separatist region.

“Therefore, the only option to safely operate business for Akhmetov [is for] Mariupol to remain under the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag.”

The agreement between the two parties stipulates that, in exchange for protection, Akhmetov provide ‘humanitarian aid’ to the DNR and continue to pay the salaries of his employees, “who are nationals of the DNR.”

Borodai also dismissed suggestions that products from occupied eastern Ukraine could just as easily be exported internationally via an intermediary in Russia.

“No one of the Russian oligarchs will take it. Firstly, Russia is full of such products (iron and steel), it has nowhere to go,” and said that importers could easily trace the origin of the goods.

“And even if we did, they need Akhmetov’s salaries and aid, which if cut off would result in famine.”

Ultimately, the Donetsk insurgents can’t count on outside investment and needed a man who already held a vested interest in the region, making Akhmetov the perfect choice. For his part, Akhmetov has been forced to play both sides, fearing he could lose his liquid assets to Kyiv and physical assets to Donetsk, and with one food in each, unable to move.

The war has been an imperial revolution in the name of ‘Great Russia’

In addition, responding to the deteriorating situation in the occupied region, Borodai says that nobody promised the Donbas a “social revolution,” and that the ‘revolution’ in the Donbas is not a social-economic one, but “imperial and national, in the name of Great Russia.”

Recap

Last summer Donetsk militants and local supporters marched on Akhmetov’s Donetsk residence, but held back from raiding the compound after armed men from current DNR leader Alexander Zakharchenko’s Oplot group intervened. Others have called to nationalize his vast properties as penalty for refusing to ‘register’ his businesses and pay ‘taxes’ to the insurgent group.

DNR militia guards Akhmetov's compound

In August, Akhmetov’s Donetskgormash heavy machine factory was converted into a military repair workshop for the DNR. Other property has since fallen under their control. Representatives under Akhmetov have denied operating under the DNR, but factory workers have continued working the floors of the occupied factories.

Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man, is often accused of links to organized crime in the country and notoriously bankrolled deposed president Viktor Yanukovych and the Party of Regions. In a 2006 U.S. diplomatic cable, then U.S. Ambassador John Herbst referred to Akhmetov’s Party of Regions as “long a haven for Donetsk-based mobsters” and called Akhmetov the “godfather” of the Donetsk clan. Andrew Wilson, a scholar specializing in Ukrainian politics, categorized Akhmetov as a former ‘enforcer’ and ‘leader’ of  crime boss Akhat Bragin’s “Tatar clan”, and responsible for the use of “mafia methods” to rise to power.

Debunking the “$5B regime change” myth, U.S. spent 400% more on Russia

A common myth disseminated by Russia and its supporters is the idea that the U.S. spent $5 billion to facilitate regime change in Ukraine, a falsehood premised on public statements made by Victoria Nuland in early 2014.

For example – RT, via phony intelligence officer Scott Rickard (who is also a self described “technologist & historian”) seized on Nuland’s remarks and said the U.S. rather “invested $5 billion so far in the uprising,” while conspiracy sites like Global Research state the money was used to directly and insidiously “subvert Ukraine.”

Nuland, for her part, said the money  “has been spent on supporting the aspirations of the Ukrainian people to have a strong, democratic government that represents their interests.”

The truth of the matter is more simply debunked by Politifact, who accurately point out “the money in question was spent over more than 20 years. Yanukovych was elected in 2010. So any connection between the protests and the $5 billion is inaccurate. And Obama was elected in 2008, so any connection between $5 billion and Obama also is inaccurate.”

They conclude: “Contrary to claims, the United States did not spend $5 billion to incite the rebellion in Ukraine.”

Will Stevens, the spokesperson for the U.S. embassy in Russia took to Twitter to hopefully expand and finally debunk this myth with an eye opening graphic. Not only was the money in question used to help remove nuclear arms and spent on humanitarian assistance, but the U.S. has spent 400% more on those same initiatives in Russia:

Politifact, quoting State Department spokeswoman Nicole Thompson, breaks down the ominous $5 billion pictured: “$2.4 billion went to programs promoting peace and security, which could include military assistance, border security, human trafficking issues, international narcotics abatement and law enforcement interdiction […] More money went to categories with the objectives of “governing justly and democratically” ($800 million), “investing in people” ($400 million), economic growth ($1.1 billion), and humanitarian assistance ($300 million).”

 


Update: Russian Chief of Staff Sergei Ivanov claimed that “we have been, in a way, sponsoring the Ukrainian economy for the last 20 years, spending hundreds of billions of dollars.” Russian political scientist Dmitry Oreshkin estimates Russia has invested approximately $200 billion in Ukraine during this time — 40x what the U.S. has spent on Ukraine. (source)

Stop freaking out about Right Sector

People are freaking out about the Right Sector. People have always freaked out about the Right Sector. It’s going to happen again in the future, and it needs to stop.

On March 25 it was widely reported that the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps, a paramilitary wing of Right Sector currently fighting on the front lines in eastern Ukraine had been told to pull out. The reason? Unlike Ukraine’s other volunteer battalions, they are not officially part of the military or national guard, and as armed civilians, need to disarm. An interviewed commander regarded the move by the government as a “betrayal” and insisted his men “fight more effectively than the regular troops.” Indeed, members of the Volunteer Corps have been among some of the bravest on the front lines, fighting in of the bloodiest conflict zones, the most recent being the outskirts of Mariupol.

This dispute was then framed by commentators an attack on all volunteers, but despite this, the press office of the other volunteer battalions serving near Mariupol had one message for them: If you want to fight, join the army like the rest of us.

Despite having a support networking of several thousand, Right Sector’s Volunteer Corps only fields at most 250 soldiers.

Official status would not only bring them in line with Ukraine’s command but also give its troops equipment, intelligence, ammunition, and funding. The counter argument is that Ukraine’s military officers are widely corrupt, and can’t be trusted – especially after disasters in Ilovaisk and Debaltseve.

In the spirit of this debate, the Kyiv Post then ran the headline “Right Sector defies government’s calls to pull out of frontline.” Citing Right Sector’s spokesperson, the article says the group will only pull out on the orders of its leader, Dmytro Yarosh. However, a full quote from Ukraine Today, the spokesperson merely says they are “unlikely” to withdraw “for long.” If you ask the troops themselves, commander Andriy Cherven of the Volunteer Corps had already informed the media that the unit will not be disobeying the order to withdraw. Its chief of staff also confirmed this, saying the unit would be pulling out and heading to their base.

So much ado about nothing.

What happens here is two things: The first is strictly political, playing into the political language of Right Sector’s press office; and the second is the media, who exaggerate that message. The end result is even greater sensationalism in the less informed western media.

Nothing new

The pushback against Right Sector and vigilantism traces to the early days of the post-revolutionary provisional government, where following a shooting, on April 1, 2014, MPs voted in support of Bill #4614 which mandated disarming of “illegal armed formations” and their subordination to official security structures. “If they do not belong to the army, the National Guard or the police, they are saboteurs who are working against Ukraine,” interim-President Turchynov said at the time.

Indeed, the crackdown on ‘illegal armed formations’ further dates back to the agreement signed by Euromaidan opposition leaders during endgame negotiations with Viktor Yanukovych prior to his fight – a stipulation routinely shouted in the Kremlin’s rhetoric preceding Russia’s invasion.

Since both the Yanukovych administration and Kremlin pushed to disarm Right Sector, as well as the toothless post-revolution government, and so it’s easy to see, then, why many are perceiving the disarming of frontline volunteers in an overtly devastating light.

Right Sector has taken on the form of a lightning rod in Ukrainian politics. For Russia, they are presented as a continental fascist, neo-Nazi threat (despite not being fascist nor anti-Semitic). Among western pundits, they are presented in fumblingly inaccurate and sensationalistic fashion. Case in point: Vox recently described the group as ‘anti-democratic hardliners’ despite participating in both presidential and parliamentary elections, and having an official platform that calls for a “comprehensive system of democracy.”

Fear-mongering has led to the group being erroneously labelled by various media sources as ‘far right’, a title more applicable in its formative days than at present, the reality is that Right Sector has become more of a banner for Ukraine’s resistance movement than a coherent, centralized ‘rightist’ organization. Just as the red and black battle flag of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army has taken on a larger than life, and decidedly less historical or ideological significance among Ukrainians (“a sign of the stubborn endurance of the Ukrainian national idea” as described in Foreign Policy), fittingly the near identical symbolism adopted by Right Sector is representative of its decentralized and interpretative nature.

Organizationally, Right Sector is splintered. This is why its political spokesmen and military commanders are speaking out of sync. It’s this do-it-yourself ethic and deregulation among its various chapters and branches that makes it less of a singular corporation and more a group of privately owned franchises.

This decentralized, unpredictable nature, however, that is a problem militarily – where centralized command, cooperation, and security are key. Regulating all Right Sector fighters may be a fools errand, like catching smoke in a bottle, but it’s also necessary.

Moving forward

With the group’s leader Dmytro Yarosh now a parliamentarian, making inroads with the government should in theory be less of an obstacle. Naturally, days after hysteria set in about the great betrayal that had been inflicted on one the nation’s last remaining independent militias, President Poroshenko tabled an offer to Yarosh that would give him a position in the Ministry of Defense.

Interior Ministry advisor Anton Herashchenko is in favor of such a move, suggesting that if Yarosh accepts his promotion he could potentially create and run an entire Volunteer Union in the model of the Estonian Defense League or Finland’s Local Defense Troops. This would be a huge move for Yarosh, because despite having several thousand members in his organization network, Right Sector’s military wing is incredibly small.

This system of controlled chaos is nothing new for the Poroshenko government who last fall incorporated and upgraded the controversial Azov Regiment within the army. For Azov, their historically radical and neo-Nazi founders have softened their stance since taking on newer, respectable jobs.

It remains to be seen if Yarosh, who is currently wounded, will accept the offer and build something successful as part of the armed forces rather than parallel to it. If the Kolomoisky affair (which had far greater potential to escalate and fizzled in record time) is any indication, amicable resolution is likely.

At the end of the day, political posturing echoed by the media has given the Volunteer Corps an edge in negotiations with the government. It has also fed into the fear of chaos among Ukraine’s volunteer ranks – a fabricated threat mostly disseminated in Russian media that ripples westwardly. Russian media needs to stop making Right Sector look larger, cohesive (and ironically, chaotic), and dangerous than they really are – but they won’t – because that’s their objective. Ukrainian media and their supporters need to stop feeding into the political game of leverage Right Sector is playing – but they won’t – because sensationalist news is much more exciting than no news.

Just as their role during the Euromaidan revolution was greatly exaggerated, their role (while brave, and commendable like all Ukrainian soldiers) is also fairly exaggerated in the scope of all of Ukraine’s forces. The sensationalist position benefits all media and especially the group itself, but it is also a disservice to those following the conflict trying to cut to the truth.

So relax.

Girkin: Putin will be murdered like the Tsar, or die in prison like Milosevic

In the wake of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s widely speculated disappearance from the public eye, retired FSB colonel and terrorist “Defense Minister” Igor “Strelkov” Girkin has reemerged offering his own personal insight, but this time criticism of the Russian leader.

Girkin had recently arrived in Yekaterinberg, Russia’s fourth largest city, to announce the founding of a new cell of his “New Russia” (Novorossiya) movement in the Urals. A day prior, a large rally was held in public view to send off 50 Russian recruits to fight in Ukraine. Local organizers have acknowledged that these “volunteer” mercenaries can earn between $1,500-2,500 to participate in the war against Ukraine.

During a press conference (documented by local news site Znak) held in the Ural Mining University, Girkin touched on a number of subjects, not the least of which brazed the current rumors circulating of a potential palace coup in the Kremlin.

In a culmination of public frustration against the Russian president, Girkin predicts, “not only liberals, but the patriots (nationalists – ed.) will turn against Putin. Then he will repeat the fate of Slobodan Milosevic, who was overthrown [by] liberals & patriots, since he conducted a policy that was neither yours nor ours.” Girkin lays out two conclusions for Putin’s fate following such an overthrow: he can either be executed like Russian Emperor Nicholas II, or die in prison as Milosevic did awaiting his trial in The Hague.

Girkin

Feuding & criticism

Previously Girkin has spoken out about an alleged “fifth column,” vowing to protect Putin from any possible power shift. “The West and the ‘fifth column’ are making no secret of their plans to overthrow Putin. Their path is that of dragging out the war [in Ukraine] as long as possible,” Strelkov told reporters in September. “I support Putin and am against the ‘fifth column.’ Russian people need to completely reject any opposition activity,” he said.

The root of new frustration for Girkin was due in part to Putin’s war policy, as he lambasted the “fifth column” derailing the war effort; personally calling out Putin’s own presidential advisor Vladislav Surkov, known otherwise as the ‘grey cardinal’ and for being the architect of not only Russia’s frozen conflicts but its entire current political system. Surkov is of Chechen descent and is considered a counterweight to FSB-KGB security service hawks dominating Putin’s inner circle. The “fifth column” label, as described by Girkin, applies to all state actors and industrialists who view Russia as a resource base, namely those who live in Russia but keep wealth, property, and family abroad (such a label would apply to Putin and many of those he has enriched during his rule). It has been reported that Surkov was instrumental in pulling Girkin and his associates out of Ukraine as part of an ongoing feud between rival political camps.

He also took effort to criticize Putin’s strategy in the Donbas, saying he could have “freed all of New Russia” with virtually no blood spilled if he had acted more decisively in the spring of 2014. Instead, he blames the “fifth column” for convincing Putin to change course and, as a result, “we have not stopped and the war is more bloody,” while lamenting the ever increasing international sanctions and pressure that have come since.

This indecisive course by Putin was elaborated on, with Girkin incensed with the flip-flopping nature of official advocacy for the “Russian World,” and also the self-declared republics it has created, blasting the Kremlin’s use then disuse of the term ‘New Russia’ (Novorossiya) to describe the conflict region, then its alternating use in media to describe the Donetsk and Luhansk republics as legitimate, then self-declared, or ultimately as regions of Ukraine.

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On the war

Girkin accuses ‘the West’ of setting its sights on repeating the events of World War I, drawing loose parallels between Russia entering the war on the side of Serbia; and later blaming the current war on instigation by the United States. During WW1, the U.S., Serbia, and Russian Empire were all Allied members.

As a ‘tool’ of the U.S., he continues that even if Russia had not occupied Crimea, and even if war did not take place in the Donbas (which he has fully admitted to igniting himself), then “still the Kyiv government would lead to war with Russia.”

In fact many people are waiting for Russia in Kyiv

However, for the former Donetsk Republic’s minister of defense, the war will soon resume against Ukraine: “We conclude that this year the fighting will resume in the Donbas, and will resume soon enough. The war will unfold even more widespread than it was conducted during the fall and winter campaigns.” Just how widespread he predicts the war will escalate may coincide with his imperialist ambitions of creating ‘New Russia’. For him, Ukraine “is part of Russia” and names Odesa, Kharkiv, Kherson, and Mykolaiv as potential targets. “In fact many people are waiting for Russia in Kyiv.”

 

The Uneasy reality of anti-fascism in Ukraine

For almost twenty years of Ukraine’s independence, the term “anti-fascism” used to have very limited currency in the established political discourse in Ukraine. Until 2010, “anti-fascism” was primarily used as a form of self-identification by an element of Ukraine’s left-wing movement, as well as being employed by the far right groupuscules to refer to their left-wing opponents. Hence, until 2010-2011, “anti-fascism” remained a notion that largely belonged to the subcultural sphere of the physical and symbolical strife between left-wing and far right activists.

Yet when the notion of anti-fascism did enter the mainstream political discourse in Ukraine, it immediately became extremely problematic. The problematic nature of the notion had little to do with what “anti-fascism” essentially implied – that is opposition to fascism – but resulted from the manipulated use of the notion of anti-fascism in the post-Soviet space in general and Ukraine in particular.

The manipulated use of “anti-fascism” has been increasingly prominent in Russia since Vladimir Putin’s second presidential term (2004-2008). During the “Orange revolution” in Ukraine, when hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians protested against the fraudulent “victory” of pro-Russian politician Viktor Yanukovych in the 2004 presidential election, pro-Yanukovych media in Ukraine and pro-Kremlin media in Russia slammed the leaders of the largely pro-European “orange” protest movement as “orange fascists”. To oppose the virtual threat of an “orange revolution” in Russia itself, the Presidential Administration launched the Youth Democratic Anti-Fascist Movement “Ours” (Nashi). The imagery of the movement drew extensively on the legacy of the Soviet Union: the prevalence of the colour red, Soviet-style slogans, and even their official website was registered in a .su domain (.su was originally assigned to the Soviet Union).

Nashi youth group members in Soviet regalia
Nashi youth group members in Soviet regalia

These events reveal the basic argument behind the manipulated use of the notions of both fascism and anti-fascism in Russia. Since it is the Kremlin’s geopolitical belief that particular sovereign post-Soviet states belong to the Russian sphere of influence, Moscow interprets post-Soviet sovereign countries’ attempts to move away from this sphere as anti-Russian actions. As the Kremlin also adopts the political cult of the “Victory in the Great Patriotic War,” seen as the struggle between the Soviets and fascists, as well as drawing on the Soviet legacy of defining fascism as anti-communism and equating it with Anti-Sovietism, Moscow tends to interpret the perceived anti-Russian sentiment as fascist too. Hence, the term “anti-fascism”, in its manipulated interpretation, implies an opposition to the perceived geopolitical threats that Putin’s regime allegedly faces.

It was in a similarly distorted interpretation that the notion of anti-fascism entered the mainstream Ukrainian political discourse in 2010-2011. This development was associated with three major events. First, in the beginning of 2010 Viktor Yanukovych was elected president of Ukraine, adopted pro-Russian foreign policy and started suppressing political opponents. Second, the same year, Russian politician and businessman Boris Spiegel, who had close ties to the Kremlin, founded, in Kyiv, the World Without Nazism organisation (WWN). Third, in 2011, Vadym Kolesnichenko, Yanukovych’s major ally, launched the International Anti-Fascist Front (IAF).

While both organisations, i.e. the WWN and IAF, officially aimed at fighting against xenophobia, racism and glorification of Nazi crimes, their real objectives were different. The WWN promoted the Russian version of history of the twentieth century, advanced Russian foreign policy and tried to influence public opinion in former Soviet republics. The IAF, in its turn, organised protests against the political opposition to Yanukovych. Originally, the IAF attacked the far right Svoboda party that was critical of Yanukovych, but since Svoboda strategically sided with the democratic opposition, the latter was attacked too. Therefore, the protests held by the “anti-fascist” organisation against the entire political opposition to Yanukovych aimed at discrediting it as “fascist”. The IAF adopted this tactic from the Russian Nashi movement that attacked, from the “anti-fascist” position, all the opponents of Putin.

The activities of the WWN and IAF resulted in a conceptual conflict between the original definition of anti-fascism as a struggle against racism and right-wing extremism practiced by Ukrainian left-wing activists and the implicitly manipulated interpretation that implied promotion of Russian interests in Ukraine. The Ukrainian anti-authoritarian left-wing movement, due to its political weakness, failed to defend their interpretation of the notion. Especially after pro-Russian media and commentators started describing the “People’s Republics” in separatist-held areas of Eastern Ukraine as anti-fascist “states” fighting against the “Kyiv fascist junta”, the term “anti-fascism” became completely discredited. Today, Ukrainian left-wing activists have almost abandoned the use of the term in the public discourse and tend to talk about the struggle against racism, intolerance and political terror.

Ukrainian antifascists hold a banner that reads: "Against political terror". Kyiv, 19 January 2015
Ukrainian antifascists hold a banner that reads: “Against political terror”. Kyiv, 19 January 2015

First published in German language in Beton International: Zeitung für Literatur und Gesellschaft (10 March 2015).

 

Harper: Putin has to be opposed very strongly

In and interview with CP24’s Stephen Ledrew in Toronto, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper reiterated his and Canada’s position towards Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I think not just to me but to the world, Mr. Putin has defied a pretty obvious principle and that is we do not redraw boundaries by military force. We have not been doing that since the Second World War — anywhere — so this is a very important principle he’s violated.”

I had reached conclusions about the nature of this man and the kind of place he was leading his country and ultimately leading the world

“I think I would tell you that, quite frankly, having grown up with many Ukrainian friends, understanding that experience probably alerts me even more to it. But also just the fact that I’ve dealt with Mr. Putin for a number of years and I don’t think it was any secret to other G7 leaders, or to this country, that I had reached conclusions about the nature of this man and the kind of place he was leading his country and ultimately leading the world, and I think he has to be opposed very strongly.”

When asked about his widely publicized encounter with Putin during the G20 Summit in Australia, Harper doubled down on his actions:

“I guess I don’t know what else I would have said to him. He and I, I guess we’re not the closest of friends, and he came over, we were in an awkward position where we had to shake hands and I have only one thing to say to him, and that is: get out of Ukraine. And frankly as long as he continues to violate Ukraine’s territorial integrity I don’t have a lot else to say to the man.”

 

Hungary helping Moscow destabilize Ukraine from the west

Budapest has announced that it has handed out Hungarian citizenship papers to 94,000 people in Transcarpathia (Zakarpattia province) in Western Ukraine in expedited fashion, an action that creates yet another challenge for Kyiv and may very well have been coordinated with Moscow.

The Hungarian official responsible for nationality policy says that this is part of a broader effort to boost the size of the country’s population and points out that two-thirds of the more than 710,000 new Hungarians are from Transylvania in Romania and 17 percent are from the Voevodina in Serbia and only 14 percent are from Transcarpathia.

All three areas have been targeted by the Gabor Betlen Foundation which the Russian news agency Regnum reports, and all three are being destabilized by its actions as the Russian agency does not.

In a Ukrainian-language commentary today, however, Mikhail Pozhivanov, a former deputy in the Verhovna Rada and a former Ukrainian deputy economics minister says exactly that, adding that while “Transcarpathia is not the Donbas,” it is a place where Moscow with Budapest’s help hopes to destabilize the situation.

Hungary has been fishing in these troubled waters for some time, he writes, pointing to Hungarian support for the Transcarpathian Rusyns and the fact that one of that group’s leaders, who operated under the cover of a Russian Orthodox priest, was accused of promoting separatism by the Yanukovich regime and subsequently found guilty of that.

Over the past year, Moscow commentators have suggested that Hungary should take the lead in offering citizenship to ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine and even recognizing some kind of Transcarpathian “republic” there, possibly on the model of the LNR and DNR statelets Moscow has set up in eastern Ukraine.

Budapest has not been slow to respond to that idea, but its role in the Transcarpathia has expanded dramatically since the election of Viktor Orban as prime minister and the visit of Vladimir Putin to the Hungarian capital, during which the Russian president stressed the common ties and interests of Moscow and Budapest in Ukraine, according to Pozhivanov.

Budapest recognized the Russian Anschluss of Crimea, and it has been an active opponent of EU sanctions against Russia for its intervention in Ukraine. But the most dangerous thing it has done may be its stirring up of the Hungarian minority in the western part of Ukraine, something that forces Kyiv to divide its attention, the Ukrainian commentator says.

To argue that Hungary will succeed in creating a serious territorial challenge to Ukraine “would be an exaggeration,” Pozhivanov says.But to ignore the problem would also be a mistake, especially given Hungary’s actions and the all too obvious ways in which Budapest is coordinating them with Moscow.


Editor’s pick: For further historical perspective an analysis on the Hungarian-Transcarpathian issue, Professor Paul Robert Magocsi, an expert on Rusyn-Ruthenian affairs offers this short lecture:

Putin’s Strategy: Involve West in undermining Ukraine so Ukrainians will despise it too

Vladimir Putin’s Anschluss of Crimea and continuing aggression against Ukraine means that Ukrainians will never again accept ethnic Russians as “a fraternal people” or be prepared to defer to Moscow unless they are compelled to by forces beyond the capacity of today’s Russia to field. Instead, they will continue to pursue their European choice.

That puts Putin in a difficult position, but he appears to have found a way out, one whose implications some leaders in the West have ignored or may not even understand. By involving them in talks about undermining the integrity of Ukraine, Putin is laying the groundwork for Ukrainian hostility to Europe as well.

Such antagonism to Europe will not mean that Ukrainians will want to turn to Russia instead, at least not anytime soon. But any such hostility will mean that Ukraine will remain caught between Moscow and the West, not taken in by either and thus ever weaker, more divided, and more subject to manipulation by various means overt and covert from Moscow.

That Western leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Hollande should have fallen for this trap laid by Putin is appalling not only in terms of its immediate impact but even more because of its long-term consequences, but that the Kremlin leader should set it makes perfect sense from his point of view.

Those conclusions are suggested by Moskovsky komsomolets which notes that not Russia alone, but it together with France and Germany are now involved with Kyiv in the beginning of “the decentralization of Ukraine,” something the Moscow outlet clearly celebrates.

The paper reports that the three countries, along with Ukraine, have “discussed the beginning of the work of a special group in Minsk which will be concerned with the preparation of local elections in special regions of the Donbas,” thus giving to Putin yet another victory over Ukraine through the involvement of Western pressure.

It notes happily that yesterday “it became known that Poroshenko had signed a decree about the creation of a Constitutional Commission which is needed for “the development of agreed upon proposals for the perfecting of the Constitution of Ukraine taking into account contemporary challenges and requirements of society.”

And it concludes with the words of Mikhail Pogrebinsky, head of the Kyiv Center for Political Research and Conflict Studies, that Poroshenko is moving in this direction because “foreign players including the European Union want this,” again a source of influence Putin may be glad to get but that the EU should not be giving to an aggressor.

Arrested Spanish communists banded with ‘Nazis’ to ‘liberate Russia from Ukraine’

Spanish National Police on Friday arrested eight individuals on suspicion of joining pro-Russian militants while in Ukraine and charged with compromising Spanish national security, possession of arms and explosives, and homicide.

The arrests have been detailed by the New York Times and two reports by El Pais, Spain’s largest newspaper. Previous reports have placed Spanish fighters among the notorious Vostok Battalion, a unit documented for the use of child soldiers.

The group, arrested in what Spanish officials are calling Operation Danko (a reference to the 1988 Schwarzenegger movie Red Heat), included three former Spanish armed forces personnel.

Members of several communist organizations, the men reportedly received support from an ‘unofficial’ pro-Kremlin network in Europe. Two, however, were met by a Russian government worker during a stopover in Moscow. Only one of the un-named men so far has been confirmed by police to have taken part in frontline action against Ukrainians.

“We fought together, communists and Nazis alike [for] the liberation of Russia from the Ukrainian invasion.”

In a bizarre statement by the suspects, half of the pro-Russian militants they enlisted with were fellow communists, while the other half were neo-Nazis. The group then collaborated with pro-Russian Nazi militants to ‘liberate’ Russia from Ukraine, from within Ukraine. “We fought together, communists and Nazis alike,” they said. “We all want the same: social justice and the liberation of Russia from the Ukrainian invasion.”

This sentiment is a microcosm of Russia’s indoctrination and war propaganda that has seen extremist far-left and right groups in Europe often intertwine in its favor. Author and political expert Anne Applebaum attributes this to a divide in Europe between “established, integrationist politics and isolationist, nationalist politics.” In an almost anarchistic effort, members of the radical left and right are thus predisposed to band together against the European Union by aiding what they see the ‘anti-Europe’ – Russia.

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The Spanish sting operation was assisted in identifying the suspects through their social network postings, which included photos of themselves showing off military equipment and making statements seeking to recruit fighters for the pro-Russia militias. In the raids that followed, police recovered Russian military clothing, knives, machetes, and military insignias

According to multiple posts by other Spanish volunteers, the men were joined by similar militants from Italy, France, Serbia and the U.S. Police have said that another group of pro-Russian, communist Spaniards were also planning to travel to Ukraine.

Leftist “anti-fascist” slogans (and even organizations) are also typically espoused as a smokescreen by Russia’s far-right to lure members of the far-left under a common cause, a political sphere that ironically contains a plethora of racist, neo-Nazi and indeed fascist figures. Acclaimed historian Timothy Snyder best explains the politics of the fascist-anti-fascist phenomenon:

Thus began the politics of fascism and anti-fascism, where Moscow was the defender of all that was good, and its critics were fascists. This very effective pose, of course, did not preclude an actual Soviet alliance with the actual Nazis in 1939. Given today’s return of Russian propaganda to anti-fascism, this is an important point to remember: The whole grand moral Manichaeism was meant to serve the state, and as such did not limit it in any way. The embrace of anti-fascism as a rhetorical strategy is quite different from opposing actual fascists.

Russian insider says Putin openly planned invasion of Ukraine since 2003

A former Russian insider says he was there when Putin began openly planning the present invasion of Ukraine back in 2003.

At a conference in Brussels this week, Andrey Illarionov, a Russian economist and former economic advisor to Vladimir Putin informed that the invasion of Ukraine has been in official planning since at least 2003.

“Since 2003. I can say that certain questions relating to the future war with Ukraine were discussed in my presence. I didn’t think the talks would really lead to a real war,” he said.

In an anguished response to the Orange Revolution a year later which brought about an ostensibly pro-Western government, Russian officials then began discussing the potential for launching a military occupation of Crimea and it’s subsequent annexation. Illarionov also discussed leaked documents which detail the operation of Russia’s future war with Ukraine.

By 2009, he stated that plans to conjure and support separatism in Ukraine began to surface. It is now known that the terrorist organization known as the ‘Donetsk Republic’ began to reassert itself online in 2008 after then Russian-backed Viktor Yanukovych lost his position as Prime Minister. Created in 2005 also in the wake of the Orange Revolution, ‘Donetsk Republic’ members attended training camps in Russia funded by the Russian Presidential Administration, where instructors from the security services taught methods of espionage, sabotage and guerrilla tactics to attendees. Syncing with Illarionov’s statement, the group began organizing local terrorist training camps as early as 2009.

Putin’s July 2013 Speech

Putin and Yanukovych in Kyiv, July 2013
Putin and Yanukovych in Kyiv, July 2013

Illarionov did not mince words, making clear that this is a very much a “Russian-Ukrianian war” or rather, as he described: “Putin’s war against Ukraine.” A war he steadfastly describes as being long in the works that will continue to play out in the long term.

“So, they were preparing the war for a long time. The other matter is that it is a long war that has been continuing for more than 16 months. It was officially launched on July 27, 2013, by Putin’s speech in Kyiv on the occasion of the anniversary of the baptism of Kyivan Rus,” he said.

The speech cited by Illarionov was on the topic of Ukraine’s “civilizational choice” and “orthodox Slavic values.” In it, Putin bloviates on alleged “common spiritual values” which make Russians and Ukrainians a “single people,” calling for the preservation of ‘ancestral traditions.’ He also convincingly ignores centuries of persecution, telling listeners that subjugation (“union”) under Russia “changed the lives of Ukraine’s population and its elite for the better, as everyone knows.”

At another point, Putin speaks glowingly of Stalin’s reforms and investment in Ukraine during his first ‘Five Year Plan,’ a disastrous policy which resulted in the Moscow-orchestrated genocide of up to 7 million Ukrainians.

Current conflict zones’ historical hallmarks were focused on in the speech, specifically calling the Donbas “one of Russia’s main mining and metals industry regions,” and Odesa “one of the Russian Empire’s biggest seaports.” The next day Putin would attend Russian naval celebrations in the Ukrainian city of Sevastopol in Crimea.

Little Green Men of Russia's navy in Ukraine, July 28, 2013
Little Green Men of Russia’s navy in Ukraine, July 28, 2013

All of this, of course, amounted to a cynical sales pitch for Russia’s unborn Eurasian Union and reunion with Russia, and to convince Ukrainians the perils of European integration. With a smile.

Let me say again that we will respect whatever choice our Ukrainian partners, friends and brothers make. The question is only one of how we go about agreeing on working together under absolutely equal, transparent and clear conditions.

 Numerous predictions

Illarionov resigned from his position within the administration in 2005, has been an outspoken critic of president Vladimir Putin since that time.

Since becoming a dissident, his words to date have been prophetic. In October 2008 he quickly exposed that the Russian invasion and occupation of Georgia in August of that year was premeditated and instigated by the Russian government, when many still debated whether Georgia fired on Russian soldiers first.

In February of this year, prior to Russia’s “green men” swarming into Crimea, he fully predicted the occupation of the peninsula and similar destabilizing actions in the south and east. In March, after this had already come to fruition, he further predicted and warned of impending Russian forces seeping into eastern Ukraine during an interview on the Ukrainian network TSN. Russian Col. Igor Girkin, “Supreme Commander” of the Donetsk Republic, openly admitted recently to Russia’s involvement in the war and told how his special forces group entered Ukraine in April to seize government buildings.