Is Separatist Colonel Strelkov the Kremlin’s ‘Wag the Dog’ Gone Out of Bounds?

May 19, 2014
Separatist Colonel Igor Strelkov is also a war reenactor

Oleg Kashin, the prominent Russian blogger forced into exile in Europe after brutal attacks on him in his homeland, has an article at the independent web site which is being avidly discussed on Russian social media.

Titled “From Crimea to the Donbass: The Adventures of Igor Strelkov and Aleksandr Boroday,” the piece explores the figures of the notorious GRU Colonel Strelkov (whose real name is said to be Girkin) and Boroday, a political consultant — or “technologist” as Russian journalists call such manipulative figures — both of whom have avidly helped the Russian separatists in Ukraine.

He also covers their alleged relationships to Russian businessman Konstantin Malofeyev, an oligarch who has made a career as a minority share-holder, notably formerly of Rostelekom, which led to his lawsuit against VTB bank and his own investigation for fraud. (Vladimir Prebylovsky’s exhaustive description of the various power clans in Russia will help locate him in the Kremlin constellation.)

Kashin first looks at the figure of Boroday:

“A Russian political technologist [consultant] has become the prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic [DNR] — if someone was looking for the ‘hand of Moscow’ in Donetsk separatism, then the searches can be considered to have been successfully completed — here it is, that hand, and in that hand is a Russian passport.”

I’d like, however, to be more precise: a Russian political technologist has not only become the prime minister of the DNR, but apparently, a bad Russian political technologist, because a good one, of course, would try to behave so that his ears would not stick out so much. He would lead behind someone’s back; in Donetsk, with a population of a million, it would not be hard to find a respected local person, some old meritorious coal miner, or professor, or doctor who could be the nominal prime minister, and no one would know that in the quiet of his office, someone was giving him advice or orders (it is even awkward to have to say this, these are just the basics, even the Soviet government, less seasoned in such matters, in similar situations, always behaved in that fashion, from the Baltics in the 1940s to Afghanistan in 1979 — even in the most complex situations, it was always possible to find a local Babrak Karmal, it would never have entered their minds to give official posts to Soviet emissaries.)

But the Russian political technologist Aleksandr Boroday for some reason put himself in charge of the Donetsk separatist government, as if he had decided to give a present to official Kiev, which will now wave this Boroday around at the UN and anywhere else, and say, look, Russia has even stopped hiding, they already openly flout all existing norms.”

Kashin says that this obvious, crude performance is good news for Kiev, because it means it is dealing not with a covert or overt Russian Federation invasion, but with a group of activists who are like National-Bolshevik Edward Limonov’s group planning an armed take-over of Northern Kazakhstan in 2001, i.e. destined for failure.

Kashin then goes on to describe his own acquaintance with Boroday, who contacted him in early March when he was covering Sergei Aksyonov, the self-proclaimed leader of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. At that time, because Boroday asked to remain anonymous, Kashin referenced him only as a “Muscovite in Aksyonov’s entourage” — which also included Igor Strelkov. Boroday was described then by Aksyonov’s people as “the minister of propaganda” of the Republic, but he himself said the title was a joke. Kashin decided then that he was a middleman for a bureaucrat in Putin’s administration. When asked if he was working for Putin, Boroday denied it, and said he was in a “private-government partnership.”

“Just what kind of partnership was meant I understood only much later, when an acquaintance from Right Sector told me that one of the sponsors of the election campaign of Dmitro Yarosh, the leader of Right Sector, was a major Russian businessman, Konstantin Malofeyev. Taking into account the great power-patriotic image of Malofeyev, I considered this information funny — if I could have confirmed it, it would have been a real scandal — either Malofeyev is helping a patented enemy of Russia secretly from the Russian government, playing some kind of game, or else this enemy of Russia in fact is not some enemy after all (and in fact, it is not known where there are more admirers of Right Sector — in Ukraine or in the Kremlin, for whom Right Sector is the favorite bogey man). But I had no proof of the participation of Malofeyev in Jarosz’s campaign, and going along the path of least resistance, I asked my readers on social media if they had heard anything about this.”

Within seconds of his post, Kashin heard from an official in Crimea in the Aksyonov government, who claimed that the story was wrong, that Malofeyev in fact was supporting not Right Sector, but the separatists, and openly through a foundation with his name. Malofeyev was said to support the Sevastopol “people’s mayor” Aleksey Chaliy, and give him US $1 million. We note that Chaliy was by Putin’s side on 18 March when he signed the documents and gave his speech in the St. George Hall celebrating his forcible annexation of Crimea.

Kashin said he also took this new version of the story with a grain of salt (and there are others out now from purported Anonymous leaks), and began trying to investigate more in telecom circles, learning only that Malofeyev seemed to be away a lot lately but also finding that in the past, he had in fact been a big supporter of Russian Orthodoxy and great-power politics and was fascinated with Russia’s history, possessing a large library. He was also known in his days in St. Petersburg as “an overt fascist” close to the late Metropolitan Konstantin Dushenov, who was jailed for extremism at one time, and also friendly with Aleksandr Dugin, the ultranationalist ideologue and Russian government advisor. Malofeyev belong to a group of “Russian Orthodox businessmen” who saw their mission as funding churches, schools, historical research and such.

Next, Kashin tried to establish through a source in the telecom community whether Strelkov had worked for Malofeyev for a time as his corporate security chief:

“No one could confirm this. It turns out that at Marshall Capital (Malofeyev’s company) there was no security service, and the name of Igor Girkin (which is Strelkov’s real name) meant nothing to anyone. That was in early April, at the mysterious site Boltai [Blab], where anyone can post leaks from hacked email accounts from various persons near the Kremlin, although at that time the correspondence of Strelkov, in which he himself calls himself a former head of security for Marshall was not yet published (and that, in fact, doesn’t prove anything — it is already clear that Strelkov loves to fantasize about his biography and knows how to do so.)”

Kashin went back to his source with his findings, and then was told that it was Boroday who was working for Malofeyev, not Strelkov. Then Malofeyev himself confirmed in the online publication Vedomosti that Boroday worked for him.

“Now you don’t have to look further for Strelkov, it is no longer important. It is sufficient that Boroday himself is from Marshall. I was introduced to Strelkov […] in Crimea by Boroday in fact; moreover, according to him, he, Boroday, invited his old friend Strelkov to Crimea.

That’s how this very ‘private-government partnership’ worked in Crimea, but without understanding who represented the private sector, I couldn’t assess the whole validity of this designation. Now I can. From the government side, as is known, the annexation of the Crimea was carried out by the Russian army, and from the private side, people from the oligarch Malofeyev, who, from the time of the purge from Rostelekom of former communications minister Leonid Reyman’s people (and perhaps, not only since then) have had successful experience in delicate work in the interests of the Russian state.”

Kashin writes that he had gone to Slavyansk, but was flying out of the city 12 April when he got a text message from his source who knew Boroday that something was about to happen — this was the separatist take-over. Then later the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) intercepted a conversation between Strelkov and Boroday.

“The situation looked like a literal copy from the movie ‘Wag the Dog,'” said Kashin, “except when so much blood has been shed, laughing at how life copies a movie doesn’t work at all.” So now Strelkov and Boroday are running the Donbass separatist war.

Kashin then discusses the figure of Pavel Gubarev, once jailed by Kiev, but then released in exchange for some Ukrainian spetsnaz POWs. He is incorrectly described as “people’s governor of the DNR,” but Kashin explains in fact he calls himself “people’s governor of Donetsk Region” and aspires to a real title — but the DNR leaders have not given him a title in their republic. Kashin’s sources believe Gubarev is a has-been, even betrayed to the SBU by his former separatist colleagues, but that Moscow may still find a role for him like Chaliy’s.

In conclusion, Kashin says he only believes his original Crimean government source exposing this “hand of Moscow” about 50%. He believes Strelkov, after fulfilling his Crimean mission, wanted to keep fighting, but didn’t have a brief from the real people in charge, a combination of Yanukovych, the Kremlin, and various oligarchs in Ukraine.

“The constant rumours about the military coup in the DNR, that is, about the overthrow of Dmitry Pushilin by Strelkov, above all demonstrate the worsening conflict between Slavyansk and Donetsk. Slavyansk doesn’t need Donetsk. Strelkov doesn’t need Pushilin. Strelkov will not allow the separatists of Donetsk to go home, even if [Ukrainian oligarch Rinat] Akhmetov gives Pushilin the relevant order. The fighters in Slavyansk have repeatedly taken hostages, but the main hostages of Slavyansk are sitting in fact in Donetsk — separatists against their will, who thought that this was a game until Strelkov came along. Calling in his friend Boroday to become the premier of the DNR, essentially he has seized power in the Donetsk office of the DNR, and is the main person there now.”

Kashin goes further to explain the free-lance nature of both of these characters now: “Boroday cannot be considered proof of the involvement of the Kremlin in Strelkov’s activity. This is not the hand of Moscow, it’s just Boroday, which also can happen”:

“That is, most likely Boroday become prime minister of the DNR not as a Moscow political technologist but as a friend of Strelkov, just as, by the way, he became a White House defender in 1993, an author of the [ultranationalist] newspaper Zavtra, and family friend of Aleksandr Prokhanov. When we speak of people working for the Kremlin, for some reason we usually have in mind seasoned cynics who are prepared for money to do anything at all. But that is a dishonest simplification; in reality there are a tangible number of people who formulated the current values of the Kremlin for themselves 20 years before Putin. People who always dreamed of such a Kremlin, and for whom the work of the Kremlin is not a business, but just an extension of what they did for the newspaper Zavtra in the 1990s.

Boroday undoubtedly is related exactly to such people. His appearance in Donetsk in the role of a no-longer secret consultant, but a man openly committing a serious crime under the laws of Ukraine indicate only that he is no longer has a job. The last appeal from Strelkov testifies to all sorts of things but not to the fact that Russia is helping him — Strelkov is clearly desperate, the locals most likely don’t support him, and are definitely not prepared to fight for him, and he cannot expect help from anywhere. He is like Che Guevara in Bolivia — everyone thinks everything will be like Cuba, but of course, it will be different. Boroday’s joining of Strelkov in such a situation is a story of the fact that Boroday for Strelkov was a real friend, and nothing more.”

Kashin makes the point that there are other political consultants operating in the region — Konstantin Batozsky, an aide to Governor Taruta of Donetsk Region, who was appointed by Kiev — who used to work at Rosatom, the state nuclear agency. “Does that mean Taruta is ‘the hand of Moscow’? Hardly,” quips Kashin. Yes, Russia bears responsibility for the Ukraine crisis for backing the separatists, especially for its massive propaganda support of them.

“But propaganda support works like this. You can turn it on, and you can turn it off, as has already happened many times. But how to turn off the field commander Strelkov? The turn of events in Slavyansk very convincingly show that this section of the Ukrainian front lives already according to its own laws, and has long ago gone beyond the bounds of both domestic Ukrainian intrigues with Akhmetov’s involvement and the ‘private-government partnership’ which we saw in Crimea.

And there is nothing on earth more interesting than a political intrigue gone out of control of its initial authors.”