Novaya Gazeta: ‘It is Seen as Correct to Initiate Annexation of Eastern Regions of Ukraine to Russia’

February 24, 2015
"Little green men" hastily paint a Russian flag over the Coat of arms of Ukraine at a military base in Crimea, February 2014 | Stuart Webb

On February 21, Dmitry Muratov, the editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, gave an interview to Ekho Moskvy in which he described how his newspaper had obtained a sensational document that indicated the Kremlin had plans to annex Crimea and the Donbass at the same time — even before the toppling of former president Viktor Yanukovych. (For background on the figures discussed, see our post Novaya Gazeta to Release Sensational Document Confirming Kremlin’s Plan for War on Crimea and Donbass Before Yanukovych’s Flight).

Muratov said at the time that he would publish the document “next Wednesday” but in fact the deputy editor Andrei Lipsky published it today, Tuesday, February 24. In his interview with Ekho Moskvy, Muratov had explained that he had learned that the memorandum was drafted in a group close to the Kremlin that included Konstantin Malofeyev, a wealthy businessman and promoter of Russian Orthodox causes and philanthropies tied to the cause of “Novorossiya,” which in the short term involves establishing Russian enclaves in neighboring countries and defending the “Russian World” of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers outside of Russia and in the long term involves annexing parts of Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus. As Novaya Gazeta aptly notes in commentary at the end, the tone of the document is so cynical, however, that these nationalistic motifs so often heard in Russian state media are not even invoked, but there is only cold calculation.

Malofeyev worked closely with his PR consultant Aleksandr Boroday, who was later to become the head of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” and Col. Igor Strelkov, who was the commander of the Donetsk “militia” or Russian-backed militants, both of whom were later withdrawn in favor of leaders native to Donbass, as well as Aleksandr Dugin, an ultranationalist ideologue who was dismissed last year from his post at Moscow State University after complaints about his incitement of hatred and violence against Ukrainians. Even after these figures were removed, they continued to be seen together. and appear at some conferences and in the media.

Novaya Gazeta’s Muratov says the document was brought to the Kremlin by a person with ties to high officials in the presidential administration and, as he explains, the proof of its adoption by the Kremlin is in events themselves as they unfolded. The document reveals a plan to forcibly annex the Crimea through a referendum and then annex eastern regions of Ukraine in the Donbass to Russia by first starting with a soft variant of “associations of border cities” ostensibly on the European Union model then moving to outright annexation. The plan speaks of rallies and “stormings” — which is exactly what happened when pro-Russian demonstrators stormed buildings in the Donbass and took them over at gunpoint, creating the self-declared “Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.”

The document also appears to reveal the Kremlin’s designs on Kharkiv and the belief that after annexation of the Crimea, Kharkiv could be taken next. This plan failed, but recent incidents in Kharkiv including the bombing of a Maidan memorial parade this week, killing 4 people, including a policeman and three activists, one of whom was 15 years old, indicate that Russian-backed militants continue to target Ukraine’s second city–Catherine. A Fitzpatrick

A document has come into the possession of Novaya Gazeta which, presumably during the period between February 4-12, 2014, last year, was “brought” into the presidential administration.

Judging from the information which we possess and also according to the evaluations of experts to whom we provided this analytical memo for analysis, Konstantin Malofeyev, the “Russian Orthodox businessman,” presumably could have taken part in its preparation (see note at the end for the editors’ commentary).

In fact, after the announcement of this material on Ekho Moskvy, Malofeyev’s press service, has categorically denied this claim and has announced the intention of Mr. Malofeyev to go to court.

The document which we publish is interesting for the fact that at the earliest stages of the Ukrainian political crisis — that is, before the flight of Yanukovych from Kiev and the coming to power of the “Banderite junta” [a pejorative term used by Russians to claim that the elected Kiev government is a follower of the controversial war hero Bandera–The Interpreter] — it prescribes the justification, step by step, and also the political and PR logistics for the interference of Russia in Ukrainian affairs and the breaking off from Ukraine of Crimea and the eastern regions. And while the actual course of the Ukrainian drama has introduced some correctives, on the whole, the high degree of coincidence of this project with the ensuing actions of the Russian government are striking.

The text is published with some cuts. The orthography and punctuation of the original are basically preserved.– Novaya Gazeta.

1. In assessing the political situation in Ukraine, we must proceed from the recognition, first of all, of the bankruptcy of president V. Yanukoych and his ruling “family,” who are rapidly losing control over political processes.

Secondly, the paralysis of the central government and the absence in the country of a coherent political subject [i.e. actor–The Interpreter], with which the Russian Federation could conduct negotiations; third, the low likelihood of the appearance of such a consensus subject after early parliamentary elections and presidential elections announced by V. Yanukovych February 4 of this year.

If in Russia, the oligarchy is balanced out by a powerful class of bureaucrats, in Ukraine the state apparatus is deliberately weaker than the oligopies; it, like the sphere of public policy, is under the control of oligarchs. It is the oligarchs (R. Akhmetov, D. Firtash, I. Kolomoyskiy and others) who rule the Kiev political communities, including the Verkhovna Rada and the system opposition. [By “system opposition,” the author means the legal opposition that works within the system–The Interpreter]. The non-system opposition on the other hand (the so-called Maidan) is not under control by the leaders of the system opposition, here the tone is set by the “field commanders” (in large part soccer fans and representatives of the criminal underworld), who do not enjoy electoral influence and from all appearances are controlled not so much by the oligarchic groups but to a significant extent by Polish and British intelligence services. Even so, many oligarchic groups finance Maidan, so as “not to put all their eggs in one basket.” […]

President V. Yanukovych is a person of low moral and will-power qualities, he is afraid to give up the post of president and simultaneously prepared to “change out” the power ministries [i.e. police, army, intelligence–The Interpreter] in exchange for guarantees for the preservation of the post of president and immunity after leaving that post. Meanwhile, the part of the Berkut which is used to suppress the disorders in Kiev is is formed mainly from natives of the Crimea and the eastern regions. In the opinion of local observers, any attempts by V. Yanukovych’s successor to organize repression against the Interior Ministry (MVD) and the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) as punishment for suppressing Maidan will inevitably encounter harsh forceful reaction. All the more because the position of the Ukrainian army is ambiguous, which in the words of an officer of the Defense Ministry of Ukraine, is “locked in its barracks and the officers are guarding the arms depots so that God forbid, they don’t fall
into the hands of the contractors, which in that case will start shooting each other.” […]

Early parliamentary and presidential elections can become an excuse for a new spiral of demonstrations and stormings of civil war, a deepening of the “east-west” electoral divide and in the final analysis will hasten the disintegration of Ukraine.

Although the results of the Munich conference (the conference at that time on the problems of security took place in Munich from January 31-February 1, 2014–Novaya Gazeta) provide sufficient grounds to consider that the European Union and the USA will allow the disintegration of the country and even not consider such a turn of events to be extraordinary. The conception of a “point-by-point” engulfing of a major East European state by the European Union is not only publicly articulated by a number of official speakers of the EU, but finds adherents in the ranks of the Ukrainian elite.

(Here and elsewhere the boldface is made by the editors of Novaya Gazeta).

Will Russia take part in this geopolitical intrigue?

2. Russian policy regarding Ukraine must, finally, become pragmatic

First, the regime of V. Yanukovych has been finally bankrupted. The political, diplomatic, financial, and informational support of the Russian Federation no longer has any sense.

Second, under conditions of a sporadic civil war in the form of urban guerrillas of the so-called “Maidan supporters” against the government of a number of regions of the east of the country has become a fact, and the disintegration of the Ukrainian state along the lines of geographical merging of the regional alliances of the “Western regions plus Kiev” and the “eastern regions plus Crimea” has been made part of the political agenda — in these conditions Russia under no circumstances should limit its policy in Ukraine only to attempts to influence the Kiev political situation and relations with the system opposition (A. Yatsenyuk, V. Klitschko, O. Tyanibok, P. Poroshenko and others) with the European commission.

Thirdly, under conditions of almost total paralysis of the central government, incapable of even under the threat of a default and the absence of Naftogaz of the cash for payment for Russian gas, to form a responsible government, Russia is obliged to interfere in the geopolitical intrigue of the European Union, aimed against the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Above all, this is because otherwise, our country risks losing not only the Ukrainian market for energy sales but much more dangerous, even indirect control over the gas transport system of Ukraine. This will deliver a blow to the positions of Gazprom in Central and Southern Europe, causing enormous loss to the economy of our country.

Russia should not by any means limit its policy in Ukraine only to attempts to influence the Kiev political set-up.

3. The Constitution of Ukraine in any event is incapable of becoming a mechanism with which the integration of the Ukrainian eastern territories and the Crimea into the state and legal field of the Russian Federation could be legitimately launched.

As Art. 70 of the Fundamental Law of Ukraine states, questions of change to its territories is decided exclusively by an all-Ukrainian referendum. Meanwhile, a referendum under Art. 72 of the Constitution of Ukraine, proclaimed by popular initiative at the demand of no less than three million citizens of Ukraine who have the right to work, under the condition that the signatures regarding the setting of the referendum are gathered from no less than two thirds of the regions and no less than 100,000 signatures in each region.

Nevertheless, as paradoxical as it may sound, for the Russian-Ukrainian integrational process, a legal basis is already created – a system of Russian-Ukrainian euro-regions which belong to the Associaiton of European Border Regions (which in turn is a collective member of the Assembly of European Regions). Thus, Donetsk, Lugansk, Rostov and Voronezh regions are in the euro-region “Donbass” [the first two are regions of Ukraine and second two are regions of Russia–The Interpreter]; Kharkov [Ukraine] and Belgorod [Russia] regions are members of the euro-region “Slobozhanshchina]; Bryansk [Russian] and Chernohiv [Ukraine] regions are members of the “Dniepr” region and so on.

Russia using the legitimate, from the perspective of the European Union legal instruments of euro-regions must attain the signing of agreements on border and trans-border cooperation and also establish direct state-treaty relations with the Ukrainian territories where there are persistent pro-Russian electoral sympathies present.

First — with the Republic of Crimea, Kharkov, Lugansk, Zaporozhe, Nikolayev, Dnepropetrovsk and to a lesser extent Kherson and Odessa regions (From this list Sumsk and Donetsk regions are deliberately — and fairly arbitrarily — removed. The first due to very high electoral influence in it of the Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) Party [led by Yulia Tymoshenko–The Interpreter]. The second, for the reason of close commercial and political ties of the local business elite headed by R. Akhmetov, with a number of representatives of the opposition oligarchy alliance which has here its wide-scale interests.)

The local elites as never before are motivated toward meeting the new integrationist initiatives of Russia. Before the crisis, the eastern Ukrainian elite preferred a “weak Kiev” to a “strong Moscow”; however now, under threat of losing “everything,” they do not intend to wait like lambs to the slaughter for the massive purges (including on the grounds of “economic” compromising materials accumulated on them at the center) which inevitably will be undertaken by the central government regardless of which political forces will enter the composition of the “new Kiev consensus” after the departure of V. Yanukovych from the post of president of Ukraine. Under these conditions, they are prepared to renounce their “independence.”

The current events in Kiev persuasively indicate that Yanukovych’s time in power may end at any moment. Thus, there is less and less time for Russia to have an appropriate reaction. The number of people killed in the riots in the capital of Ukraine directly testify to the inevitability of civil war and the impossibility of a consensus, with the preservation of Yanukovych in the post of president. Under these conditions it is seen as correct to play on the centrifugal aspirations of various regions of the country with the purpose in one form or another initiating the annexation of its eastern regions to Russia. The dominant regions for applying efforts must be the Crimea and Kharkiv Region in which exist fairly strong support groups of the idea of maximum integration with the RF.

4. Of course, Russia, taking upon itself the support of Crimea and several eastern territories will be forced to take on a very burdensome budgetary expenditures in its current situation.

Undoubtedly, this will have an effect on macro-economic stability and prospects for the growth of its economy. However, from the geopolitical perspective, the win will be priceless: our country will gain access to new demographic resources, highly-qualified cadres of industry and transportation will be in its possession. Moreover, it can count on the appearance of a new Slavic migration stream headed from the west to the east — in counterweight to the Central Asian migration trend. The industrial potential of Eastern Ukraine, including the military-industrial sector included in Russia’s military-industrial complex, will enable a more successful and rapid implementation of the program of re-armament of the Russian Federation Armed Forces.

What is no less important, the constructive, “smoothing” participation of Russia in the process of the highly-likely disintegration of the Ukrainian state will not only lend a new impulse to the integrationist projects of the Kremlin but also enable our country to preserve, as has already been said above, control over the gas-transport system of Ukraine. And along with this to substantially change the geopolitical set-up in Central and Eastern Europe, returning Russia here to one of its chief roles.

5. For the launching of the process of the “pro-Russian drift” of the Crimea and eastern Ukrainian territories events must be created in advance to lend this process political legitimacy and moral justification.

And also a PR strategy must be built to accentuate the forced, reactive nature of the corresponding actions of Russia and the pro-Russian-minded political elite of the south and east of Ukraine.

The latest events in Western Ukraine (Lvov, Volyn, Ivano-Frankiv regions), in the course of which the opposition proclaimed its independence from the government of Kiev, provides a basis for the eastern regions to proclaim their own sovereignty, with their ensuing re-orientation to the Russian Federation.

6. The retaliatory actions in the eastern Ukrainian regions must be dual in structure and in scenario.

Participants in actions of civil disobedience must demand from the Verkhovna Rada the expansion of the format for Constitutional reform discussed in the Ukrainian parliament including the simplification of the procedure for organizing an all-Ukrainian referendum.

“We must not be hostages to Maidan. The unitarian state structure of Ukraine enabling an aggressive nationalist minority of the population to impose its choice on the whole country must be reviewed. Russia is a federative state and it is unthinkable there. By reinforcing the state and legal ties with Russia, we reinforce the integrity of the Ukrainian state.”

At first demonstrators must articulate their wish not to be “hostages of Maidan”, and its attempt to usurp the rights of other regions and a large part of the population of the country regarding its own civilization and political choice and its nonacceptance of the “ideology of civil war and splitting of the country” which political representatives of the Western Ukrainian elite are espousing.

Demonstrators who speak out under Russian flags must not insist on changes to the constitutional order. They must make a decisive condemnation of the actions of the “Western Ukrainian separatists, encroaching with the help of their foreign masters on the territorial integrity of the country” and also demands for a rapid development of “associative relations of the eastern regions of Ukraine with the Russian Federation.” “We are with Russia. No to Civil War.”

The slogans of the moment must be the justified wish not to “support by tax withdrawals the pro-fascist forces” of Western Ukraine and the government dependent on them oriented to the demands of the European Union and not the needs of its citizens.

It would be expeditious to have a consistent advancement of three slogans, as events develop, one flowing from the other:

– Demand for “federalization” (or even confederalization) as a guarantee of these regions from interference by pro-Western and nationalist forces in their internal affairs;

– The entry of the eastern and southeastern regions on a regional level independent from Kiev into the Customs Union, which will enable the necessary conditions for normal work and development of industry;

– Direct sovereignization with the ensuing annexation to Russia as the only guarantee for stable economic development and social stability.

The political movement for the pro-Russian choice and the associative relations of the eastern and southern Ukrainian territories with the Russian Federation, as it seems to us, are also necessary to constitute organizational, registering by law. For this *it is necessary to prepare the conditions for conducting in the Crimea and Kharkiv Region (and later in other regions) referendums raising the question of self-determination and further possibilities of annexation to the Russian Federation.*

It seems important to organize an informal assembly of leaders or representatives of the eastern regions of Ukraine in Moscow, where support and political guarantees (even only verbal) would be given to them as persons possessing sufficient powers. Such representatives of the eastern Ukrainian elite are, for example, N. Dobkin (mayor of the city of Kharkiv), V. Konstantinov (chairman of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Crimea), S. Aksyonov (chairman of the party Russian Unity)…

It is extremely important that “world public” have as few reasons as possible to doubt the legitimacy and honesty of these referendums.

For that is it seen as expeditious to provide the process of the referendums with modern means of verification (web cameras and online broadcasting). The preliminary plan for such work has already been developed and can be realized in a two-week period.

7. It is important to arrange these events with a PR campaign in the Russian and Ukrainian press.

This includes – drafting and launching in media rotation conceptual documents which are manifestos of sorts of the western Ukrainian and eastern Ukrainian separatism. In support of the annexation of the eastern regions of Ukraine and Russia, wide circles of the public in Russia itself must speak out (a possible slogan: (“Putin 2.0 – we are for a Pereyaslavskaya Rada 2.0”). [The reference is to the Council of Pereyaslav, the General Cossack Council of 1654 convened by Bohdan Khmelnytsky on the issue of relations between the Cossack Hetmanate and Muscovy–The Interpreter].

From Euro-regions to Incorporation into Russia.

Commentary from the Editors of Novaya Gazeta

There are several characteristic features of this plan.

1. As we have already noted, it was created before Yanukovych’s flight and before the coming to power of the temporary government from the “system opposition.” That is, even before the moment which is characterized in Moscow as the “coup d’etat” which became the chief justification for its subsequent actions.

2. The memorandum provides a pejorative evaluation of Yanukovych who subsequently for a long period in the public space would be portrayed by the Russian government as the victim of a coup and the only legitimate leader of Ukraine.

3. The memorandum is written in a pragmatic tone — to the point of cynicism. It has no “spiritual and historical” justifications for Russian interference in Ukraine. No discussions about “Novorossiya,” about the protection of Russian language-speakers, about the Russian World” and the coming “Russian Spring.” There is only geopolitics and cold calculation.

4. The authors of the document are concerned to lend “legitimacy” to the incorporation of Ukrainian territories into the “state legal field” of Russia. In particular, they believe that a legal basis exists for the first step – that is mixed Russian-Ukrainian euro-regions (for example, Donetsk and Lugansk as well as Rostov and Voronezh regions would go in the euro-region “Donbass”) which in turn joins the Association of European Border Regions. The authors are convinced that using this legal instrument, Ukrainian regions with “persistent pro-Russian sympathies” can be drawn into direct state-treaty relations. And then only later — “legitimate” referendums on self-determination.

5. The memorandum contains a number of crude distortions of reality which were supposed to show the “reactive” and coerced nature of Russian actions (the leaders of Maidan were recruited from soccer fans and the criminal underworld, they are under the control of the Polish and British intelligence; the USA and European Union are permitting the disintegration of Ukraine; the European Union has plotted geopolitical intrigue to split of Ukraine and so on.) All of these arguments are later actively used by Russian propaganda.

6. The memorandum also contains many arguments of a geopolitical and economic nature which should convince the leadership of the need for immediate interference in Ukraine and reinforcement in this manner of the Russian positions not only in Ukraine but in Central and Eastern Europe, the preservation of control over the gas transport networks coming through Ukraine, the obtaining at their disposal of the Ukrainian military-industrial complex situated in the east of the country (for the acceleration of re-armament) and even the exchange of the “Central Asian” flow of migrants for the “Slavic,” western.

On the whole, it can be noted that the recommendations of the memorandum’s authors for the staged intervention of Russia in Ukrainian affairs with the final aim of seizure of a number of territories of Ukraine was largely realized in Moscow’s practical actions:

– organization of actions of civil disobedience in regions with pro-Russian sentiments;
– lending this process “political legitimacy” and “moral justification”;
– advancement by the protesters of demands to simplify the procedure for conducting Ukrainian referendums
– then the advancement of demands for “federalization” or even “confederalization”;
– demands for the entry of Crimea and the south-eastern regions to join the Customs Union, independent of Kiev;
– conducting “legitimate” and “honest” referendums on self-determination and unification with Russia
– active PR accompaniment of these processes in the Russian and Ukrainian media.

The authors of the document made a significant mistaken with the definition of the regions most ready to join Russia: they named Crimea and Kharkov region, considering the “Akhmetov empire” — Donetsk Region — to be less promising. Reality brought about its correctives to these calculations. But on the whole, the scheme was brought to life.

Andrei Lipsky
Editor, Politics Department
Novaya Gazeta