Russia This Week: The Kremlin’s Policy-Making on Ukraine is ‘A Mess’

December 5, 2014
Banner of the Nationalist Liberation Movement, an ultranationalist group that has supported "Novorossiya" in the Donbass. The group was founded by United Russia deputy Yevgeny Fyodorov. used this photo to illustrate their article on Kremlin control of separatists in Ukraine, but without explaining it. Photo by TASS.

In Russia This Week, you will find links to all the stories of Russia Update in the last week and to special features, plus an article following up on the news and trending topics below.

This Week’s Stories in Russia Update:

Fire at FSB Building in Dagestan Capital Said to Be ‘Short Circuit’ – Police
Ruble Improves Slightly, Still Surfing Record Lows
Russian Intelligence Agency Building Burns in Dagestan
Sentences Handed Down in 2013 Volgograd Terrorist Attack
Russia Downgraded Even Further to 136th Place by Transparency International
Opposition Leader Boris Nemtsov Analyzes Putin Speech; ‘He Did Not Say a Word About Corruption’
Body of Civilian Found in Press House Rubble in Grozny Following Police Storm on Terrorists
Head Of Coca-Cola Factory Murdered In St. Petersburg
Putin Downplays Economic Crisis, Chechen Terrorism; Ignores War on Ukraine in Address to Federal Assembly
Market Burns As Fighting Continues In Grozny
Militants Occupying School Building In Grozny
Translation of Police Radio During Anti-Terrorist Operation in Grozny
Chechen Leader Reports 6 Terrorists Killed in Police Operation
5 Policemen Killed in Terrorist Attack in Grozny
Statement from Caucasus Emirate Terrorists from Grozny
3 Policemen Killed in Grozny Shoot-Out
Explosion and Gunfire in Grozny
Cutting Russia Off from SWIFT ‘Will Mean War’: Top Russian Banker
Half a Million Russians Die Each Year from Alcoholism
Hard-Line Russian Parliamentarians Propose Reinstating State Ideology
Vedomosti Compares Vladimir Putin To Robert Mugabe
Ruble Fails to Rally Despite Bank of Russia Interventions
Russia’s Finance Ministry to Grab Bank Deposits for 2 Weeks, May Borrow From Reserves
25 Detained in Moscow for Attending Lecture on Ukraine’s Maidan Movement
Putin Plans Tax Holiday for Gazprom, Tax Hike for Small Business
Russian Parliamentarian Proposes Ban on iPhone for MPs
Russia Cancels South Stream, Plans New Black Sea Pipeline with Turkey
Kremlin Officials Responsible for ‘People’s Republics’ Resign From Their Posts
Murder Trial Opens of 4 BORN Members; Other Convicts Claim Ties to Kremlin
Pro-European Parties Gain Slim Edge Over Pro-Russians in Parliamentary Elections in Moldova
New Allegations of Russian Bribery of FIFA Officials: Sunday Times
‘Ruble is Drowning in Oil’ as Price Drops
Rosneft to Be Partly Privatized

Is Putin Really Reining in Hard-Liners? Fact-Checking Gordon Hahn’s Article In The Moscow Times

Please help The Interpreter to continue providing this valuable information service by making a donation towards our costs‏.

Is Moscow’s Policy on Ukraine Changing with Dismissals in Surkov’s Shop?

In case anyone had any doubt, an independent centrist Russian online news service has a story today, December 5, exposing Kremlin manipulation of pro-Russian movements and disarray in policy as Russia and its proxies in southeastern Ukraine experienced fierce armed conflict with Ukrainian forces this summer.

Now all the Muscovites who had been commanding the self-declared “Donetsk People’s Republic” have been dismissed or have resigned and returned to Moscow or the Crimea, and Russians native to the Donbass are in charge. Yet Moscow continues to meddle, a fact most demonstratively seen in the fact that it is Russia, not the supposedly independent separatists, who have signed the recent truce with Ukraine.

In a story titled “Don’t Rock the Boat: What is Behind the Resignations of Russian Bureaucrats Responsible for Ukraine,” cites sources close to the
“Novorossiya” project of support for Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine to portray a shocking picture of officials both micro-managing and bungling the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine.

scrutinized Putin’s speech yesterday to the Federal Assembly and found it
significant that he didn’t even mention “Novorossiya” or the
“Russian World” concepts, although this was a speech for domestic
audiences. There was still plenty of ethnic Russian nationalism and Orthodox
crusading within the speech to worry non-Russians inside and outside of Russia.

But takes a look at the actual foreign policy shop
in the Kremlin under the “grey cardinal” Vyacheslav Surkov, and sees
that something is changing. As we have reported, a number of people have
resigned or been dismissed from this department for relations with the
Commonwealth of Independent States, the regional body formed after the collapse
of the Soviet Union.’s source says there have been more than were

The division is small, at first several people were removed
in staff reductions in early October. Then another two we left, and finally [Vladimir] Avdeyenko and [Boris] Rapoport were dismissed.

Other reports said they resigned of their own volition.

The source says that Sergey Glazyev, a co-founder of the
nationalist Rodina [Motherland] party who was appointed as an aide to Putin to
coordinate the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan and is described as “notable for his hawkish views” was said to have “great influence” on Russian policy. 

But while Glazyev had a lot of influence at the start of the
conflict — he once infamously called Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko a
“fascist” — he has now receded:

At first his network in Ukraine was stronger than Surkov’s
but then Vladislav Yuryevich [Surkov] seized the initiative. Today Glazyev does
not influence Moscow’s work in the region.’s correspondent personally saw Rapoport and his
colleagues from the division in meetings on the southeastern Ukraine in the
Federation Council and in the Moscow office of the Novorossiya Popular Front on
Ilyinka Street. Several protest actions in eastern Ukraine failed in September;
the officials dismissed were the ones involved in analysis of the situation and
“informational support” of the action — i.e. war propaganda.

At the time, various forces unhappy with Kiev, from
Communists to former Party of Regions members to Crimean activists as well as
advocates of federalization and support to the self-declared “People’s
Republics” of Donetsk and Lugansk organized a demonstration in September
in Kharkiv, Odessa, Dnepropetrovsk and several other areas, but they only drew
several hundred people despite their Moscow backing and had no affect on the
situation in the region.

By the end of the summer, the Ukrainian Security Service
[SBU] had begun to take under control all the pro-Russian activists and
separatist supporters in the area. claims there are “thousands
of pro-Russian activists in the DPR and LPR who are considered political
prisoners” — although the separatists themselves don’t seem to make this
claim as such. These are cases of people arrested for terrorism, extremism,
treason, undermining territorial integrity, separatism, and so on, says While there are many such arrests, the figure of
“thousands” is not confirmed.

The tasks of Rapoport and his colleagues was to create, so
to speak, pro-Russian sentiments in the south-east. they did not cope with this
task in building trust toward Russia in the region. And to this day, the
direction of the very Novorossiya project itself is not clear. They have not
worked sufficiently with people in the southeast and led an information
command. There were even rumors of the resignation of Vladislav Surkov in the
works, but for now it has passed.

Another informed source close to Surkov tells a different

Ordinary staff people left the division after the rather
successful elections in the DPR and LPR and in Ukraine, which all sides
remained satisfied with. People signed specific contracts, now the situation is
completed. All of this change occurred in the framework of an ordinary

There have been constant rumors of Surkov’s involvement in
“Novorossiya” and his possible dismissal. Boris Rozhin, who blogs
under the name of Colonel Cassad on Live Journal and who has provided news
support as well as material assistance to the pro-Russian movement in Ukraine
wrote an article titled “Why Rapoport Replaced Surkov in the Ukrainian

The theory was that in early November, when Surkov was
bargaining with Kiev, Rapoport would replace him. But this rumor was dismissed
as “delirium” in Surkov’s office and Rapoport was said to be Surkov’s
man anyway.

Col. Igor Strelkov, nicknamed “the downed pilot” in
Moscow as he has fallen from disfavor after being dismissed from the command of
the DPR forces, has pushed the Surkov theory most aggressively. Aleksandr
Chalenko, a journalist from the state Rossiya Segodna media company complained
his interview of Strelkov was “twice censored,” a story covered by Novaya Gazeta
and others. All the criticism of the current leadership of the self-proclaimed
republics was removed from the piece, says

In Rapoport’s place is Igor Udovichekno, a former deputy
head of the division of domestic policy, considered also to be Surkov’s man.
And Surkov is still on Ukraine policy, says a source.

Yet another expert, Aleksey Chesnakov of the Center for
Current Politics said Rapoport left due to health issues and was not
responsible for the DPR and LPR anyway. Avdeyenko was fired from the department
of financial and infrastructure issues related to Abkhazia and South Ossetia,
so “these resignations were not connected” to Ukraine, he said. He
thought the personnel changes were “routine.”

But still another source says policy is in disarray:

In 9 months, the general line regarding Ukraine has changed
3 times. You cannot name a successful curator of the Ukrainian issue at all,
regardless of who is curating it. No ‘iron-clad plan’ is available, everything
is situational. It’s the same with selecting personnel.

“Curation” is a term Russians use to mean managing
— and sometimes manipulating — a situation for state purposes.

This source said that Russia’s role in supporting protest
movements in Ukraine diminished after the SBU arrests, and now people are told
to go underground and not protest openly. This source said he believed there
were “1,400 political prisoners in Kharkiv alone.” He said Moscow
helps these movements with financial aid, appearances on federal TV and aid to
newspapers and web sites.

“In the organization of armed resistance,
bureaucrats are completely useless; here other organizations help, and help fairly
concretely,” he said.

That means the Kremlin bureaucracy itself is not tasked with
control of the armed insurrection, but the Russian intelligence agencies, military
intelligence (GRU), and domestic and foreign intelligence (FSB and SVR).

source also noted that “another division” in the presidential
administration answers for “promoting the necessary agenda in the federal
media” and Surkov’s subordinates are forced to coordinate with them.

A source close to the administration and the
“Novorossiya” issue commented to

The chief purpose of Russian authorities at this time is the
preservation of the ‘Russian world’ and pro-Russian sentiments in Ukraine. This
is the chief purpose people there are working on. All the personnel changes are
necessary because this task was not being fulfilled properly. No one needs war,
they want to preserve the ‘Russian World.”

This source said at first, Moscow wanted to preserve the
integrity of Ukraine but with a pro-Russian government. But after September, they
wanted to stop the war, achieve certain compromises between the DPR, LPR and
the rest of Ukraine, even up to a referendum on annexation to Russia.

In August, Russian launched a series of invasions in Ukraine and reportedly lost hundreds of soldiers in battles in Ilovaisk and other cities, which led to the Minsk “ceasefire” agreement September 5, honored now mainly in the breach.

psychologically, we lost Ukraine in the end, now there is the premise that
Russians are enemies,” the source complained.

With the concept of the pro-Russian Ukraine gone, now DPR
and LPR are seen as independent states, said the source.

“Now we are leading an information war, we are trying
through blogs, through media appearances, opinion leaders to break public moods
in Ukraine. The government can be changed in Kiev, but time is needed for that
and people have to recognize their mistakes and the failures of the current

Valery Solovey, director of public liaison with the Moscow
State Institute for Foreign Relations, commenting on the dismissals with an even harder

“A regular army was needed with saboteur activity in the rear
guard. The republics exist, and that is already unquestionable success. But
their future looks like the future of Transnistria. But with one important
caveat. Russia will pay the expenses for their upkeep. Perhaps it will be
possible to force the Ukrainian elite which fled to Russia to take some of
those expenses on themselves. But in any event, the Donbass is turning into a
‘black hole’ of the Russian economy, politics and geopolitics. There was no
strategy regarding Ukraine at first. but the axiom of strategic direction says:
no tactical and operational successes can compensate for the lack of strategy;
the side that doesn’t have a strategy always loses.”

Aleksandr Zhuchkovsky, who has the interesting title of
“non-humanitarian aid coordinator for the DPR” said he couldn’t see
any long-term strategy either in Moscow or the Donbass.

“From here, it all
looks a mess,” he said, adding that it was “like reading coffee
grounds.” Only substantial humanitarian — and military aid — would prove
there really was a plan, he said, implying that is not what they were getting.
He wanted Russia to invest in the region and create jobs.

All of these conflicting perspectives together seem to indicate
the policy is a mess, and yet the Kremlin has managed to keep the situation
destabilized enough always in its favor, which is perhaps all that is needed
for a grand strategy.