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.
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Aleksey Ponomarev has a feature on Slon.ru about the reaction of the ultranationalist groups to the Minsk agreements — they are naturally unhappy as they see it as a sell-out by President Vladimir Putin of their cause. For months, the pro-separatist press and social media have talked about how the Kremlin might “dump” them and wind up making a compromise with Kiev instead of establishing the basis for “Novorossiya,” a realm of Russians abroad which would be forcibly established from parts of Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus. Ever since their hero Col. Igor Strelkov, who once commanded the forces of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic,” was forced to retreat from Slavyansk and then was removed from power, evidently at the behest of the Russian suppliers to the militants in the Donbass, there has been growing anger at the “fifth column” of opposition and “sixth column” of government liberals whom the ultrarightists see as gaining Putin’s favor at their expense.
In the last year, Putin has made some moves to suppress the growing ultranationalist movement by firing Eurasianist ideologue Aleksandr Dugin from Moscow State Union; ensuring the arrest of Aleksandr Potkin organizer of the annual “Russian March” on charges of extremism; and sanctioning the interrogation and threat of prosecution against popular web ultranationalist web site Sputnik&Pogrom editor Yegor Prosvirnin. Many of the groups on the list of 41 banned organizations are national-socialists or other extreme-right groups or fanatical Russian Orthodox sects. Some of these groups have supplied the volunteer fighters to the Russian-backed militants in Ukraine — we know that because after the final battle for the Donetsk Airport, Sergei Kurginyan, leader of Essence of time, said three of his supporters were killed; two members of the National Liberation Movement who ran the news operation Icorpus.ru supported by Strelkov as well as Duma senator Yevgeny Fyodorov were killed in August 2014 along with Russian state journalist Andrei Stenin. Several other prominent regional ultranationalists have been reported as killed in battle or in an ambush.
It is difficult on this basis to estimate how many of the fighters were supplied from extremist Russian groups, but given their popularity on VKontakte and other social media, likely many who came from Russia were involved with these networks. The size of these movements, even taken collectively, is not great, however, as when they organize various actions and marches, they have not gained more than 2,000 to 5,000 people in attendance in Moscow and even less in the provinces. They have become more visible by showing up at liberal opposition rallies such as in defense of Alexey Navalny in December and January where a few hundred bikers, Afghan veterans and Cossacks were able to discourage peaceful demonstrators by shouting them down or in some cases beating them while police looked on passively.
While Putin may have curbed them for now, these groups remain available as networks that can be harnessed at any time as needed. They enjoy ties to more establishment nationalists and the Russian Orthodox Church as can be seen at events like the “Moscow the Third Rome” conference last year where former intelligence officer Leonid Reshetnikov, now at the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies spoke with Orthodox leaders, Dugin and Konstantin Malofeyev, the businessman who is now a witness in an investigation and was reported to have been searched himself by police, which he denies.
The following is an excerpt of the materials Ponomarev has selected:
The editorial board of the nationalist web site sputnikandpogrom.com which is led by Yegor Prosvirnin, posted a comment on Facebook.
If we speak about conscience, then the new Minsk agreements are a betrayal of everything that the militia fought for, including some of our readers. There is no Novorossiya, no DNR, no LNR only “certain districts of the Donetsk and Lugansk Regions” with a clownish, semi-autonomous status. This completely contradicts all the aims of the insurgency. So that’s how it is in general.
But it also contradicts the aims of Russian policy in Ukraine which hoped to turn the DNR and LNR into two subjects of the Ukrainian Federation which would block the decisions to enter NATO or the EU there. In its current version, the Agreements of the DNR and LNR cannot prevent Ukraine from entering NATO. They can only elect their district prosecutors.
The agreement contracts not only all the aims of the uprising but all the aims of Russian policy in Ukraine. And that means that it will not last long, if it enters into force at all.
Novoye Vremya [New Time]
In the Ukrainian publication Novoye Vremya, commentator Ivan Yakovin noted about the Minsk agreements that Moscow had essentially managed to achieve the very federalization of Ukraine that supporters of the DNR advocated when there was no war:
Although the word federalization does not appear anywhere in the document, the territories under control of the fighters will receive such broad rights that it would be difficult to call it anything else. The situation in the Donbass will be approximately like this: local authorities formed on the basis of the law “On Special Status,” their own army (the ranks of the fighters re-made into the “police”), their own courts and prosecutor’s office and their own language policy. With that, they willl have financing from Kiev and unlimited political influence from Moscow. All of this will be fixed not only in laws but in the Constitution of the country which will be extremely hard to win back.
Patriots of Novorossiya
There is no Novorossiya. There is no DNR and LNR. There are certain districts of the Donetsk and Lugansk region, whose “pecularities” Ukraine has graciously promised to “take into account.”
For this, essentially, tens of thousands of people died, including thousands of militia who had the misfortune to believe in this Erefiya [a pejorative term for the Russian Federation based on the initials — The Interpreter].
Of course it’s shocking, in general. So troops had to be brought into the Donbass back in mid-August, kill the population of a small town in battles and shelling, receive several stages of international sanctions, and possibly forever ruin relations with the Western world — and not even get from Ukraine the status of official autonomy for the DNR and LNR. And even the very names of the DNR and LNR — they didn’t manage to legalize them in the documents. You’d have to be Putin in order to achieve such an impressive result. I take my hat off.
Kirill Frolov, Russian Orthodox activist and adept of the “Russian Spring” in all its manifestations, echoes Olshansky:
According to the [document] apparently supported by the “contact group,” the Dill-weed [pejorative term for Ukrainians — The Interpreter] border guards will occupy the border of Russia and Novorossiya only when Ukraine does what they don’t intend to do — conduct constitutional reform with the “coordination of the leaders of certain districts of Donetsk and Lugansk Regions.” Thus Minsk-2 is not worth a kopeck. But the text itself looks awful, like a complete and unconditional capitulation of Novorossiya and Russia, according to which there are no DNR and LNR…
Nationalist Yegor Kholmogorov, editor-in-chief of Russkiy Obozrevatel’, who is categorically in disagreement with Olshansky and Frolov:
The only complain that I can seriously make to Putin is a very serious complaint, and it consists of the fact that he signs these kinds of papers all the time, thus providing legal material for future accusations against himself. It is understood that Ukraine will break Minsk-2. It is understood that everyone understands this. But the West’s complaints will nevertheless be made to Putin. They’ll say, you signed this and you promised this, and then didn’t fulfill it — you are a deceiver. That, of course is a huge strategic mistake. But all this talk about “betrayal of Novorossiya” in this context is nonsense, of course.
In fact, as we pointed out in our report on the actual original Russian of the Minsk document, neither Putin nor Poroshenko signed it; it is signed by the same parties as the original Minsk agreement, which are the leaders of the DNR and LNR, the Russian ambassador to Kiev, and former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma.
Slon.ru’s journalist Ponomarev also points out that the extremists in Ukraine aren’t happy with the Minsk document. He cites Andrei Denisenko from Svoboda, an ultranationalist party that in fact did not meet the 5% threshold to get into the parliament, but does have a few single-mandate seats. Denisenko says that point 10 of the agreement regarding “disarmament of all unlawful groups” enables the DNR and LNR in fact to stay armed, as they get to form “the police” of the “certain regions” — in other words, simply to convert themselves from “militia” to “police.”
Meanwhile, groups like Right Sector, which have joined the armed battalions, will be required to disarm under this law, says Denisenko. To be sure, the Minsk agreement speaks about the “withdrawal of foreign troops” — which Europe and Ukraine understand as Russian troops. But given that Russia denies it has any troops, it means that Poroshenko’s intent to disband the volunteer battalions will still leave Russian troops mingled with the DNR untouched.
Ponomarev also cites Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin aide who fell out of favor when he counseled Putin not to switch places with Medvedev in the elections as this would anger the public. Pavlovsky was instrumental in the Kremlin’s efforts to disrupt the Orange Revolution and the democratic government that resulted from it, which ultimately ended in Viktor Yanukovych taking power. Ponomarev describes Pavlovsky as “taking a neutral position” although “fairly vague” about the Minsk agreements.
The infrastructure of the so-called “military assistance to the Donbass” has been turned into a quasi-region of the RF, tied to the border territories. The dream of the old national warriors against “Erefiya” has come true. Now this trophic ulcer on the border is trying to become a state surrogate, an alternative to Russia itself. The DNR/LNR, as an internal Ukrainian subject are not to blame for this — such is our usual means of delegating issues. However, the “delegates” will not give up to Putin their key to surrogate power which equals the back door to the Kremlin. More likely they will give up Putin himself.
Perhaps Pavlovsky’s indeed cryptic statement is better understood by seeing the image on his Facebook to go with this post. It’s a bear clawing at the car of a man wearing a cap with a red star — which apparently symbolizes Russia having to fight with some national communist elements (communists in the form of ultranationalists are the only real threat to Putin).