Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.
The previous issue is here, and see also our Russia This Week stories Ultranationalists Angry over âCapitulationâ of Minsk Agreement, âAnti-Maidanâ Launched by Nationalists, Cossacks, Veterans, Bikers, The Guild War â How Should Journalists Treat Russian State Propagandists? and special features Former Russian Intelligence Officers Behind Boisto âTrack IIâ Talks â and Now the Flawed Minsk Agreement and Johnsonâs Russia List Spreads Invented Story About Germany Preparing Sanctions Against Kiev
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Yesterday February 20, Paul Goble reported here that Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta said in an interview on Ekho Moskvy
that he had obtained a sensational document which he plans to publish
next week confirming the Kremlin planned to wage war on Crimea and the Donbass before former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych fled from Kiev. Writes Goble:
Dmitry Muratov, the editor of Novaya Gazeta, said on Ekho Moskvy
that his paper now has in its possession a document which confirmed
that “the plan of war in Ukraine was developed in the administration of
the president of Russia,” that is, by Putin’s entourage.
The “document shows, Muratov said, that this plan was developed in
the Kremlin between February 4 and February 15 of last year, that is
before Viktor Yanukovych fled from Kyiv. And it specifies that Russia
must intervene in Ukraine lest it lose control of gas pipelines and a
The Kremlin document specifies that Moscow should exploit “the
centrifugal strivings of various regions” of Ukraine “with the goal of
initiating in one form or another the unification of its eastern regions
to Russia.” First among these, the document says, according to
Muratov, should be Crimea and Kharkiv.
And the Kremlin plan also outlines Russia’s diplomatic strategy.
Moscow must insist on talks to “resolve the crisis,” even though it will
have been the source of the problem.
McClatchy has also now reported today on this interview, characterizing Novaya Gazeta, whose journalists such as Anna Politkovskaya have been assassinated for their work, as “a rarity in Russia these days, an independent investigative newspaper that’s known to anger the Kremlin on a regular basis.”
We read the original of Muratov’s interview linked by Goble in which he quoted the polical theses for the operation, which was, according to the document’s authors, to
have “an expeditious promotion, with the help of the Ukrainian people
both in the east of Ukraine and in Crimea, of three main slogans, flowing
consecutively one from another.” Muratov said he was “shaken” when
he read them (translation by The Interpreter):
– Demand of federalization or even confederalization
as a guarantee for these regions from interference in their internal affairs by pro-Western and
– Independently from Kiev, entry of the east and southeast regions at a regional level into the Customs Union;
– Direct sovereignization, with ensuing annexation to Russia.
Thus, after itself destabilizing Ukraine, Russian would then appear in the role as “the only guarantor for persistent economic development and social stability.”
Moskvy’s Oksana Chizh asked Muratov if he was confident of the
authenticity of the document, and said some of the slogans seemed to
be entirely over-ambitious.
Muratov said he was confident, and that
the slogans were surprisingly coming to pass, although some of the
others discussed, such as “Putin Version 2.0 – We want the Pereyaslavskaya Rada
2.0!” — that is a council that could unite the historical regions of
Ukraine in the south-east — seemed far-fetched.
The document also talked
mischievously of invoking the practice of the European Union of creating
“agreements of border towns” to lend “Russia’s annexation of a part of
those [Ukrainian] territories an absolutely legitimate nature.”
Muratov says in this interview, “It seems to me that Putin has ceased to
influence this war — I’d put it that way.”
That seems hard to believe
when Putin just got his way — about which he argued with Poroshenko for
8 hours at the Minsk talks on the night of February 11-12 — in Debaltsevo, where the flag of
“Novorossiya” was raised February 17 and the Ukrainian flag trampled in the mud
as Ukrainian troops were forced to flee.
But there is an element of
unpredictability in the “Novorossiya” project which Aleksandr Boroday
once described as “semiboyarshchina,” i.e. seven boyars who posed a
threat to the czar, as certain popular warlords could pose to
Putin, and as as warlords fight among themselves.
One would think that such a plan for the takeover of
the Donbass might come from the office of Vladislav Surkov — and when
the SBU released a statement yesterday that Surkov was behind the
snipers, this may be a compressed way of saying that Surkov is the architect
of a policy that involved propping up Yanukovych with force against
doesn’t mention Surkov, however, and says that the document given to the presidential administration comes
from “a group” in which Russian Orthodox businessman and philanthropist Konstantin Malofeyev participated. He indicated that “people who have the
opportunity to go into the presidential administration more than he
does, to go to the Kremlin, brought there scenarios about possible
He also notes Col. Igor Strelkov, commander of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR) forces, whom he describes as chief of
Malofeyev’s security, along with Aleksandr Boroday, a public relations manager:
Muratov: You see, the delusion of such simplicity and the beauty of this plan, it indeed played its terrible, dark role. And now Putin is doing everything to stop this war, but the war has already broken out, it seems to me, from under control of the presidents of the “Normandy Four.”
Chizh: What was the intention of the document in the general sphere, from what you are saying, there’s the impression that it wasn’t that it was going around the government offices; it was rather coming from people close to the government.
Muratov: You see, we’ll judge by the results, alright? We will judge by what happened. We see that all those slogans which were promoted, all the PR back-up which went on, the whole transition from the Crimea to the east of Ukraine — it is predicted. It is predicted in this paper. Moreover, some of the people who became the first, and by the way, most effective managers, well, this was at first a kind of PR siege, there wasn’t yet the global bloodshed that there has been recently.
Chizh: Buildings were seized.
Muratov: But this is those very same people, Malofeyev’s employees. Strelkov worked for him in his security service, Aleksandr Boroday, heading the DNR government, worked for him. And judging from everything, even the polish and shine which is present in these documents, these were not the most simple minds. These people didn’t let moss grow under their feet. They proposed a vivid story, a blitzkrieg, a Barbarossa, which was outright…
Chiz: You sensed the ad experience.
Muratov: There was even charm in such a global revision of the world in our favor, and even virtually legitimate.
Last summer, when Russian blogger Oleg Kashin tried to research
this claim about Strelkov working as Malofeyev’s security chief, he was unable to prove it, but there was
definitely a relationship. Kashin obtained an admission that Malofeyev
helped fund elements of the forcible Crimean annexation (which is why he is on the
Western sanctions lists).
Kashin was told
that it was PR specialist Aleksandr Boroday who was working for Malofeyev at his company, Marshall Capital Partners, not Strelkov, and that it was Boroday who brought in Strlkov. Then
Malofeyev himself confirmed in the online publication Vedomosti that Boroday worked for him, so Kashin wrote:
“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
After Strelkov was removed from the military
command of the DNR and decamped to Russia, he was seen with Malofeyev,
Dugin and other ultrationalist supporters at the Valaam Monastery in September. The
video capturing their meeting outside the Russian Orthodox Church was
said to be a “tourist’s video” but was more likely from Russian
intelligence, as some of the close-up stills of this meeting also published at the time were not in the video itself.
Screen-grab from “tourist video” showing Sergei Rudov (L) and Konstantin Malofeyev (R)
Malofeyev was recently reported to
have his home searched by police in connection with a corruption case involving Rostelekom although he denies it. But the fear of his camp
all along has been that they would be dumped by Putin who might decide
to pin the Donbass adventure on them, and thus absolve himself of it.
Perhaps the leaking of this document helps with that venture, but it
also does something more important: undermines the main Kremlin
propaganda claim that Yanukovych was “forced to flee under threat to his life and family” and a violent coup d’etat.
Russian UN Amb. Vitaly Churkin
reiterated this misleading claim once again during a meeting of the UN
Security Council, and it was the theme of the “Anti-Maidan” march in Moscow of 35,000 people, many turned out by state organizations.
As James Miller writes in recalling the
tumultuous events on the Maidan square which we started live-blogging February 18, 2014 and continued through February 19, February 20, February 21
— and to this day, the 369th day of the crisis — this version of the
story distorts the story and leaves out some key factors.
The government had already
cracked down, already killed demonstrators, and already issued
draconian laws unacceptable to the Maidan movement before February 21. Far from all of the Maidan demonstrators were violent; most were
peaceful, and only a few had guns or made claims they would overthrow
the government by force, as did Volodymyr Parasiuk on the stage.
also an imminent threat was the loss of Yanukovych’s political base —
his Party of Regions’ supporters defected to the opposition in the
parliamentary meeting on the night of February 20th. Some of the Berkut
police began turning over their vests and weapons to demonstrators or
Two recent articles publish important new
investigations of the sniper shootings, concluding that some of the
demonstrators themselves were responsible for some of the killing —
citing Parasiuk. This isn’t news, in that we reported it on our Liveblog
in the days of the Maidan crisis, but new anonymous sources are also
These findings don’t tell the entire story of Maidan,
however, which still bears far more investigation to determine, for example, whether
the rifles used were air guns or had live ammunition. What
matters is that Yanukovych had reason to flee aside from whatever
Parasiuk said on stage: he lost power, the evidence of his crimes was
going to be exposed, and he now had the deaths of demonstrators on his
hands — most of whom weren’t armed, so their shooting could not be
Often the fact that Yanukovych’s own guards fled is
cited by Moscow as evidence that he was vulnerable to a
scenario such as that which led to the execution of Nicolai and Elena Ceaucescu. But this overlooks
the obvious facts where Yanukovych ended up: alive and well and in Russia. Obviously he had some loyal aides somewhere plus Russian intelligence help to enable
him to flee — he didn’t just get in line and buy a plane ticket by
himself, although in fact many of his cronies had managed to do that before the February 21 shootings on Maidan square — more evidence that many could
see the regime crumbling before their eyes. Indeed, Putin himself admitted in October 2014, “he asked to be driven away to Russia, which we did.”
Moscow’s finger prints are thus on the period before and during Yanukovych’s flight from Kiev, and saying his guards fled or that some Maidan demonstrators had guns and killed police or even their own fellow demonstrators can’t remove those finger prints or sustain the narrative that Yanukovych “was removed by forced” as Putin maintains.
The date of the
document Muratov has obtained matters, as to whether it is before
February 21, and he said it is “approximately February 4-15” –
a wide enough period that it may cast doubt on the dating. But the ultimately, this plan gives the lie to any notion of a “civil war” in Ukraine or any reluctant or conditional support on Moscow’s part of an indigenous insurgency. Instead, it shows the war in Crimea and the Donbass was planned and executed by the Kremlin.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The independent newspaper and online news site Novaya Gazeta reports that the Anti-Maidan has finished in Moscow.
Photo by Novaya Gazeta
The signs say:
West, the war in Ukraine is on your conscience.
We don’t need American democracy.
Any Maidan brings sorrow and destruction.
Translation: Souvenir photo. Read the chronicle of the action here.
Novaya Gazeta ran a live-blog this morning about the march.
They said the government rounded up budget workers, i.e. state employees like teachers, doctors, and clerks, and urged them to participate.
There were also advertisements offering people a payment of 300 rubles or about $5 to participate.
Mass actions have not occurred with more than 30,000 people since 2011, when at least 100,000 or more turned out for a number of anti-Putin marches after he forced through a rigged election, and switched places with Dmitry Medvedev, the former president who is now prime minister.
Novaya reporters found Anti-Maidan agitators at the Teatralnaya metro stop offering them 200 rubles to march.
Photo by Novaya Gazeta
Reporters said a 50-meter line formed early at the House of Unions this morning of people collecting payments.
The following organizations were spotted with signs and banners: the ultranationalist group founded by Duma member Yevgeny Fyodorov called the National Liberation Movement (NOD); the Union of Rescurers (which includes high school and college students as well as adults); the federal karate and judo societies of Russia; the Central Cossacks Troops, Afghan veterans’ organization, GONGOs (government-organized non-governmental groups) and state-organized groups like Mothers of Russia, Officers of Russia and the Young Guard of United Russia. Chechen Republic residents were brought in, and marched with portraits of Kadyrov.
Organizers claim they had 100,000 marchers, but it appears to be a lesser number, we are waiting to hear some independent assessments.
At the end of the march there was a rally with various speakers.
“Surgeon” said (translation by The Interpreter):
Now there are 100,000 of us and we will not leave our cities! With these words in long-ago 2010we appealed to the residents of Sevastopol. And then 5 years later, I saw how Maidan raped Ukraine. History has not known such examples, not a single empire in history has not done with its colonies what America is perpetrating on the whole world. I call on your to rally around the president of Russia.
During these days, I call on you to rally around the president of Russia as we did at that turning point in Sevastopol and Crimea. Looking into your eyes and seeing how many of you there are, I realize: there will be no Maidan in Russia. Let that orange polecat break its crooked but poisonous teeth on us!
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The Anti-Maidan march has been under way now for about three hours in Moscow, and seems to have attracted a fairly large crowd of thousands of people — by busing in demonstrators, having university officials tell students they must attend; getting state budget workers like health care workers to participate — and paying people.
But there are also people who voluntarily turn out because after a year of watching state TV, they want to vent their anger at the hated opposition and America and express their support for the Kremlin.
Translation: Sexy Katasonova.
Translation: They’re *singing* #MySorrowSadness
This sign has a pun based on the name of Alexey Navalny, an opposition leader. By dropping the “n,” you get the Russian word “aval’ny” which means “loan guarantee.”
“My Sorrow Sadnes” is a popular song.
The liberal intelligentsia, at least in the form of popular blogger Ilya Varlamov, were having trouble understanding the populist demands of the Anti-Maidan marchers.
Translation: Explain to me, WHAT DO THEY WANT? What powers for Putin? Why the Central Bank to the people? What sovereignty and to whom? WTF???
Translation: Ohhh, Prokhorov’s Civic Platform has a column at the Anti-Maidan march.
Mikhail Prokhorov is an oligarch who is supportive of Putin but ran in opposition to him on his Civic Platform in the presidential elections, gaining about 8% of the vote. He is also owner of the Brooklyn Nets.
Prokhorov has been seen as a Putin loyalist and pro-business but also pro-government; for him now to be crossing over more to the side of nationalists and Anti-Maidan is a significant political statement. At the start of the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine, he made cautious statements about how the Ukrainian people should decide their alliances through referendums.
This home-made sign says “Today Maidan, Tomorrow Destruction!”
A staple of Kremlin propaganda is that if people protest like the Ukrainians did on the Maidan in Kiev, they will end up with a country in ruins.
Translation: Doctors for Stability.
This indicates that the protesting health care workers who were seen as possible supporters of the anti-crisis march of the liberal opposition may have been captured by the Anti-Maidan movement.
The signs say Putin and Kadyrov Will Not Allow Maidan to Pass! and “Enemies of Russia Need Maidan!”
These signs appear to have been printed en masse, which suggests trade-union or other government agency payment.
Translation: A postcard to @navalny from Anti-Maidan
The sign says “A Thief Should Sit in Prison”. Navalny is in fact serving a 15-day jail sentence this week on charges of multiple unauthorized demonstrations, most recently for leafletting to advertise an opposition march planned for March 1.
Translation: There are a lot of people, all of Petrovka is in columns.
This is a time-honored technique of first Soviet and then Russian government officials to fill up the ranks of marches.
A balloon like this would need printing and filling of helium which suggests official trade union or other government support.
And as Navalny’s colleagues and other opposition have reported this week, the site called “Massovka” (Mass Action) which runs ads to pay people to turn out to various demonstrations and paids, has offered money to people to participate in anti-Maidan.
The Anti-Maidan march organized by ultranationalists, bikers, Afghan war vets, Cossacks and other devotees of the “Novorossiya” movement is underway in Moscow.
As we have reported, Anti-Maidan is a group led by Dmitry Sablin, a nationalist senator.
Sablin is a member of the Federation Council, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament. Sablin is closely tied to Boris Gromov,
an Afghan veteran (the last Soviet soldier to leave Afghanistan) who
served as deputy interior minister and governor of Moscow Region and is
currently a deputy of the State Duma. Gromov is founder of Fighting Brotherhood, a government-funded group which has placed billboard and bus-shelter ads around Moscow and other cities promoting the march.
As we reported earlier this week, in Moscow, the Anti-Maidan organizers had no trouble obtaining permission to march from Strastnoy
Boulevard along Petrovka Street to Revolution Square in the center of
town — although their theme is “No Revolutions,” as they contrast
themselves to Maidan movement which ultimately forced Yanukovych to flee
to Russia when confronted with his massive corruption and use of force
The action is titled “Never forgive, Never Forget” is being led by
nationalist Russian Senator Dmitry Sablin and other members of
parliament. Activists in the government-created All-Russian National
Front are participated along with bikers’ clubs led by Alexander
Zaldostanov (“Surgeon”), head of the Night Wolves, who was put on the US sanctions’ list in December 2014 for his role in the forcible annexation of Crimea.
For more information on the founders and activists see Russia This Week.
Among the signs is one that says “The Bear never asks permission from anyone, and he never allows anyone to take his taiga,” a saying Putin invoked in a speech defending his aggression against Ukraine and the West.
Translation: But it would be correct to write: an anti-Square is taking place in Moscow.
“Maidan” is the Ukrainian word for “public square.”