The “commander-in-chief” of the “Novorossiya” defense forces (the Russia-supported separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine), Igor Girkin (a.k.a. Strelkov), told journalists recently that prior to March 31, 2013, he had been a colonel in the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). By his admission, he had participated in conflicts in Transnistria and Yugoslavia as a volunteer, and in Chechnya under contract (Gazeta.ua, July 12).
And Girkin/Strelkov is not the only member of the separatists with this background of foreign mercenary operations coupled with Russian/Soviet security services experience. It is interesting to note that the self-proclaimed government of the “EDM, July 11; Moskovski Komsomolets, July 11).
In a June 1992 conversation with this author, Antjufeev said that he did not care about the “communist idea” but he respected the Soviet Union as a strong Russian state. Igor Girkin/Strelkov and Aleksandr Boroday share almost the same views. Girkin/Strelkov is a monarchist, or tsarist imperialist, while Boroday is a commentator for the Russian far-right nationalist newspaper “Zavtra” and one of the founders of the nationalist online Den-TV. Moreover, it is worth noting that both Girkin/Strelkov and Boroday fought in Transnistria in the early 1990s and are friends of Antjufeev from this time (see EDM, July 11; author’s interview, June 1992).
According to Moskovski Komsomolets, the appointment of Antjufeev to a high position within the Russia-backed Donetsk separatist “government” shows the strengthening of Girkin/Strelkov’s influence in the region. As the newspaper noted, the appearance of Antjufeev appears to negate a previous attack by some “Moscow groups of influence” on Girkin/Strelkov. In particularly, the newspaper was referring to the recent visit to Donetsk of the Kremlin propagandist Sergey Kurginyan, who, at a press conference on July 7, openly condemned Girkin/Strelkov for surrendering Slovyansk and Kramatorsk to Ukrainian forces. Kurginyan even accused the separatist military commander of collaborating with the Ukrainian military. Furthermore, Kurginyan asserted that Girkin/Strelkov had already received “enough weapons” from Moscow (Moskovski Komsomolets, July 11).
Kurginyan had made this statement amid growing criticism from some Russian nationalists (for example: philosopher Alexander Dugin, the leader of the Eurasian Movement, and Alexander Prokhanov, the editor of the newspaper Zavtra, where Boroday previously worked,) who had condemned the Russian president for allegedly betraying the separatists. Indeed, the Kurginyan visit looked as if the Kremlin really decided to stop helping the separatists (newsnews.tv, July 9). But the Russian nationalists’ fears proved unfounded. According to a July 14 statement from the US Department of State, the Kremlin continues to support the armed separatists in Ukraine (State Department statement, July 14).
The emergence of Vladimir Antjufeev as one of the leaders of the Donetsk separatists shows that Moscow has decided to maintain its support for the fighters and continue its policy of surreptitiously breaking up neighboring countries. “It means that Moscow will not betray Novorossia [one of the names of the separatist state in eastern Ukraine] or Igor Strelkov,” Marina Perevozkina wrote triumphantly (Moskovski Komsomolets, July 11).
The Kremlin continues to allege that the conflict in Donetsk and Luhansk is a Ukrainian civil war in which Russia has no role. But clearly Antjufeev, Girkin/Strelkov and Boroday have a history of taking part in secessionist military operations across the former USSR on Moscow’s orders. So as more such figures come to light in eastern Ukraine, Russian propaganda will have an increasingly difficult time maintaining a coherent narrative on the crisis that allows the Kremlin any level of deniability.