June 16, 2015
By Rostislav Ishchenko
Translated from Russian by J.Hawk
Part two of a series
Actually, the second article ought to have been called “From Slavyansk to Minsk.” Now it will be the third, because the first article (“Militarists against Peacemakers”) caused a great deal of unhealthy agitation due to my personal feelings about Strelkov. That by itself was not a sufficient reason to dedicate a separate article to the topic. It wasn’t necessary to even mention Strelkov in the further examination of the competing Donbass conflict resolution concepts, and I would not have returned to the topic. I don’t like to write about people I don’t like. After all, any text about anyone is just additional PR for them.
Here’s my reasoning. I can remember three (there may have been more, but I’m not aware of them) critically important problems for the country which Putin delegated Surkov to address. They were the suppression of the information operations of the “white ribbon” opposition between 2005 and 2013, when it represented a real danger and was not, as today, a collection of pathetic marginals whom only the lazy don’t kick. Incidentally, several of the current “patriots” back then unabashedly wore the white ribbons.
Then there was Abkhazia, where it was necessary to quickly resolve the intra-elite conflict do deprive the US of the ability to play on the local conflicts. And then Ukraine. Moreover, Surkov was given the mission right when the crisis began to transform into a civil war.
Given that Putin constantly assigns him to deal with crises, I can draw two conclusions:
–The President trusts him.
–The assigned tasks are carried out well, which means in a professional manner (otherwise he’d have been replaced a long time ago).
One more observation. The terms “Surkov’s propaganda” and “Surkov’s money” (which are happily and actively thrown about by the Strelkovites) appeared a few years ago when the Russian TV caught several top oppositionists on their way to get instructions from the US Embassy. They knew nothing about “Surkov’s propaganda” before they went in, but when they came out they already knew all about it. Given that the US is our enemy, if they don’t like “Surkov’s propaganda,” it tells me that Surkov is acting correctly.
I don’t know what Surkov is like in person, but his political activity (at least that which I can see) doesn’t cause concerns for me. He is constantly accused of some secret agendas, but the proof is of the “everyone knows” and “Strelkov said” variety.
And who is this Strelkov whom I am supposed to take on his word? It’s not a rhetorical question. Already in April 2014 I was horrified by an individual who, publicly and with TV cameras present, introduced himself as a “colonel of the FSB” organizing an armed uprising in Ukraine. A special services officer who carries out a secret mission on foreign territory has no right to drop his cover. The “polite people” only smiled politely when asked “who are you?”, or at most replied that they are local militia who bought their weapons and equipment in the local “Hunting and Fishing” store (and these were simple soldiers, not “FSB colonels”).
You can find a detailed description about how he and 52 others “decided” that the Donbass will turn out just like Crimea in many places on the internet (http://kp.ua/politics/477951-yhor-strelkov-my-rasstrelyvaly-luidei-sohlasno-zakonu). I just want to turn your attention to one fact–an individual who calls himself a “colonel of the FSB” admits that he arrived on the territory of another country, organized an armed uprising there and even started to execute the citizens of another country “for looting.” On top of that he, an “Orthodox monarchist,” claims that he killed people on the basis of the “Defense Committee Decree from June 22, 1941 On Establishing Military Tribunals.” In other words, he is citing a long-defunct legal act issued by a communist state (USSR) that ceased to exist a quarter of a century ago and which he, as an “Orthodox monarchist” and admirer of the White movement, cannot possibly regard as legitimate.
He is not even being sarcastic, he simply doesn’t understand what he is saying and how it is perceived. All in all, it’s enough to get you summoned all the way to The Hague.
Therefore I was not surprised when I saw on Wikipedia information on his more modest rank. As I already wrote above, I was not so much surprised by this very young and already retired FSB colonel, but rather his behavior which was absolutely inappropriate for a special services officer.
Moreover, the colonel has no fellow servicemembers who could share their recollections of his brilliant career. I’d think the journalists have already looked. They haven’t found anything, have they? Just don’t tell me that all of FSB has been put on a lockdown. The o nly confirmation of his alleged service in the FSB central apparatus is the interview with “General Gennadiy Kazantsev” which is extremely suspect and appears to be a poorly carried out fake (http://nvo.ng.ru/spforces/2014-12-19/1_interview.html).
The author of the interview modestly notes that Kazantsev is not a real last name, but that the real last name is known to him. So why hide it? There are sufficient details in the interview for the FSB personnel office to instantaneously figure out who headed which directorate at what time. Moreover, the interview includes a photo of some people, described as depicting the general during his youth in Afghanistan. So you can publish the photo but can’t name the name? Furthermore, as a pseudonym they’ve taken up the last name of General Viktor Kazantsev who genuinely became well known during the Chechen War.
The two things I don’t like in people in general and in politicians in particular is absence of professionalism and dishonesty. When a shady personality with an unclear biography who has appeared out of nowhere starts out by giving the US and Kiev the “proof” of “Russian invasion” in the shape of an “FSB Colonel organizing resistance”, and then dedicates the whole of his political career to baseless attacks on the Kremlin official who is managing the Ukrainian crisis (and in fact even though Strelkov doesn’t say it outright, he is attacking the Kremlin, Putin, Putin’s internal policy of national compromise, as well as the cautious but highly effective foreign policy), I have to ask the question: is this something that benefits Russia’s national interests? Even if the anti-Kremlin hysteria is accompanied by hypocritical handwringing about the “dying population of the Donbass”. Because the man who says “I pulled the trigger on the war” has no right to feign concern about the casualties of the war he started.
2. The demonstration was initially a bluff. This scenario strikes me as more probable, because Putin never does that which is expected of him. Nobody expected the “polite people” in Crimea so they came. After that everyone was certain that the Russian Army would appear on the Donbass any day. Officially they are still not there. However, if it was a bluff and Russia decided to win Ukraine without waging a war, then Strelkov’s actions forced the Kremlin to correct its strategy on the fly.
But no matter what the scenario, Strelkov’s actions did not help Russia’s leadership implement its plans. And incidentally, the law gives the Russian leadership the right to ask Strelkov why he did what he did (it’s just that it’s not convenient to make him a victim of the regime), but the Russian leadership has no duty to explain itself to him.
And the “colonel” takes credit for the fact that when he was asked to leave the Donbass, he allowed himself to be quickly convinced. The whole story with Strelkov’s recall reveals the Russian authorities humaneness. The US would have simply sent an assassin (many people die in war, after all), or they would have given him the Noriega treatment for drug smuggling, but Russia simply convinced him to go on vacation.
In parallel to the mosaic of militias a regular army was being formed, and the field commanders’ authority was replaced by a regular administration. This is of considerable importance because it’s easy to get excited about a “national hero” who fights out there somewhere as long as you yourself have a normal and effective administration. But living under a field commander’s authority is a dubious privilege. He operates not in accordance with the law but with justice. But everyone has a different version of justice. He is busy with fighting the war and the civilian population (especially if it can’t feed his army but, on the contrary, demands resources of the commander) is simply ballast.
1. I don’t believe that only Strelkov started the war (although he was important).
2. I don’t believe that Strelkov prevented Putin to send in the army, but he did add the element of uncertainty and his actions on th eDonbass were a provocation intended to force Russia to make a choice: either send in the military and greatly weaken its position in the confrontation with the US, or to refuse to send in the military and weaken its internal prestige.
3. I don’t believe that Strelkov understood what he was doing, I am certain he was being used. Not by the US (even though US benefited from his actions and benefits to this day). He was used by part of the Russian political spectrum which intends to radicalize both the internal and foreign policy and is prepared to risk a schism of the Russian society (the cancellation of the national consensus) while facing a confrontation with the US. This is a highly adventurist policy and Putin is no adventurist.
In general, my assessment of Strelkov is that he is highly ambitious but rather limited, which makes it easy for him to be used. He was very lucky not to die in Yugoslavia or Transnistria, he managed to get out of Slavyansk, and he is not merely free but engaging in politics. He is a politician, though so far without any standing.
Here is where we finish our story with Strelkov. As I already said, he’s not essential to further analysis of the problem. Of the genuinely large and interesting problem.