ANALYSIS: Surkov’s Resignation is Symbolic of Russia’s Deadlock in Ukraine

By Dmitry Semushin


By Dmitry Semushin, from EAD –

25 minute read

On February 18th, Presidential Aide Vladislav Surkov left the civil service . This event was not unexpected, since Surkov announced his departure three weeks earlier through a political scientist close to him, director of the Center for Political Conjuncture Alexei Chesnokov . Prior to this, with enviable constancy, Surkov’s resignation in the Russian media was predicted for almost two years. For the last time – after the summit in Paris in the format of the “Normandy Four” in December. The uncertain result of the meeting and everything that followed it became another personal failure of the “curator of the Ukrainian direction”. The meeting was not prepared enough. Surkov was blamed for this.

We also note that it just so coincided that Vladislav Surkov left the civil service exactly one year after he published in the Nezavisimaya Gazeta program article, “Putin’s Long State”. In it, Surkov argued that a new (fourth in his account) model of Russian statehood over the past one and a half decades has been created, stabilized, and it will have a long century:

“Having fallen from the level of the USSR to the level of the Russian Federation, Russia ceased to collapse, began to recover and returned to its natural and only possible state of a great, growing and gathering land community of peoples. An organically formed model of the political system will be an effective means of survival and exaltation of the Russian nation in the coming years, as well as decades, and most likely for the whole coming century. ”

Compared to the Western one, Surkov argues, “our system, like our entire system, looks, of course, not elegant, but more honest.” This honesty is expressed in the fact that “the high internal tension associated with the retention of vast heterogeneous spaces and the constant presence in the midst of a geopolitical struggle make the state’s military-police functions the most important and decisive. They are not traditionally hidden, but rather demonstrated. ”

Surkov continues:

“There is no deep state in Russia, it is all in sight, but there is a deep people. The deep people are always on their minds, inaccessible to sociological surveys, agitation, threats and other methods of direct study and influence. ”

Here we pause, think and discover that at this point Vladislav Surkov echoes a century later Konstantin Petrovich Pobedonostsev (1827−1907), who once remarked that “Russia is an icy desert along which a dashing man wanders.” The “Dashing Man” of Pobedonostsev is the very “deep people” of Surkov.

In a similar way, Surkov quite agrees with Pobedonostsev at the point of criticism of Western democracy as a system and model based on dishonesty.

As for the “new model” of Russian statehood with the denial of the “illusion of choice” and “the most important and decisive military and police functions,” in this it strikingly resembles the project of the former head of the Moscow Security Department, Colonel Sergei Vasilievich Zubatov (1864−1917), brought to its logical conclusion . “Sovereign democracy” is based on simulation institutions. Zubatov proposed creating such “advanced institutions”, adapting them simultaneously to the spirit of the times and autocracy.

But let us return from these general remarks to the main topic – the main activity of Surkov over the past seven years. Following his resignation, already as a “former presidential aide”, Vladislav Surkov gave an interview on the “Actual Commentary”, where he explained what had happened to him in his usual manner . How he, Vladislav Surkov, was no longer needed.

Since September 2013, i.e., the moment when the Ukrainian crisis was just outlined, through all its stages Vladislav Surkov, as an assistant to the president, oversaw this crisis at all stages. Accordingly, the main topic of Surkov’s interview is his “activity” in this area with the precondition “one must somehow not lie, but there is nothing to say too much.”

Here’s how Surkov regards the new president of Ukraine, Vladimir Zelensky, in this interview :

“In any case, in Paris, everyone took him for the president … He has an unusual ease in his thoughts.”

Itself, apparently unaware, Surkov quoted N.V. from the “Examiner” Gogol :

“And then one evening, it seems, he wrote everything, amazed everyone. I have an extraordinary lightness in my thoughts. ”

It turns out that with this “ease unusual in thoughts” Zelensky is modern Khlestakov. Very similar.

“An icicle, a rag was mistaken for an important person! Not only will you go to the laughing stock – there will be a clicker, a paper maraca, and it will put you in a comedy. That’s what a shame! The rank, he will not spare the title, and they will all grin their teeth and beat their hands. ”

This turns out to be in the “95th quarter”. But what comes from the same interview with Surkov’s “thoughts”:

“Different thoughts creep into my head non-stop – good, bad, smart, stupid, ours, strangers, too many, too many thoughts. And most importantly, thoughts climb themselves, in addition to my desire. Their influx is not amenable to control and regulation. There are too many, more and more. ”

It turns out, not only Zelensky, but Surkov’s ease in his thoughts is “extraordinary”. Here is what Surkov tells about the subject of his supervision after seven years of communication:

“There is no Ukraine. There is Ukraine. That is, a specific disorder of minds. Surprisingly brought to extreme degrees, the passion for ethnography. Such a bloody local history. Muddle instead of the state. Borsch, Bandera , there is a bandura. But there is no nation. There is a brochure “Self-Ukraine”, but there is no Ukraine. The only question is whether Ukraine is already gone, or not yet? ”

But a legitimate question arises if, on the one hand, there is a “fourth model of Russian statehood” and, on the other hand, “a confusion instead of a state,” then why the curator of the Ukrainian direction of Russian politics Vladislav Yurievich Surkov was unable to “streamline” this confusion “instead music “? Probably because, as Surkov believes, this is a confusion – “borsch, bandera and bandura” were not ready to follow the pragmatic schemes proposed by the second Minsk agreements.

But could Surkov convince this very one, according to him, of “borsch, bandera and bandura” through the usual backstage games with the Ukrainian oligarchy? Specifically – with the same Rinat Akhmetov? After all, the Minsk agreements were initially considered in the then ruling circles in Kiev by President Poroshenko as impracticable and as a convenient means to use the pause in the suspended hot stage of the conflict to strengthen the Ukrainian positions in general and the Ukrainian armed forces in particular. On the other hand, the second Minsk agreements approved by the UN Security Council became a means of containing Russia from a military solution to the issue. Surkov in his interview states the following:

“Forcing coercion into fraternal relations is the only method that has historically proven effectiveness in the Ukrainian direction.”

But then bad luck – it was precisely such “coercion” that Minsk-2 made impossible.

In this regard, Western sanctions, as an instrument of coercion to change “behavior”, did not work in relation to Russia. But sanctions became a punishment and a signal for others and Russia itself. “Fear them. In case of military escalation, sanctions can be applied in an expanded volume and in a new format. ”

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Therefore, after a short escalation, the hybrid war against Ukraine took the form, speaking the language of the military of the 19th century, “putting up observation units on both sides,” engaged in periodic skirmishing of each other and sorties. The initially given hybrid, and then the limited nature of the conflict does not allow crushing the enemy and thereby making him incapable of any further resistance. From this comes the fact that it is impossible to force this adversary to fulfill our will. It is impossible to put the enemy in a more difficult position than the sacrifice that we require of him. The situation of “neither war nor peace” allows the enemy to wait for a favorable moment and persevere. He retains the will to fight.

Meanwhile, the classic military strategy requires:

– the armed forces of the enemy must be destroyed, that is, brought into a state in which they can no longer continue the fight;
– The territory must be conquered, because it can be a source of new armed forces;
– the will of the enemy must be broken, that is, his government and allies are forced to sign peace, the hostile people are led to humility. With the conclusion of peace, the goal should be considered achieved and the cause of war settled.

Meanwhile, the hybrid nature of the conflict has led to a situation where neither side is able to completely deprive its opponent of the possibility of resistance. From this, the motives for concluding peace on both sides either increase or decrease, depending on the assessment of the likelihood of future success and the required effort. But the question of peace from this goes in a circle in accordance with these indecisive vacillations.

Surkov cannot be called responsible for this state of affairs. The strategy to curtail the conflict with the West over Ukraine in July 2014 was promoted by the same Yevgeny Primakov . Obviously something else. With the chosen strategy of Minsk-2, which basically rejected the classical strategies of war, Surkov could not “agree” with his counterparts on the hostile side about the “peace”.

Is it possible to correct impracticable Minsk to make it feasible? Following the last Paris meeting, the indecisive assumption of German Chancellor Angela Merkel followed that the Minsk agreements could somehow be changed. The idea of “re-write” the latest Minsk agreement of February 2015 was once and for the umpteenth time with the “enthusiasm” is met with regard to the power (foreign ministers Pristayko), expert and media circles in Kiev without understanding or recognizing the simple fact that “rewriting” will have to be “paid” with some concessions that may outweigh the current conditions. Indeed, in 2015, it was noticed that Minsk-February 2, 2015 was heavier than Minsk-September 1, 2014. Therefore, the proposal to “rewrite” Minsk, replacing it with a certain Minsk-3, is unrealistic at the core. There is no trust between the parties to the conflict.

It remains to admit that Minsk can neither be executed nor rewritten. I remember how immediately after the conclusion of Minsk-2, in our Okolgimov expert environment, there was a firm belief that dealing with Minsk-2 was going to freeze the conflict in the Donbass. But the “freeze” did not happen. The conflict from the hot stage simply turned into a low-intensity conflict with the positional war of the “observational units”. Five years have passed since the conclusion of the second Minsk agreements, and the same question remains on the agenda – the freezing of the conflict ”, that is, at least the implementation of paragraphs 1 and 2 of the second Minsk agreements – that’s all. That is, it is necessary to stop shooting, even if so that people no longer die on the demarcation line.

In this regard, the Twelve Steps to Strengthen Security in Ukraine and the Euro-Atlantic Region proposed at the next Munich Security Conference in February 2020 are noteworthy. Among the “wise men” who signed the document in the first three:

Desmond Brown , Vice Chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative Fund (NTI), Chairman of the Board of Trustees and Board of Directors of the Network of European Leaders (ELN), UK Secretary of Defense (2006–2008);

Prof. Wolfgang Ischinger , Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Germany, Chairman of the Munich International Security Conference, Germany;

Igor Ivanov , President of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs (INF), Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia (1998−2004), Russia.

The Twelve Steps is the fruit of the international group of status experts, the Euro-Atlantic Security Initiative, which has been in force since 2011. Here we note that Russia is also included in the concept of the “Euro-Atlantic region”. Thus, we are talking about the joint security of the West and Russia.

On such a conflict point as Ukraine, the Twelve Steps do not refer to the implementation of the Minsk Agreements, but only to achieve a sustainable ceasefire according to the scheme for the implementation of paragraphs 1 and 2 of the Minsk Agreements:

“A key condition for overcoming the crisis is a political settlement aimed at ending the armed conflict in the Donbass, creating conditions for a constructive dialogue between Russia and Ukraine on a wide range of issues, including problems related to Crimea, as well as strengthening Euro-Atlantic security.”

Those: The Russian signatories to the Twelve Steps – the same Igor Ivanov – agree to discuss the future “process”, provided that the armed conflict in the Donbass is terminated and the problem of Crimea. This is an obvious and very important concession by Russian experts.

In essence, the “Twelve Steps” suggest freezing the conflict and turning Donbass into an analogue of Transnistria. Further, the parties to the conflict are offered a slow resolution of the conflict with the rapprochement of the parties, in fact, according to the scheme of the same Transnistria, but with the “geographical” clause that the Donbass borders on Russia. Because of this, the Transnistrian scheme with respect to the key sphere for reconciliation – the economy – does not work, because the Donbass is already included, albeit according to gray schemes, into the Russian economic space.

Ultimately, the authors of The Twelve Steps, in political terms, offer Ukraine “inclusion” in the West, but according to the model of neutrality, the so-called “Finlandization”. This means exchanging restrictions on foreign policy to guarantee non-interference in internal affairs and economic relations. In practice, neutrality will be for Ukraine a return to the idea of ​​non-alignedness of the Yanukovych era in 2010, but only without the Crimea and Donbass.

Politically, Russia on the Ukrainian question fluctuates between the desire to “come to an agreement” and get out of the conflict and the desire to spend time, because it works for us. Neither Europeans nor Americans have leverage on Russia. But Russia, as demonstrated by the experience of Surkov, has no political leverage to change the situation in Ukraine. Creating them, as shown by the recent parliamentary elections in Ukraine, is difficult.

It is believed that the conflict in Ukraine is controlled by the United States. It is believed that Moscow needs to agree with them on Ukraine. What is actually talking about with Ukraine under such a condition? But Ukraine for the USA itself is not an ally or trusted partner, but a “satellite” state or, in other words, a “client”. The United States has no obligation to protect these “clients”. The USA also refuses Ukraine’s bilateral security obligations. Therefore, the United States supports Ukraine to the extent that they themselves do not find themselves involved in a direct conflict with Russia.

In this sense, US support for Ukraine is very limited. But the existence of Ukraine in its format or its functions are important for the United States. Therefore, the United States supports Ukraine at a certain level so that, for example, it does not break up or Russia does not directly crush it. The United States has enough of these “customers” in the world. Americans will not have enough for all available funds. Therefore, the United States is interested in minimizing the costs of such “customers”. That is, the funds that Ukraine receives from the United States, and this is $ 700 million per year, is the minimum that is assigned to this particular client state.

For all the existing status of a “client state,” the USA, Germany, and France cannot directly force Ukraine to execute an unpopular decision in it. Actually, in the USA itself there are disagreements regarding Ukrainian affairs. The “Deep State” stands for the previous course towards Ukraine. In defiance of him, President Donald Trump would like to lower the level of conflict in Ukraine. Ukraine in the system of its priorities has always been in the last row. And Trump’s rejection of Ukraine only intensified due to the situation with the failed impeachment. Only because of the opposition to Trump, his opponents can take the opposite position on the Ukrainian issue. Therefore, external governance in modern Ukraine has a limit and forms a well-known dead end in a situation of “neither war, nor peace.”

In an interview, Vladislav Surkov explained that his departure from the post of curator of the Ukrainian issue is due to the fact that “the context has changed.” Apparently, this means that the situation in the strategic balance is not in favor of the West. There have been open contradictions between the US and the EU. Russia has found “strategic” and “partnership” relations with China. In these conditions, it is impossible to ensure European security against Russia. Something needs to be agreed with Russia. Therefore, both Europe and the USA, each with its own interest, are changing the strategy of relations with Russia. Trump is trying to find a strategic understanding with Russia. French President Macron speaks of the need for strategic cooperation with Russia, if only because of the need to oppose China.

Under these conditions, the “neither war, nor peace” strategy, chosen in Ukraine by the previous Ukrainian leadership, leads Ukraine into isolation and a dead end. The conflict in eastern Ukraine splits Ukrainian society, weakens it from the inside. There is a massive demand for “peace” in it, but there is no unity in how to achieve it. Therefore, the solution of the issue was delegated to the new president – Vladimir Zelensky. But Ukraine remains a poorly functioning state. Therefore Zelensky was very careful. Any possible compromise regarding Donbass from Zelensky immediately meets criticism from the radicals. Ukraine shows a certain stagnation in the field of ideas. This is when they go around in circles, return and reiterate proposals to join NATO, to join the European Union to replace Great Britain. And then

Due to the impasse, Ukraine continues to be in the gray zone, it has lost the remnants of regional influence. Rejected the “reconciliation” achieved with Poland in the previous period and the “mutual understanding” with Hungary. Relations with Romania may also deteriorate at any time.

In general, the conditions around Ukraine after 2017 are only getting worse for it. The world is changing. There is no longer any talk of isolating Russia in Europe. Russia returned to the OSCE. Europe in its parts demonstrates different priorities in relation to Russia. For the leaders of the European Union, France and Germany, Russia remains an important partner. In the situation with the Ukrainian crisis, they would like to exclude the risk of escalation and, at least, freeze the conflict.

Freezing conflict is now on the agenda. In this regard, the mutual removal from the solution of the Ukrainian problem of Kurt Walkerand his main negotiating partner, Vladislav Surkov, is a symbolic gesture that the process can be started again with other people. To begin with, the Minsk process can be carried out only in the first three points: the cessation of hostilities, the separation of the parties, the exchange of prisoners. This is now being consulted in Minsk. And President Zelensky himself has great difficulty creating an “oligarchic consensus” on this issue. The presidential election in the United States is of key importance. The re-election of Trump will give additional confidence to Zelensky, who is currently not only in the Donbass, but also in the privatization of land in a state of extreme indecision.


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