Coup d'etat in Donetsk

Little noticed in the Western press, last week in Donetsk a group of well armed and disciplined men moved into the headquarter building of the leadership of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic. The existing occupants were kicked out of the building with little difficulty, so a new ruling clique was installed. The prior clique had become an increasing embarrassment to the separatist cause, responsible for political vulgarity, brutal behaviour, looting, etc. The new occupants of the key buildings in Donetsk seem intent of very correct behaviour by comparison. 

Who are these people? The contingent of armed men who took over came from Russia and Crimea, but their exact identities are not transparent. However the new prime minister is well known. Alexander Borodai, a Russian from Moscow, comes from a family dynasty of philosphers and scholars. In the 1990s he edited a Russsian far-right newspaper ('Zavtra') run by Alexander Prokhanov, who is now one of Russia's most visible advocates of radical Russian nationalism. Borodai describes himself as a political consultant and worked earlier this year with Sergie Akysonov, prime minister of Crimea, during the Russian annexation of the peninsula. He is reported to have said "Naturally the people who set up these popular movements and were the initiators are the same people, they are connected with each other... So when I finished the work in Crimea I automatically came here to work in southeast Ukraine". When Borodai made his first press conference in Donetsk the day of the coup, he said he would seek annexation by Russia 'very urgently'.

What's the game? Borodai's game is explicit and clear. But he is not official Russia. But, but as we know, the distinction between the Kremlin, its outer circles and sympathisers, with the latter able to operate conveniently on the former's behalf with varying degrees of official encouragement and support, is often not clear at all. This particular episode looks very much like the latest in the Kremlin's tactics of twists and turns over Ukraine. Putin apparently softened his stance towards Kyiv on 6 May by welcoming the Ukrainian presidential elections scheduled for 25 May, and advising Donetsk not to go ahead with their referendium on May 11. Was this a shift in strategy, or just a deceptive manouevre? To be sure Putin did not try very hard to dissuade Donetsk to hold their referendum, and now his supporters manage to take over there very easily.