Ukraine's fugitive Prime Minister Mykola Azarov
According to the Russian news source Gazeta.ru, the fugitive former prime minister of Ukraine and leader of the party of the regions, Mykola Azarov, is establishing an organization in Moscow that may serve as a Ukrainian “government in exile.” The organization called the “Committee for the Salvation of Ukraine” will give a presentation to the public at the Hotel Ukraine in Moscow this week. According to Gazeta.ru, “Azarov and his team coordinated the project with the Russian leadership.” In February, Azarov said there was a need for a Ukrainian government in exile.
An “informed source” for Gazeta.ru said that the committee would be an alternative Ukrainian government, and that an alternative candidate for the president of Ukraine would be presented on Thursday. According to Gazeta.ru, this candidate will be the former Pro-Russian MP Volodymyr Oliynyk , who was the co-author of the infamous 2014 “Dictatorship laws” that purported to constitutionally grant expansive powers of repression to former President Yanukovych with which he tried to squash the nascent Maidan revolution.
We will probably get confirmation of this report, along with more information about the overt goals and supporters of this new organization and more clues about its other goals based on how and at what volume it is presented by Russian propaganda on Thursday. However, to speculate prematurely:
The organization could form the political front for Russian subversion within Ukraine. It is notable that one of the named founding members of the Committee is Oleg Tsarev, one of the first people to propose the “Novorossiya project” and the former speaker of the so-called Parliament of Novorossiya. The announcement of the Committee for the Salvation of Ukraine is the nail in the coffin for the “Novoroissya” project – the attempt to create an independent pro-Russian rump state in Ukraine.
However, it may also be another indication of a shift to a long-term campaign of subversion against the Ukrainian state. The biggest problem that Novorossiya presented for Russian propagandists was its self-declared geographic limitation. It only claimed the Southern and Easternmost provinces of Ukraine. A full-fledged Ukrainian puppet-government-in-exile could lay claim to all of Ukrainian territory and provide a political front for subversion in every region. Volodymyr Oliynyk, the supposed “alternative presidential candidate” named in the Gazeta.ru story is the former mayor of Cherkasy in Cherkasy Oblast, which was never claimed by Novorossiya.
Also, the Committee could be used to interfere in Ukrainian electoral politics and serve as a hyper-pro-Russian replacement or a tool to manipulate the former Party of the Regions that ejected Azarov along with Yanukovych in March 2014 before morphing into the “opposition bloc.” Perhaps Russia could insist that candidates promoted by the Committee be included in Ukrainian elections as part of future peace negotiations.
This committee, or something like it, could be used to organize Ukrainians living in Russia in addition to the Ukrainian population on “separatist” controlled Ukrainian territory. There are certainly a lot of Ukrainian citizens in Russia, and Russia now claims that “more than one million” Ukrainian refugees fled to Russia since the war began. Russian diplomats could demand that these refugees be given the ability to vote in Ukrainian elections, and use the threat of renewed hostilities in Donbas to extract concessions from the Ukrainians or to get other powers to put pressure the Ukrainian government to comply. A pro-Russian “Ukrainian political party” based in Russia could be an excellent tool to help make sure these refugees vote the right way in the right numbers.
On the foreign propaganda front, the cluster of politicians flocking around Azarov could be used in a classic moral equivalency argument against the government of Ukraine. The Ukrainian government is the puppet government of the Americans (as Azarov said recently on Russian TV) and the government in exile is just the equivalent for Russia. Maybe later during another campaign of violence, Russia could present a political face for the “separatists” which is more appealing to foreigners than the likes of Strelkov and Zakharchenko.
There are a number of ways Russia could creatively use a Ukrainian puppet-government-in-exile. Indeed, it is surprising Putin did not organize one earlier.
So, the good news is that there are increasing indications that perhaps Putin does not think he can collapse the Ukrainian government and carve up Ukraine through a swift and decisive military victory. On the other hand, Russia will probably invest in a long-term campaign of propaganda and subversion to derail Ukrainian politics, turn Ukraine into a failed state, and snuff the Maidan revolution.