Two masked men stand next to a flag of the "Donetsk people's republic," which the Kremlin tried to secure a special status for in Ukraine's Constitution
In October-November 2016, something major happened in Ukraine – Ukrainian hackers published a dump of emails from Vladislav Surkov, the aide of Russian President Vladimir Putin. It appears it is thus far the largest hack of a Kremlin top official and provides unique insight into the Kremlin’s hybrid war operations in Ukraine. This part of the analysis will deal with the Kremlin’s attempts to change Ukraine’s Constitution. Read about the media operations of Russia’s hybrid war in Ukraine in the first part of the analysis here.
The dumps, hacked by a coalition of Ukrainian “hacktivists” calling themselves the “Cyberalliance” and publicized by Informnapalm on 25 October and 3 November 2016, immediately became the epicenter of speculation regarding their origins and veracity of their contents. Some suggested that the CIA lent a helping hand as a retaliation for the DNC hack, something that the hacktivists deny pleading the self-sufficiency of Ukrainian capacities for these operations.
Authenticity of the emails
Others have questioned whether the contents are authentic. Without going into detail, there is yet nothing to suggest that they aren’t. The sheer bulk of emails from the two accounts run by Surkov’s assistants, [email protected] and [email protected], and ratio of interesting/mundane information already suggest the contents would have been extremely hard to forge. The fugitive Russian businessman Chichvarkin and Reuters confirmed emails that they had sent in the batch. Events mentioned in the emails actually took place, like Robbie Williams performing for Surkov. Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Lab stated the headers of the emails they analyzed appeared to be authentic.
However, the separate publication of an alleged screenshot of a pdf that was not included in the leak on cyberhunta’s website depicting a plan called “shatun” to destabilize Ukraine’s government raised questions regarding its authenticity. As it is impossible to independently verify the origins of this document, we will not analyze it, instead focusing on the documents that can be verified.
In the following analysis, we have done additional fact-checking by verifying the timestamps of the creation date of the documents that were attached in the emails, assuming that if a document was planted in the leak, its metadata would differ from the date of the sent email. All documents that we analyzed in the leak had metadata showing they were created either on the date the email was sent or a few days earlier.
Political meddling: how the Kremlin tried to change Ukraine’s Constitution
Overall, the leak showed that interference in Ukrainian internal politics was the primary goal of Kremlin’s interaction with the country. The Kremlin (unsuccessfully) attempted to promote separatist movements in Kharkiv in order to get the “right” people into the local parliament. The self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics” with Kremlin-appointed leaders having Kremlin-appointed PR managers are waging a war against Ukraine with Russian weapons and military command and receiving Russian economic support, in order to secure Russian influence over Ukraine and prevent its movement out of the Russian sphere of influence. To secure that, was the Kremlin’s goal to secure an all-Ukrainian political status for the regions in Donbas occupied by its puppet enclaves that would ensure Russian meddling in Ukrainian internal affairs for many years to come.
Thus, one urgent political change that the Kremlin was working on was passing the amendments to Ukraine’s Constitution envisioned by the Minsk agreements that would change the administrative status of Ukraine to include a “special status” for the puppet “republics,” hold elections, and to grant amnesty to the militants.
Starting from February 2015, Surkov’s office was preoccupied with changing Ukraine’s Constitution, from the mechanism with which Constitutional amendments could be made in the first place (Surkov received the first such letter on 10.02.2015, four days before Pushilin suggested that the “people’s republics” were ready to suggest changes to Ukraine’s Constitution to the Trilateral Contact Group), to comparative tables analyzing the draft laws.
In particular, proposals for changing Ukraine’s Constitution came through Surkov’s mail on 11.03.2015, and were published by the “LNR” and “DNR” on 13.05.2015 with minor changes. (see an English translation here). These proposals called for securing the special status of the Russian puppet “LNR” and “DNR” in Ukraine’s Constitution, giving them broad powers but requesting state financing, and called for a clause about Ukraine’s neutral status to be secured in the Constitution.
However, it seems that this version was rejected for another rendition by a person with the initials “V.V.”, whose draft of the Constitutional amendments was forwarded to Surkov on 21.05.2015. In any case, a letter that the leader of the Opposition Bloc [successor to Yanukovych’s Party of Regions – Ed] Yuriy Boiko submitted to the Head of the Verkhovna Rada contains the same points: securing in Ukraine’s main law the special administrative status of the de-facto occupied regions with the corresponding legal structures of government (“highest representative authority,” an “executive authority,” and grant them the powers to create their own paramilitary structures, “people’s militia,” as well as control who gets appointed as the heads of the security service, prosecutor’s office, and courts).
Such changes to the Constitution, Boiko said, would help the peaceful regulation of the situation in Donbas and implement the Minsk agreements, and pleaded to Groysman that the draft laws elaborated by the Opposition Bloc would be put up for a vote in the Rada. This letter is unavailable in the public domain.
It didn’t happen. The only draft law for Constitutional amendments which was registered for a vote in Parliament on 1.07.2015, and adopted on 31 August 2015, was that authored by the President Petro Poroshenko, which referred to a special status of the “LNR” and “DNR” in only one line: “The specifics of executing local governance in certain counties of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions are defined by a separate law.” No representative and executive authorities, no militia. There is little surprise that these amendments were rejected by Russia’s puppet leaders of the “DNR” and “LNR.”