Article by: Vitaliy Portnikov
With his desire to become the “collector of lands,” Putin has derailed the plans of a significant segment of his inner circle. His inner circle wanted to keep Ukraine on the hook, but Putin believed that Ukraine does not exist and that a word would suffice to make the “artificial state” disappear from the map.
The statement by the former deputy of Russia’s State Duma Denis Voronenkov that President Putin’s advisor Vladislav Surkov had opposed the annexation of the Crimean peninsula became a real sensation not only for Ukrainian but also for Russian observers. (In an interview with the Hromadske Ukrainian TV channel, Voronenko said Surkov was “strongly opposed” to the annexation of Crimea — Ed.).
How was it possible that the “curator of Ukraine” in the Russian leadership did not support the detachment of a part of Ukrainian territory? Could Surkov be a secret friend of Ukraine?
I would like to reassure both the Ukrainian detractors and the Russian friends of Surkov. He is no friend of Ukraine. He is a real enemy. But a smart and perceptive one. It is in these qualities that he differs from his “master.”
It was Surkov who oversaw the operation to detach Crimea. He coordinated the political efforts, created a platform supporting the occupation on the peninsula itself, negotiated with or bullied the future “leaders” of Crimea. But Surkov did not do this for Crimea to become a part of the Russian Federation.
The peninsula was supposed to become a trap for Ukraine, a self-declared state supported by Russia. This would have been the main message to Ukraine and the West: after Maidan, Crimea has separated from Ukraine and would be followed by other regions who are in favor of friendship with Russia and for the “Russian world.”
The separation of Crimea was not supposed to be the final operation. In Kharkiv, Surkov’s colleague Borys Rappoport had been actively working on the “Novorossiya” project — another self-declared state. Its separation was supposed to follow the Crimean scenario — “the people of “Novorossiya” also want to be freed of the “Ukrainian oppression” as did the “people of Crimea.” And then, when the Ukrainian state was on its deathbed, he would arrive on the scene. Not Surkov, of course, but Putin. And then he would reestablish Ukraine as a federation.
Let us just imagine that Surkov’s plan had been implemented. Crimea is not a federal district but an “independent republic.” Russia recognizes it as a part of Ukraine but stresses that the territorial integrity of the neighboring country can be restored only if the “usurpers in Kyiv” “hear Crimea.”
Then similar processes begin in the east. Their participants do not support the separation from Ukraine and unification with Russia, but also want to be “heard.” The West puts pressure not only on Russia, demanding that it stop supporting rebels, but also on Ukraine, demanding that it establish an effective negotiating process with the residents of the rebel regions.
There is no violation of international law on the part of Russia. Sanctions against Russia are not implemented, and if implemented are very limited. Just let us remember the sanctions that were implemented against Russia after the annexation of Crimea, and let us imagine what would have happened had Russia not formally annexed it.
Putin with his desire to become the “collector of lands” has derailed the plans of a significant segment of his inner circle. His inner circle wanted to keep Ukraine on the hook, but Putin believed that Ukraine does not exist and that a word would suffice to make the “artificial state” disappear from the map.
He simply did not understand what Surkov was aspiring to do. Moreover, I would not even argue that it was Surkov exactly. I simply want to point out that the plan for an “independent Crimea” existed and was supported by the Russian leadership and that it was changed in 24 hours by Putin’s sole decision.
Thus, the entire situation underwent a 180-degree turn. The West was sent a very different signal. Putin could in no way consider himself a mediator, even when he tried to imitate that role in the Donbas. Furthermore, Russia had become a violator of international law, and this could not be denied even by its sympathizers in the West. The “Second Georgia” had failed.
An entirely different signal was sent to the Donbas. When the operation was unfolding in Eastern Ukraine, Moscow’s supporters expected that the region would join Russia, following the example of Crimea. They had no idea that the annexation of Crimea was not the norm but the exception.
This is exactly why the uncertain status of the Donbas has trapped not only Ukraine but Russia as well. Russia cannot afford to occupy the Donbas for long because the discrepancy between expectations and realities is creating tensions on its own borders.
But, most importantly, an entirely different signal was sent to Ukraine. The Ukrainians followed what was happening in Crimea with a certain lack of understanding at first. Many remembered that the inhabitants of the peninsula always differed in their pro-Russian views and they were ready to believe that the “Crimean Spring” was a natural reaction to Maidan.
This belief, especially when encouraged by propaganda, could have created a decent ground for a “national accommodation” with Moscow’s mediation. But when Putin decided to annex Crimea, the doubts disappeared: it was an occupation. Moreover, the doubts disappeared not only in Kyiv or Lviv, but also in Dnipro and Odesa. Thus began the Patriotic War of the Ukrainian people against the enemy.
However, it must also be noted that the Russian government’s rhetoric and propaganda have not changed. Russia is not party to the conflict. Federalization and changes to the Constitution — all this had been prepared still before Putin’s decision. And when the Russian leaders continued to repeat these ideas after the annexation of Crimea, they themselves failed to notice that they looked funny.
This is because one cannot concurrently demand that changes be made to the constitution of a country in order to ensure the rights of the “Russian speaking population” and then demand that one of the regions inhabited by this population must be united to another country. And not simply to another country, but to the country that is making all these demands.
One can love or hate Vladislav Surkov, but one must admit that he, along with many other representatives of the Russian leadership, is acting in the imperial interests of his country. Ukraine’s success lies in the fact that Putin is acting contrary to those interests.
If I did not know Putin’s biography, I would conclude that the Russian president has really been recruited by foreign intelligence services. Because each one of his actions since the time he left the custody of the “curators” from Yeltsin’s entourage has been to drive Russia into a trap from which it cannot escape. Sometimes I even have the impression that the historians of the future will begin to consider Putin as the president of Ukraine or China but not of Russia.
Why does he behave this way? Obviously, it is not because he has been recruited. He has so much money that he himself could recruit half of the West — even if not the best half.
The fact is that Russia’s president has long lived in a twilight world that I would characterize as “the world of prince Volodymyr” — the Kyivan prince, of course.
Life in this world, which Putin can no longer consciously escape, is pushing the Russian president to rash actions that lead to disastrous consequences for his country.
Vladislav Surkov has remained our treacherous enemy even if he opposed the annexation of Crimea. Volodymyr Putin, who has brought such grief to our country and who is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, remains our objective ally.
Only he himself can destroy the aggressor state.