Two “DNR ministers” surrender to Ukraine. Will the rest follow?

Fugitive "DNR ministers" Aliya Kamara and Yuri Lekstutes. 

More, Russian Aggression, Ukraine

In August and September the Security Service of Ukraine reported that two former ministers of the “Donetsk People’s Republic,” one of two Russian-run statelets in the east of Ukraine, surrendered to Ukrainian law enforcers. The agency didn’t disclose their names, but it was possible to identify them as Yuri Lekstutes and Aliya Kamara, who were members to the “DNR minister soviet” back in 2014, but were arrested in December of the same year and spent some time behind bars in occupied Donetsk under accusations of embezzlement and authority abuse. They are first high-profile “officials” from the Moscow-run statelets in the east of Ukraine who chose to surrender to Ukraine instead of fleeing to Russia. Can such cases become a tendency and under what circumstances?

The second “DNR ex-minister” surrenders to Ukraine

On 25 September, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) reported that SBU Counter Intelligence Department managed to transfer a former “DNR minister of agrarian policy and food” from ORDO, as the occupied parts of Donetsk Oblast are referred to.

“Law enforcers found that the man joined the ranks of the illegal armed formations in September 2014. First, as a member of the so-called “Industrial Stronghold of the Donbas,” he supplied fertilizers, fuel, and lubricants and other goods to the separatist-held territories of Donetsk region… Then, headed by the suggestion of [then DNR head] Zakharchenko ‘Ministry of Agro-Industrial Policy and Food’ offender recruited the staff and provided the functioning of the fake agency under the supervision of Russia’s special services. Furthermore, he also ‘authorized’ the arrival of the so-called ‘Russian humanitarian convoy‘ cargo to the occupied Donbas territories,” the SBU report reads.

Aliya Kamara

The Agency didn’t name the defector, but mentioned that he had conflicted with Zaharchenko “because of plunderage redistribution,” “he was accused of authority abuse, stealing state funds in a particularly large size, and was imprisoned by his own accomplices for a while.” These facts give grounds for identifying him as Aliya Kamara who was an acting “minister of agroindustry and food” for about a month from November 2014 but was arrested and put in prison later in December 2014.

Yuri Lekstutes

Earlier in August, SBU reported that its counterintelligence department had transferred former “DNR minister of culture and tourism” from the occupied territory to Ukraine, who was identified as Yuri Lekstutes, who was a “minister” from May 2014 and was also arrested in December of the same year.

“Waiting for you at home”

On 15 August 2015, the SBU launched kind of a witness protection program dubbed “Waiting for You at Home” for Ukrainian citizens who participated in illegal armed groups and terrorist organizations in Easter Ukraine.

The program helps discharge from liability the members of the so-called “DNR and LNR” who choose to surrender to the Ukrainian authorities. The program is applicable to those who didn’t participate in murders, tortures, rape abuses, attacks on the enterprises, institutions, and organizations and other felonies” and who “are sincerely ready to assist in the discovery of the crimes” committed by the formation they took part in.

According to the most recent official information published by Ukrainski Novyny, 303 members of the illegal armed groups took advantage of the program as of May 2018, and the Ukrainian courts exonerated 232 of them.

Nevertheless, prior to the defection of the two “ministers,” there were no public reports on such high officials who surrendered to Ukraine. Reportedly, the users of the Program were low-profile members of “LNR” and “DNR,” who had joined the military and paramilitary groups but later decided to return to normal life.

Now at least the former “DNR minister of culture” has used the program “Waiting for You at Home” to move to Ukraine, according to the SBU report.

DNR “officials”

In total, 103 persons were members of six consecutive “DNR governments,” including the “Interim Coalition Government” declared back in April 2014 and the next “DNR minister soviets.” Some members of the “cabinets” were foreign citizens. There were Russian nationals like Moscow political consultant Aleksandr Boroday and retired Russian military intelligence agent Igor Girkin. Some other were holders of the passports of Transnistria, a Russian-controlled breakaway region of Moldova, such as former vice PM of PMR Aleksandr Karaman, former chief of the Transnistrian secret service (PMR MGB) Vladimir Antyufeev. The latter had also brought two of his Transnistrian accomplices, Andrey Pinchuk and Oleg Beryoza, who remained law enforcement “ministers” until March 2015.

However, most of the former and incumbent “DNR ministers” have been Ukrainian citizens. The current “DNR heads” and “parliamentarians” (50 in Luhansk, 100 in Donetsk) are the citizens of Ukraine too.

Post-resignation options for separatist “ministers” and other leaders

  • After their resignations, many leaders remained in the occupied territory, still holding other positions in power. Some of them lost their powers and took on the role of the opposition to the Moscow-approved leadership, like 2014-2016 “DNR security minister” Aleksandr Khodakovsky, and 2014 “DNR people’s governor” Pavel Gubarev, who both had become vocal critics of then “DNR head” Aleksandr Zakharchenko.
  • Some “ministers” preferred fleeing to Russia (Boroday, Girkin, Timofeev), Transnistria (Antyufeev, Pinchuk, Beryoza), or occupied Crimea (Lyagin).
  • Some other wound up behind bars in Donetsk charged with “abuse of the official position,” like it had happened to “fuel and energy ministers” Andrey Granovsky and Yevgeny Faynitsky, vice PM Aleksandr Kalyussky, justice minister Yekaterina Filippova in late 2014 – early 2015.
  • The two other of those imprisoned in 2014-2015, culture minister Yury Lekstutes and agroindustry minister Aliya Kamara, have lately surrendered to Ukraine after their release from DNR prisons.
  • It is worth noting that many leaders who could be rivals for the “heads of republics” were assassinated or forced into Russia, as it happened to a few Don Cossack leaders in Luhansk Oblast in 2015 (Kozitsyn – expelled, Mozgovoy and Dryomov – assassinated) and to a number of other chieftains such as Arsen “Motorola” Pavlov and Mikhail “Givi” Tolstykh who were killed in Donetsk. Zakharchnko’s main rival Khodakovsky tried to return to Donetsk from Russia shortly after the death of the “DNR head” to participate in the sham elections, but he himself reported that the Russian border guards didn’t let him pass into the ORDO. The “LNR head” Igor Plotnitsky escaped to Russia following the successful putsch organized by siloviki who opposed him.
  • Another noteworthy highlight is that hiding in Russia can’t prevent an accidental death of a former leader: ex “LNR head” Valery Bolotov had died shortly after a meeting with his “LNR” allies in Moscow due to suspected poisoning; leader of a separatist “Oplot” unit Yevgeny Zhilin was shot dead in a restaurant in Moscow Oblast.

What can force “LDNR leaders” to surrender to Ukraine?

As far the pseudo-states remain relatively stable and most of the leaders remain in power, there are no signs that more high-ranked separatists can flee to Ukraine. Even if someone loses his or her power in a “republic,” the main option is to remain. If they are about to be arrested or feel like their life is in danger, their first choice is to flee Luhansk or Donetsk to Russia. Ukraine seems to be the last pick possible for high-profile “LDNR” leaders.

The deaths of at least two top separatists in Russia are not a secret for the political leadership and top-brass of the fake republics. However, they still know that not just Russian citizens like Girkin or Kozitsyn, but also Ukrainian nationals like Plotnitsky, Lyagin, Timofeev – all have had no significant problems while in exile in Russia.

While Russia fully supports the “republics” and no internal conflicts escalate within the LDNR leadership, it’s hard to expect a mass defection of the leaders to Ukraine.

Both “DNR” and “LNR” have announced the plans to conduct the “parliamentary and presidential elections” on 11 November. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said that the “intention of Russian Federation’s occupation administration of the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts to conduct ‘snap elections’… is a flagrant violation of Russia’s commitments as a part to the Minsk [Peace] Accords.” The EU and US condemned the planned sham elections as well.

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However, Russia is not going to abolish the voting. The Kremlin-approved acting heads of both republics, Leonid Pasechnik and Denis Pushilin, are campaigning in full swing, showing up on the local TV channels every day while visiting various local factories, farms, and social organizations.

The key rivals of “acting DNR head” Denis Pushilin, Aleksandr Khodakovsky and Pavel Gubarev, have been elbowed out of the “election race.”

Even the Kremlin “gray cardinal” for the East-Ukrainian occupied territories, Putin’s aide Vladislav Surkov, participated in promoting the unpopular Denis Pushilin, promising to “raise wages in the DNR,” as the Russian state-run news agency TASS reported.

The Kremlin’s intention to legitimize the acting leaders of its puppet republics once again by sham local elections, even under the threat of further EU and US sanctions on Russia, shows that Russia is not going to scrap its pseudo-states or reduce its support to them.

And this means that we may witness only isolated cases of the escapes by high-profile LDNR leaders to Ukraine in the nearest future.

Meanwhile, the “leaders” themselves understand that the republics are in no way real states. For example, one of the masterminds behind the 2014 separatist Donetsk referendum and former “minister of labor and social policy” Roman Lyagin who resides in the Russian-occupied Crimea once stated that the DNR “a parody of a state” being “kept afloat by internal terror,” and that the region’s “return to Ukraine is inevitable, the Donbas is Ukraine.”

Such realistic sentiments may work towards their intentions to surrender in the future.


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