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A Ukrainian block of flats wrecked by shelling from Putin's so-called separatists
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Ben Robinson

Russian military analysts acknowledge Ukraine 'separatists' are controlled from Moscow

Kseniya Kirillova

Russian military analysts have acknowledged that the ‘separatists’ in Ukraine are puppets of Moscow.

In early November, the website Military Review, which has close ties to the Russian Defence Ministry, published an article entitled “Russia will impose order in the LDNR” that was sensational in its candour. Its author, Egor Makhov, not only openly acknowledged that the so-called ‘DNR’ and ‘LNR’ (combined to the abbreviation LDNR) are directly controlled by Moscow, but also details the recent actions of the Russian curators of the occupied part of Ukraine’s Donbass.

Of course, these revelations tell us nothing we didn’t know already, but the very fact that such statements were made by Russian military analysts is intriguing. ‘Military Review’ is not in any way an opposition site. On the overwhelming majority of issues it follows the classic Kremlin agenda: it talks about “Ukrainian fascism”, praises new Russian weapons, considers the US a major geopolitical opponent, and mocks the results of the investigation into the assassination attempt in Salisbury, complaining that “Western experts” could at least “instil in the minds of some of their people some disbelief in the honesty of their own state.”

And so it happened that this particular site, which upholds the myth of the honest Russian state, unexpectedly exposed the Kremlin’s most popular lie, admitting that “after the assassination of A. Zakharchenko, the curators’ patience was exhausted, and a comprehensive cleansing of the power vertical had begun.” In total, the word “curators” is used in a fairly short text five times, and not in a very positive light. They are not named, but it is assumed that the reader already knows who they are.

“The mysterious Alexander Ananchenko, about whom it is known only that he had previously served as an adviser in the Vneshtorgservice company (there is not even a clear photograph of Ananchenko, except for one of the back of his head taken from afar), is definitely connected – if not with the ‘curators’, then with VTS, which took under its control all the industrial assets – that is, also with the Russians. In any case, this candidate is in no way connected with the local elites and, judging by the wide powers he was granted and the sharply-worded statements issued, was imposed from the top. The same can be said about  the anointed king Denis Pushilin, who had recently played a significant role in the highest echelons of the republic’s power structures,” Military Review wrote.

Makhov wrote that Pushilin "possesses resources neither of power nor authority" for the implementation of positive changes in Donetsk. “Only the so-called curators can guarantee the fulfillment of the promises, the post of head of the ‘republic’, as well as the safety of the person holding this post. Judging by the latest events, this title was granted to Denis Pushilin for lack of a more suitable candidate and on the condition of being governed and controlled by outside handlers,” the author says, calling the Moscow appointee a “wedding general” (a figurehead with no real power).

“Although it took quite a while, the people who are in charge of communicating with the LDNR finally realized that it’s possible to create an elite in Novorossia’s only under if there is total control and a ferocious audit,” Makhov wrote.

There can only be one explanation for these sudden revelations: the traditional rivalry between the Russian intelligence services. Since Military Review is a site associated with the Russian Defence Ministry, it is obvious that the late former head of the occupation administration, Alexander Zakharchenko, was a creature of the GRU, while his replacement Pushilin was supervised by rivals the FSB. This conclusion is supported by a report published on the KyivTime website in mid-September.

“It seems that the murder of the head of the ‘DPR’ Alexander Zakharchenko provoked a conflict between the Russian intelligence services. Everyone knows that it was Russia’s GRU which supervised and handle the deceased Zakharchenko during his entire time in power in the ‘DPR’. Trapeznikov, who immediately after Zakharchenko’s death began to perform his duties, is also close to the GRU. But something went wrong and on 7 September the Prosecutor General’s Office of the ‘DPR’ unexpectedly announced that the appointment of Dmitry Trapeznikov as acting head of the republic was illegal, after which Denis Pushilin was appointed acting head of the ‘DPR’. But the whole point is that Pushilin is a man of the FSB. And that caused the quandary, which portends a struggle between the GRU and the FSB. A battle for a place in the sun,” the article says.

It looks like this prediction has come true; moreover, in the heat of the battle between the intelligence services, the GRU exposed the “complete external oversight and strict control” of the puppet ‘republics’ by Moscow, something the Russian leadership still stubbornly denies.

In general, observing the struggle between the Russian intelligence services is a rather exciting pastime that allows one to gather quite a lot of useful information. In a report on its website, the Investigation Management Center (IMC, a site for investigative reporting) said the GRU blamed the “vile and deceitful” FSB blame for the publication on 15 July 2014 of the list of 79 Russian military intelligence officers working undercover abroad. In retaliation for the numerous “leaks”, the Defence Ministry exposed the hacker group ’Humpty Dumpty’ (Shaltay-Baltay and its handler – FSB colonel Sergei Mikhailov, who was then accused of treason for cooperating with the American special services. Whether the accusation against Mikhailov resulted from the exposure of hackers whom he mentored, as claimed in the Russian press, or counterintelligence had another source of information is unknown. One way or another, the consequences of the clashes between military and ‘civilian’ officers have been devastating for both sides.

IMC staff writer Sergey Kanev confirms: the confrontation between the intelligence services is one of the reasons for the flow of information leaks and the apparent failure of their operations. If we add to this the conflicts between different groups and departments within each of the special services and their connection with different oligarchic clans, it becomes clear that the famous ’Putin power vertical’ is not as monolithic as it may seem at first glance. In turn, the countries who are victims of Russian wars and covert operations may be able to use information gathered from the public part of this confrontation to defend against Russian active measures.

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