18 May 2014

Ukraine 5/18: Russians Planning All Along?

So maybe Russia's been planning this all along and just needed an opportunity.

While Putin has presented separatist violence in eastern Ukraine as spontaneous, interviews with Ukrainian politicians and security sources with knowledge of Russian thinking suggest months of detailed planning by Moscow.

A key plank of Russia's plan, they say, was to deepen splits in a country that has struggled to form an identity since it emerged from the Soviet Union in 1991. To that end, Russia sought to exploit its connections to Ukrainian business, youth groups, the church, politicians and criminal networks.

The sources point to a paper from June 2013, described as a Kremlin consultation document by the Ukrainian newspaper Dzerkalo Tyzhnia and first made public in August that year. It sets out Moscow's fear of losing influence in Ukraine and its desire to draw its neighbor into an economic union.

The Kremlin declined to comment on the document, entitled "On the complex of measures to involve Ukraine in the Eurasian integration process", and Russian officials have previously written it off as a "provocation" by pro-Western politicians in Ukraine.

Bearing no signature or stamp, it is hard to trace its provenance, but a former security source in Ukraine corroborated its contents. He said he was present during conversations about the document involving officials in Ukraine with close connections to Moscow. Like others interviewed for this article he declined to be identified because of political sensitivities.

The document indicates that as far back as early 2013 Russia was nervous about Ukraine. Yanukovich's rule was widely seen as corrupt and the Kremlin was worried the president's unpopularity could harm Putin's plan to create a Russian-led "Eurasian" economic union to reunite part of the former Soviet Union.

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