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Atlantic Council | 17Jul2014 | Irena Chalupa

Needing Better Control in Ukraine War, Moscow Sends in an Old KGB Hand

Vladimir Antyufeyev Fought Dirty Wars in Latvia, Moldova, Georgia; He’s Just the Man the Kremlin Needs 

[W.Z. In a response to the Infoukes politics mailing list on 10Jun2014, I voiced my opinion that "it is crucial not to allow a Transnistria-type scenario to develop at the Donetsk-Luhansk border with the Russian Federation". This article by Ms. Chalupa indicates that this is exactly the scenario that Vladimir Putin is now trying to accomplish. It is a technique that the Tsarist Russian Empire has been using for centuries, which has been continued during the Soviet Union era and now Mr. Putin's era. If there is to be any hope for peace in Ukraine, in Europe and around the world, Ukraine simply cannot allow Mr. Putin to impose such a scenario in the Donbas region.]

Vladimir Antyufeyev during a July 10, 2014 press conference in Donetsk, Ukraine, where he was presented as the Donetsk People’s Republic deputy prime minister in charge of state security.
SOURCE: Screenshot from the city of Makeevka website video of the press conference

Last week the Russian-backed “Donetsk People’s Republic” became even more Russian-led. The two Muscovites at the top of the separatist leadership introduced the latest Russian citizen to join their team -- and the one with the most prominent role so far in the Kremlin’s quarter-century of struggles to cripple the independence of its neighboring European states.

The new “deputy prime minister for state security” in the separatists’ self-declared republic is Lieutenant General Vladimir Antyufeyev, 63, a longtime Russian police and special operations commander who since at least 1991 has been a key leader of violent campaigns by Moscow to dominate Latvia, Moldova, and Georgia. From 1992 to 2012, Antyufeyev headed the KGB, and all security operations, within Transnistria, the impoverished and isolated proto-state that Russia props up in Moldova.

Until now, the Russians leading the separatist war in Donetsk had been obscure personalities. The Donetsk republic’s self-declared prime minister, Alexander Borodai, is a Moscow-based, ultranationalist former newspaper editor and political consultant. The defense minister, a longtime Russian army and intelligence colonel named Igor Girkin, has acknowledged that he fought in Russia’s suppression of the independence movement in Chechnya. (The token Donetsk native in the leadership, “governor” Pavel Gubaryev, worked in advertising and as a Santa Claus-for-hire.)

But Antyufeyev has a long, public history punctuated by arrest warrants in Latvia and Moldova from his violent roles there. Antyufeyev’s emergence in Donetsk is perhaps the clearest signal yet of what the Kremlin hopes to create in southeast Ukraine: a heavily armed enclave like Transnistria, under the control of Russian ex-military and KGB officers, who will remain at war with Ukraine and do their best to cripple Ukrainian independence and ruin Kyiv’s chances at real and effective European integration.

A ‘Frozen Conflict’ Specialist

Antyufeyev is perhaps Moscow’s most experienced practitioner at the art of the “frozen conflict.” That, of course, is the Kremlin’s tactic of sponsoring a secessionist war in a nearby country, and then propping up a breakaway mini-state as a thumbscrew by which to force the targeted government to become Moscow’s submissive ally. In the press conference July 10, 2014 that introduced Antyufeyev to Donetsk, he acknowledged helping in all of the Kremlin-initiated frozen conflicts so far: the Transnistrian war, and the secessions from Georgia of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In Donetsk, he is tackling by far the biggest, most populous and most economically important region that Russia has attacked in this way.

Antyufeyev fought his first war amid the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. In the Baltic republic of Latvia, he commanded a unit of Soviet Interior Ministry special operations forces (known by their Russian acronym, OMON). His troops conducted violent attacks on Latvians then campaigning for independence from the Soviet Union.

Soon after Latvia declared independence on August 21, 1991, the newly re-established state launched a criminal investigation, issuing arrest warrants for Antyufeyev and other OMON officers. They quickly fled to Russia and Antyufeyev seemed to disappear.

By the end of 1991, he had assumed a new identity, as “Vadim Shevtsov,” and arrived in Trasnsnistria. A year later he became that region’s “minister for state security,” heading the secret police force, which in Transnistria even retained its Soviet-era acronym: the KGB.

Transnistria: Antyufeyev’s ‘Black Hole’

Senior Ukrainian journalist Vitaliy Portnikov, who has covered the politics of the ex-Soviet states for decades, writes that Antyufeyev’s Transnistrian KGB not only hunted down domestic opponents of the mini-state, but “is also a cover for turning Transnistria into a corruption black hole, a Mecca for criminals and contrabandists. Transnistrian security service general Antyufeyev is at the center of this process.” His often cruel suppression of all dissent and his corruption led locals to refer to him as the “Transnistrian Beria,” after Lavrentiy Beria, the secret police chief under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

During twenty years in which Antyufeyev was “the power behind the throne” in the Transnistrian regime, according to Polish-American historian Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, many Western and international institutions -- including human rights groups, the US State Department and a European Parliament delegation -- have reported severe, systemic political repression, torture, corruption and criminality. In its latest report, in 2013, the human rights organization Freedom House ranked civil liberties and political rights at six on a scale in which seven was the lowest measure.

Antyufeyev’s longtime partner, Transnistrian President Igor Smirnov, was abandoned by a Kremlin looking for a more diplomatically presentable leader and defeated in a 2012 election. His replacement, Yevgeniy Shevchuk, took office promising to reduce corruption and immediately fired Antyufeyev. The KGB chief responded by barricading himself in his offices for three days. After Antyufeyev received safe conduct back to Russia, the new Transnistrian government charged him with abuse of power, corruption and destroying secret documents concerning foreign currency reserves and customs duties.

In Ukraine, Antufeyev will continue to help Russia impose the Kremlin’s will, said Oana Serafim, the director of Radio Liberty’s Moldova service. “Antyufeyev is an old KGB man, he is a master of blackmail, anti-reformer, manipulator of dirty money and is very violent,” she said.

Vitaliy Portnikov underscores that Antyufeyev’s re-emergence in Ukraine is no chance occurrence, but “the initiative of the senior leadership of Russia’s special services.”  Antyufeyev’s defense of Russian interests in Transnistria “was exemplary and tough,” Portnikov wrote in an essay last weekend. “He’s also an experienced smuggler. Those who sent him to Donetsk might be thinking of personal enrichment during wartime, and who better than Antufeyev knows how to guarantee that?”

Irena Chalupa covers Ukraine and Eastern Europe for the Atlantic Council.

See also
Jamestown Foundation | 15Jul2014 | Vladimir Socor

Russian Secessionists Ready for ‘State-Building’ In Ukraine’s Donetsk City

Declared by an unlawful “referendum” on May 11, 2014, the Moscow-backed “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DPR; along with the “Luhansk People’s Republic” -- LPR) has existed thus far as scattered dots on the map in Ukraine’s east. Initially, those dots included administrative and law-enforcement buildings throughout the Donetsk province. Russian-led forces had seized those key points, enabling the “DPR” to claim control over most of the 18 districts in Donetsk province. Ukrainian forces have regained much of that ground in June and early July. The “DPR” is now reduced to only five districts, which lack full territorial continuity, being themselves interspersed with contested areas (see EDM, July 14, 2014).

The “DPR’s” core area has receded to the city of Donetsk, hemmed in by Ukrainian-controlled or contested environs. Secessionist troops (augmented with those that withdrew from other areas) are now concentrated in that city of one million people. There, the “DPR” leaders are now embarking on a state-building project on a city-state scale. It is, alongside the LPR, a building block of the Kremlin’s Novorossiya geopolitical and ideological design. Were it to take root (by Russian commission and Western omission, both patent), the “DPR” would become de facto a city-state inside Ukraine, with a short direct supply line to Russia.

More than a local “pro-Russian” project, this is a Russian project actually. Weapons, instructors, financing, geopolitical agenda, and (for the leadership group at least) ideological motivation are all Russian. And given the “DPR” commander’s repeated complaints that the locals are generally unwilling to join his forces (including most recently in Donetsk -- see EDM, July 14, 2014), it follows that the pro-Russia forces probably include an even higher proportion of fighters from Russia than hitherto assumed.

On July 10, 2014, three top “DPR” leaders appeared at a press conference in Donetsk: “prime minister” Aleksandr Boroday, “defense minister” and commander-in-chief Igor Girkin/Strelkov, and newly appointed “deputy prime minister for security matters” Vladimir Antyufeyev (Interfax-Ukraine, July 10, 2014; Russkaya Vesna, July 10, 2014).

These leaders have nothing in common with Donetsk or the Donbas. They are citizens of Russia with their origins in Moscow, the Pskov region, and Novosibirsk, respectively. They have arrived in Ukraine on special mission in April 2014, February 2014, and July 2014, respectively.

Boroday is an exponent of Greater-Russia nationalism, long-time contributor to Aleksandr Prokhanov’s “Zavtra” weekly newspaper and “Den TV” Internet channel. These have mutated from a Soviet to a traditionalist-conservative conception of Russian empire. According to Prokhanov, “Boroday is a Russian nationalist, advocate of a powerful Russian state […] he is a confessed nationalist of the White, not the Red imperial idea” (Natsionalnaya Sluzhba Novostey, May 20, 2014). Boroday, like Girkin/Strelkov (who also has contributed to Prokhanov’s media outlets) and other proponents of Novorossiya, regard large parts of Ukraine, including Donbas, as rightfully belonging to a Greater Russia or a Russian World. President Vladimir Putin has moved in a similar direction recently.

Girkin/Strelkov introduced himself at that press conference as a Colonel of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), retired from active service as of March 31, 2014. He recounted that he had earlier fought alongside other Russian volunteers in Transnistria and in Bosnia, and then as an FSB officer in Russia’s two Chechen wars (www.62.ua [Donetsk] cited by Ukraiynska Pravda, July 12, 2014).

Although defeated in the Sloviansk area, Girkin/Strelkov has emerged with an enhanced reputation among “DPR” leaders and in Russia’s ultranationalist circles. Russian state media and Internet folklore have spun a myth of heroic resistance around Slovyansk. Some of the radical nationalists blame that loss on the Kremlin’s unwillingness to intervene more openly in the conflict. That argument takes its cue from Girkin/Strelkov’s videotaped statements in late June to early July, complaining about insufficient support from Moscow.

Transnistria’s long-serving KGB chief and “state security minister” (1992–2012), Lieutenant-General Vladimir Antyufeyev, has now been appointed as “DPR deputy prime minister,” in charge of “security matters” (“silovyie voprosy”). The “prime minister,” Aleksandr Boroday, picked Antyufeyev in Moscow, where Boroday had rushed for consultations after the defeat of secessionist forces in Slovyansk (Interfax, July 10, 2014).

Antyufeyev is a police officer who proved effective at controlling Transnistria’s civilian population and organizing illicit cross-border traffic there. He is apparently expected to transfer that experience to Donetsk. Unlike the “DPR” leaders and their Moscow sponsors, however, Antyufeyev has no record of involvement with the “Novorossiya” or other ideological, pan-Russian, or Eurasian projects. He is a straightforward neo-Soviet KGB practitioner.

According to Antyufeyev at his introductory news conference in Donetsk, he will be in charge of “DPR’s” “state” security agency, internal affairs “ministry,” and courts of justice. In his words, he is “tasked to reconstitute the law enforcement structures in the ‘DPR.’” He introduced himself as having “dedicated my life to the struggle against national-fascism in Latvia and Moldova,” prior to embarking on this new mission (Interfax-Ukraine, Russkaya Vesna, Kommersant-Moldova, July 10, 2014).

Latvia forms the less-known chapter of Antyufeyev’s career. He commanded a Soviet OMON (special-assignment police unit) in Riga in 1990–1991, participating in a murderous but ultimately abortive crackdown on the independence movement there, before resurfacing in Transnistria. Antyufeyev tops the list of sanctions declared by the European Union against some Transnistrian leaders since 2004. Those sanctions are as irrelevant as those recently declared by the EU against a batch of Russian secessionists operating in Ukraine’s east (Ukrinform, July 11, 2014).

The “DPR” is in no sense a project for local self-rule or self-determination; nor can Boroday’s group in any sense be said to represent the local population. Thanks to Russian military and propaganda support, however, the “DPR” has largely displaced the local Donbas elite associated with the Party of Regions from power. And it has displaced Ukrainian state sovereignty from “DPR”-controlled territory. Russia seeks to implant a statelet under direct control in and around the city of Donetsk. Attempting to legitimize it, President Putin insists that “DPR’s” political leadership -- Boroday in this case -- be accepted as a negotiating counterpart to the Ukrainian government in the “Contact Group.” This has already taken place (June 23 and 30, July 6, 2014) thanks largely to Germany and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) cooperating with Putin. If continued in the existing form, the “Contact Group” process would ratify the “DPR’s” usurpation de facto.