An explosion occurred in the Donetsk cafe Separ on Pushkin Boulevard on August 31, at about 5 p.m. Two people died: leader of the puppet "DNR" Alexander Zakharchenko and his guard. Nine more people were wounded, including Zakharchenko's "purse", a "deputy prime-minister" in his "government" Alexander Timofeev ("Tashkent")...
Speaking about the explosion in Donetsk, as a result of which leader of the "DNR" Alexander Zakharchenko died and his deputy Alexander Timofeev ("Tashkent") was wounded, one must immediately understand that there cannot be internal infighting of this level in the occupied part of Donbass. It cannot be denied that there is an intraspecific struggle and even a certain semblance of political life, but the power issues are not being dealt with in Donetsk itself. The territory of the "DNR" is totally controlled by the FSB, and the locals will not go against it.
Donetsk can only be a projection of internal fights that occur in Moscow. They are evidenced by the last year's events in Luhansk, when Surkov's protegee, Igor Plotnitsky, was replaced by the FSB's Leonid Pasechnik as a result of the military coup.
Zakharchenko, unlike Plotnitsky, was a man who suited both the FSB and Surkov. At least until recently. The FSB approved him for this position, and Surkov even became a godfather of Zakharchenko's child, which gave him some guarantee of keeping some authority, at least while Surkov is in charge of the "Ukrainian project".
However, this may also have become the cause of his death. When someone in Moscow realized that Zakharchenko could not be removed politically, because he was covered by Surkov, the leader of the "DNR" was simply liquidated. This is the signal to Surkov that his decisions are not final and, if necessary, they always have a radical alternative.
In this regard, it is interesting that Surkov did not make any political statements after the death of Zakharchenko. At first, he simply remained silent, and then the occupation media published his appeal to Zakharchenko "as to a living one", written in a personal tone:
"Sasha, brother... You are always in a hurry. From the Head office to the front line, out of there (if you were not wounded) to a meeting with the miners, then to the farmers, then to the opening of a school… Indeed, is it possible not to hurry when there are so many problems that people are waiting for you to solve”, – continued the assistant to the president. And now you're in a hurry in passing away. You're hurrying, although it's too early to leave. Too early. But if there is no other way, I say, as always: so long, brother, take care. Take care of yourself out there, if you can't make it here".
Have you paid attention? Surkov does not accuse Ukraine! And why "it was impossible to take care of himself here?". He managed to do that for 4 years! What kind of insurmountable force, from which Zakharchenko could not hide even in Russia, decided his fate?...
The most pleasant answer to this question for the Ukrainians would be - the Ukrainian special services. However, well-known facts show that Russians were more motivated and able to do this.
Firstly, for Ukraine it does not matter what name the puppet of Moscow in Donetsk will have, since the decisions are still made in the Russian Federation, and not in the Donbass. And Kyiv will never conduct negotiations with Donetsk. This is already enshrined in the law on reintegration, where it is said that the "authorities" of the occupied Donetsk and Luhansk are the occupation administrations.
Secondly, eyewitnesses claim that the explosive device was stuffed with case shot, which (as of morning of September 1) still littered around the place of the explosion. It is unlikely that the Ukrainian special services would conduct an operation to eliminate terrorists, initially designed for a large number of casual victims, since in Ukraine, unlike Russia, political leadership often changes, and the leadership of the special services changes as well. Imagine that Tymoshenko or someone else wins in the next election. Naturally, they will change the heads of special services, and then the murder of innocent Ukrainian citizens can be used by new authorities to prosecute predecessors. Such an argument does not look serious for the "DNR" or Russia, but in Ukraine there is a tough competition for power, so here it is very significant.
Thirdly, the main suspect is now one of Zakharchenko’s guards, who disappeared from the crime scene. It has already been announced that the explosive was placed in a lamp, but few people know (it is an insider information) that it was this guard who asked the café staff to eliminate some kind of a malfunction in the electric lighting that had recently appeared.
It is necessary to understand that the café Separ consists (consisted) of two premises. One, with an open terrace, was used for the general public. The second one was attended mainly by the leaders of the "DNR", that is, there were no random people, therefore, minor repairs were agreed with Zakharchenko's security service.
It consisted exclusively of the FSB employees or, at least, people, who were checked and approved by the FSB. Moreover, in recent months (insider information), Donetsk received a tough order to disband all paramilitary groups that did not obey Moscow, including Zakharchenko's personal guards. So, it is almost impossible to imagine that Zakharchenko‘s security guard was an SBU agent...
Well, in Donetsk itself only the occupation media support the version of the "Ukrainian special services". No one believes in it in serious circles. The first and main version there is "did not pay enough to someone in Moscow".
In addition, the subsequent political pandemonium in Moscow suggests that Zakharchenko's liquidation could have purely political motives. After all, refusal of Lavrov from the meeting in the "Normandy format" looks weird. It would seem that if there is a problem, then it is necessary to meet and solve it. It would seem that it would be advantageous for Moscow to screw Kyiv over in front of Merkel and Macron. But... The freezing of the "Normandy format" rather fits into another scenario of the Kremlin, about which we will talk next.
This is the most important and the most difficult question. Of course, the liquidation of Zakharchenko cannot be the reason for any drastic changes in Russia's policy regarding the Donbass, but it can be used as an excuse and a tool for such changes.
For a long time, there are two warring camps in the Kremlin, fighting not only for control over the resources of the Donbass, but also having different visions of the Kremlin's policy in the Ukrainian issue: supporters and opponents of the Minsk agreements.
The first camp is personified by Vladislav Surkov, the author of the Minsk con, who regards it as almost the main achievement of his career. The second side is represented by supporters of a more radical policy. At the political strategy level, it has recently been associated with a certain Sayun Sadykov. The media call him close to the head of Rosneft Igor Sechin, deputy head of the Russian Presidential Administration Sergey Kiriyenko and Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Dmitry Kozak.
The clash of the Kremlin curators for control over the financial and contraband flows of the "LNR" was revealed in the period after Putin's inauguration, when it was not clear whether Surkov would retain his position and authority with regard to the Donbass. His competitors were Kozak and Kiriyenko. And even at that time, the teams that competed with Surkov began to prepare their people for Zakharchenko's place, who had no chance to stay in power in Donetsk in case of Surkov's fall.
In particular, presumably, Sadykov established the Center for Modeling of Strategic Development (CMSD) this March specially for this case. Sadykov called himself head of this organization, and former People's Deputy of Ukraine from the Party of Regions, a man close to Yanukovych, Alexander Bobkov… vice-president.
Bobkov is interesting by the fact that in March 2014, when he was still sitting in the Ukrainian parliament in Kyiv, Zakharchenko's Oplot was already based in his Donetsk office. Then he openly supported the "DNR", having appeared at Zakharchenko's "inauguration" after the "elections" in November 2014.
In May of this year, a material stating Bobkov's vision of the end of "civil war" in Donbass appeared on the CMSD's website.
It starts with a quote, from which it follows that the Minsk Agreements are not effective. For solving the conflict, Bobkov suggests "taking the protracted conflict of the civil war between Moscow and Grozny as an example. After the 10th anniversary of the Civil War, the Chechen Republic was able to unite in a single state with Moscow, leaving aside emotions and personal political ambitions… I, as a native of the Ukrainian Donbass, urge all Ukrainians to throw aside emotions and lay down arms, to sit down at the negotiating table without intermediaries and agree on our existence within the framework of the One, indivisible country. Only this way we can agree, by taking Moscow and Grozny as an example, which were mensch to sit down at the negotiating table without intermediaries and agreed after the hardest civil war!"
Perhaps someone in Moscow thinks that the "Chechenization" of Donbass can suit someone in Kyiv… Of course, it would be a good prospect for Bobkov to become a local Kadyrov, but it is obvious that the one who builds such plans does not understand the situation in Ukraine. Even with the pro-Russian president, Kyiv just cannot settle for such an option peaceably. Especially with the pro-Russian president, - because in this case, he will be swept aside faster than Yanukovych. However, maybe Moscow's true interest is: not its "own" president in Kyiv, but the process of his "demolition" as an excuse for the collapse of country…
Anyway, the liquidation of Zakharchenko and subsequent reaction of Moscow showed that, it seems, the "Minsk" party of Surkov is not in favor now. Lavrov froze the Normandy format, and the talking heads, from State Duma Speaker Voloshin to leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation Zyuganov, call to break the Minsk Agreements and respond with "strong will and necessary measures".
Apparently, someone managed to convey to Putin an obvious and unpleasant for Surkov truth: Minsk Agreements are beneficial to Russia, if they are being implemented. If they are not being implemented, then this is exhaustion by sanctions, costs to maintain the "republics" and give Ukraine the opportunity to modify and strengthen its Armed Forces… And today they are not being implemented, that is, they are harmful to Russia.
At the same time, the rejection of Minsk's policy implies a question: what instead? The choice here is narrow: either recognition of the "republics" and, thus, preservation of the conflict, or a large-scale military operation.
The first one is not beneficial to the Kremlin, because in this case, the conflict will cease to be hot and lose its value as a factor destabilizing the whole of Ukraine. Moscow will consolidate its control over the economically depressed territory, but along with it, the West's sanctions and increasing spending on the "DNR-LNR". In addition, this will fix the current "borders" of the "republics", and for the integrity of their economic complexes, they need the full territories of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. If the "recognized" by Russia republics "continue to fight with Ukraine, it will mean involvement of the Russian Federation in this endless war, what will lead to new sanctions, costs and risks…
The second one – military escalation – is a touchy business. Firstly, it is not 2014 now and the number of corpses sent to Pskov and Krasnodar will be such that it will be impossible to talk about "theyarenotthere". Secondly - sanctions and economic costs again, and most importantly - a serious risk to get the defeat.
Furthermore, any large-scale military offensive will still have to end with a conditional "Minsk-3", but it may not be as favorable for Russia as Minsk-2. There are no guarantees that Moscow will be able to create a second Ilovaisk or Debaltseve, when Kyiv will have to sign all that Putin will offer under the pressure. And the main thing – there are no Americans in Minsk-2. And in Minsk-3, they will be for sure…
Anyway, Minsk-2 gives a mechanism for implanting completely Moscow-controlled entities, destructive for the Ukrainian state, in the political organism of Ukraine. With their help, the Kremlin will be able to manipulate Kyiv as it chooses. There are no guarantees that Moscow will receive such an opportunity as a result of "Minsk-3". Accordingly, all this hype in Moscow about the "death of Minsk" and "impossibility" of the Normandy format meetings, as well as transfer of military equipment to Donbass and concentration of troops on the eastern border, is nothing more than bluff and blackmail.
By the way, pay attention that the transfer of equipment and concentration of troops began not after the liquidation of Zakharchenko, but before it...
Was Zakharchenko's death part of the plan, or just a good coincidence for Moscow, but Moscow's attack on "Minsk" and accusations of Ukraine of its "death" that began after it clearly show that the Kremlin is stepping up the efforts to coerce Kyiv into fulfilling the political part of Minsk-2 .
This is the main goal – not the war and breakup of the Minsk Agreements, but coercion to the implementation of Minsk by bluff and blackmail! Unlike Ukraine, Russia has no realistic alternative to Minsk!
Bluff and blackmail is Russia's main weapon now.
Of course, this does not exclude and even, to some extent, testifies to the upcoming escalation in Donbass prior to our presidential elections. But this will not be a full-scale offensive of Russia. For this, the Russian Federation armed and trained the locals and disguised as locals not local ones.
And of course, the purpose of this escalation will not be "the punishment of Ukraine for Zakharchenko", but the compulsion of Kyiv to extend the Special Status of CDDLO, which expires in October, and support for the Kremlin's proteges in presidential elections. All of them are building their campaign on the rhetoric "Ukraine needs peace", but in order for this senseless (because it does not answer the question of at what costs it will be achieved) maxim comes to the people's heads better, the war needs to be exacerbated…
Serhiy Harmash, Centre For Research Of Donbas Social Perspectives, OstroV