Top Secret Briefing Advising Putin on Break-Up of Ukraine Leaked

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Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich (L) gives a wink to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin during a signing ceremony after a meeting of the Russian-Ukrainian Interstate Commission at the Kremlin in Moscow, December 17, 2013. Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

A top secret Kremlin briefing purportedly intended for the eyes of Russian President Vladimir Putin on the eve of Ukraine’s revolution which discusses how to co-opt regions of the country’s east into the Russian Federation has been leaked, according to Russian media.

The document, which forsees the break-up of Ukraine, with eastern regions joining Russia “in some form or another”, was printed in daily newspaper Novaya Gazeta today.

It consists of a seven-point policy brief, advising the Kremlin on how Russia should react to the likely collapse of the regime of then-president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. The document advises Putin on how to “reorient” regions of Ukraine to Russian influence.

Novaya Gazeta estimates that the memo dates back to the eve of Ukraine’s Euromaidan uprising between February 4 and 12, 2014 and were intended to be submitted to the presidential administration. However Novaya Gazeta could not confirm that Putin had ever seen the papers nor could Newsweek verify their authenticity independently .

Point three of the document laments that the Ukrainian constitution doesn’t contain mechanisms by which the country’s eastern territories and Crimea might decide to secede and join the Russian Federation. The author therefore suggests that it is then right for Russia to “play on the aspirations” of eastern Ukrainian regions with pro-Russian sentiments, to allow them "ascension" to Russia "in one form or another.”

Thus, the author of the document highlights the need for Russia to first “sign contracts for cross-border cooperation [ed with these regions], after which [they can] establish direct government-agreed relations with these Ukrainian territories where there are durable pro-Russian electoral sympathies."

The author highlights Crimea and Kharkiv as regions pro-Russian groups are already strong enough to push for “maximum integration” with Russia, also listing Luhansk and three other eastern Ukrainian regions. Crimea was annexed by Russia in March last year, while pro-Russian separatists are currently battling pro-Kiev forces for control of Luhansk.

Interestingly the region of Donetsk, which has seen some of the most invigorated pro-Russian militias and fiercest fighting, is omitted from that list as the author believed local Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov’s control there was too strong.

In Novaya Gazeta’s notes on the document, the paper highlights how pragmatic the document is, in juxtaposition with the image of the Ukrainian conflict which the Kremlin have presented to the world “There is no ‘spiritual-historical’ justification for Russian interference in Ukraine [in the document],” Andrey Lipsky, Novaya Gazeta’s political editor writes. “There are no arguments about ‘Novorossiya’ [New Russia] or the protection of Russian-speakers, or the ‘Russian world’ or the resurgent ‘Russian Spring’. Only geopolitics and cold expediency.”

Instead, the reason for Russian interference in regions of Ukraine given by the author is retaining control over Ukraine’s gas pipelines and strengthening Russia’s role in Eastern and Central Europe.

Elsewhere Yanukovych is notably described rather negatively as an individual “of inconsiderable moral will”. The author of the document does not believe he would stay in power for long, saying that there is no longer a need for “the Russian federation to provide any political, diplomatic, financial or informational support”.

According to Lilia Shevtsova, Kremlinologist and Russia expert at Moscow’s Carnegie Endowment for Peace, the leaked document’s publication is very significant.  

“This ‘plan’ suggests that the attempts of the forces close to the Kremlin, apparently working on Kremlin orders, to find ways to subjugate Ukraine had been undertaken before Yanukovych’s collapse, thus we are dealing with a certain strategy that fits Putin's new survival doctrine adopted in 2012-2013,” she says.

“The interesting part is the fact that the plan includes a demand to the change the Ukrainian constitution which has become the Kremlin's demand and recently became the condition of the Minsk-2 truce, endorsed by the Merkel- Hollande tandem,” Shevtsova adds, referring to the ceasefire meeting in Minsk a fortnight ago negotiated between the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany.

According to Newsweek’s Russia correspondent, Anna Nemtsova, another interesting aspect of the leaked documents is how it came into Novaya Gazeta’s possession.

“The most interesting part about the document was the motivation of the Kremlin-insider source,” Nemtsova says.

Novaya Gazeta’s deputy editor has known the source for many years and he tells me that there are people in the Kremlin who feel concerned about Russia's future and want to stop the war with somebody's hands, or at least change the public opinion,” Nemtsova adds

“On the other hand, other Kremlin experts tell me that the document in Novaya had no significance - that Putin had received many similar briefings in the past decade.”

The newspaper stated that a figure possibly linked with the memo is Kremlin-ally and billionaire Constantine Malofeev. According to the newspaper, however, Malofeev’s press representative “categorically denied” his alleged involvement in drafting the document as soon as the Novaya Gazeta announced that they would publish it and linked them to Malofeev on the Echo of Moscow radio station last week.

Malofeev’s representative told the paper he will pursue legal action because of their claims he is linked to the document.

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