RUSSIA MONITOR

Date: 22 November 2017

“Coup” in Lugansk

After a provocation on the so-called “November 5th Revolution”, about which we wrote a dozen or so days ago, the FSB, feeling threatened by the growing strength of competing power structures, hit a new target. The destabilisation of the situation in occupied Lugansk is a manifestation of a power struggle between Lubyanka and an influential politician, Vladislav Surkov. This Kremlin-based official oversees the entire political situation in occupied Donbass. It has long been known that he can count on at the very least favourable neutrality of the GRU military intelligence.

© ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO PAP/EPA

On Tuesday morning, November 21, there were several patrols of unknown people dressed in military camouflage in the centre of Lugansk. They were armed with machine guns and grenade launchers. Igor Plotnitsky, the head of the so-called Lugansk People’s Republic (the LPR), ordered them to withdraw, but they ignored his order. They blocked access to many administration buildings and officials, and sent the deputies home. It is most likely that those were the “soldiers” from the so-called neighbouring Donetsk People’s Republic, as well as unmarked soldiers from the regular Russian army and mercenaries from the Wagner Group. Their aim was not to support Plotnitsky nor his enemy Igor Kornet, who is the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, but to prevent the outbreak of a bloody fight between the two factions. On Wednesday evening, November 22, the situation reached a stalemate. Plotnitsky declared that this was a coup attempt organized by the dismissed Kornet, who did not intend to go anywhere and even had the power to arrest all the employees of Plotnitsky-dependent prosecutor’s office.

Regardless of the further development of the situation in Lugansk, a new front in an already tense conflict between Moscow’s elites can be observed in this Donbass city. We are dealing with the clash of two camps. In the so-called LPR, Surkov is held responsible for political matters. Under his influence are: Igor Plotnitsky, “People’s Council” (“parliament”) and the entire administrative apparatus. The power front of the “republic” (the head of the MGB, which stands for the Ministry for State Security, Leonid Pasecznik, and the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Igor Kornet) is, in turn, controlled by the FSB. What is more, Sergey Biesieda, General Sergeant of the FSB, is a custodian from Lubyanka. He is a veteran, who has been involved in FSB activity in the former Soviet republics for many years. It is also known that he was at the head of the FSB advisors who were close to Viktor Yanukovych during the Maidan Revolution. There is also a third faction in Lugansk, that is, Russian military personnel. They control the so-called Lugansk People’s Militia, which is actually a military formation. The commander of this “militia” is a general of the Russian army, Yevgen Nikiforov. Although they do not want to engage directly in the conflict, it is known that they are much closer to Surkov than to their rivals from the “civilian” FSB.

Similar conflicts and wars are taking place in different parts of Russia. At the local level, the fractions of the Moscow’s people are quarrelling between each other. Moscow is not interested in the escalation of the conflict in the Donbass region, especially before the elections in March 2018. The resignation of Plotnitsky is not in the interests of the Kremlin. It just so happens that for the Kremlin, the Minsk agreements, under which there is a signature of the leader of the so-called LPR, remain the last tools to influence Kiev.

Then again, one cannot deal with the silovniki by using … strength. It seems that the Kremlin will want to solve the problem in an amicable way, and the assembled “interventionists” from both Donetsk and Russia are to watch over it.

All texts (except images) published by the Warsaw Institute Foundation may be disseminated on condition that their origin is stated.