Russian Matryoshka at the Winter Olympics in Sochi

          «Russia- Ukraine: War or Peace», part 2


In 1196-2004, Vladimir Putin managed to create a state system in Russia that can be compared to a «Russian matryoshka», a Russian wooden toy in the form of a painted doll, inside which there are smaller dolls like it.

A sub-system was created inside the state in secret mode, which was subordinate to a narrow group of people, which included Putin’s closest and trusted friends, as well as specialists from the military-industrial complex and special services who managed to survive the collapse of the 1990s and keep the most important developments of the Soviet scientists in the field of military technology.

This subsystem was hidden by the outer shell, which was Russia, created in the 1990s under Boris Yeltsin. Putin barely touched this shell, giving it control to clans, parties and business groups that had captured Russia before Putin came to the Kremlin, but agreed to play by his rules.

It was on the basis of that subsystem that a new military-industrial complex of Russia began to be created, which, unexpectedly for everyone who was not in the heart of it, made a breakthrough for Russia in modern strategic weapons. This military-industrial complex had separate financial, scientific and technical base provided by the state and private corporations, which were headed by members of Putin’s «Kremlin clan».

A few years ago, Western leaders believed that Russia had turned into a “declining” and “falling” state, which still exists only at the expense of its oil and other natural resources.

However, it suddenly turned out that in the defence Russia appeared as a state that was not catching up, but outstripping its possible rivals and competitors. But, long before it became obvious to the western leaders, the policy of Russia towards the West made a new turn, and it became inevitable that Russia was bound to enter into conflict with the West, especially the United States and NATO, and consequently with those countries of the former USSR, first of all, Ukraine, that would choose an alliance with the West against Russia.

                         “A time to scatter stones…”

The confrontation started in 2004, when negotiations on Ukraine’s accession to NATO began. Until that time, the Kremlin had no desire, strength and no need to control the former Soviet republics.

In the early 1990s, the Russian elite and majority of the people wanted to get rid of the «outskirts» (in Russian “okrainy”, from this word came «Ukraine») that throughout the Soviet period had consumed most of the resources and investments at the expense of the Russian Federation. «Enough to feed the suburbs» — this was the general feeling of people in Russia.

This opinion arose in Stalin’s times, and the expression of such thoughts during the Stalinist regime was considered as «anti-Soviet activity», and for this crime it was possible to get years in prison and even to be sentenced to death. However, these ideas became dominant in political life in the post-Soviet Russia.

Until 1991, the former republics of the USSR had no experience of independent statehood, and the Kremlin and the new Russian elite expected that the new states were bound to go through chaos, lawlessness and political ungovernability for decades, and that ungovernability could be replaced only by dictatorship and external rule. «Let them live without Russia. Maybe they will learn something,» – that was the opinion in Moscow.

In the early 1990s, the Kremlin did not fear that the former Soviet republics would be taken under control by foreign states. First, Moscow was dominated by ideas about partnership, friendship and integration into Western alliances, blocs and about cooperation with China. Ruling elite was not afraid of foreign influence over the former Soviet territories. Secondly, among the Russian elite there was a belief that the West and China would not be able to control the Russian “outskirts”-“okrainy”. «They will get tired, they will understand that it is expensive and useless, and they will have to leave.» This was the dominating opinion in the Kremlin in 1990-s.

However, the main reason for the Kremlin’s indifference to the fate of the former Soviet republics was that the Russian authorities had no time for the former «outskirts». Russia itself was collapsing, falling apart, rolling into the abyss. Its industry and agriculture were destroyed. The volume of money supply, rubles, increased 500 times, prices rose 8000 times, GDP fell by 40%. The Russian people became impoverished and fought for their share of the former state and public property and for money to keep their families.

The internal war swept Russia. In 1991-1996, in Russia, according to incomplete official police data, 32,000 people, mostly young men were killed every year. This means that every year in Russia, three times more young men died in criminal battles than Soviet soldiers died in ten years of the war in Afghanistan…

                     “A time to gather stones…”

In 1996, when Vladimir Putin was invited by the Family of President Boris Yeltsin to Moscow and began his ascent to power, Yevgeny Primakov was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia. These two appointments marked a turning point in Moscow’s relationship to the former Soviet republics.

Moreover, it turned out that all these years the liberal elite of Russia had one attitude towards the post-Soviet countries, and this attitude was considered as official, while Primakov and the organization he headed the entire post-Soviet period, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), had another attitude towards the surrounding countries. The attitude of Primakov and the SVR was fundamentally different from that of the pseudo-liberal Russian elite, and Vladimir Putin shared Primakov’s opinion.

These states were viewed by Primakov and Putin as a zone that not only provided Russian companies with markets for their products, not only as a source of raw materials that Russia needed to import, not only as manufacturers of equipment, including military, that had been created in Soviet times and survived during the period of privatization and looting, but also as a security zone protecting Russia from NATO, China and Islamic extremists, as well as other possible external threats.

From their point of view, political stability on the former territory of the USSR and ensuring close and friendly relations with Russia as a strategic partner and ally, including relationship between the elites, should have become one of the priorities of the Russian foreign policy.

Two years later, in 1998, Primakov took over as Prime Minister of Russia, and Putin, who successfully completed his first assignment given by the Family, managed to purge the Defense Ministry and deploy his people, took over the Russian Federal Security Service. From that moment the turn in the Russian foreign policy became inevitable. The problem was in the absence of the resources and in the period of time required to bring the economic and military potential of Russia to the level that would make it possible to ensure this strategic turn in its foreign policy.

It was then that it became clear that the security belt around Russia, which included the republics of the former USSR, had to become the first external figure of the «Russian Matryoshka». This external shield was to be built, when power in the Kremlin finally passes into Vladimir Putin’s hands. It happened in 2000.

However, time played in favour, as well as against Primakov and Putin …

In the early 2000s, things began to change quickly. Ukraine and Georgia, which avoided the changes that have occurred in Russia, have set a course to join NATO. In 2004, Kiev made official statements about Ukraine’s readiness to join the EU and NATO, and the Kremlin began to create an action plan to prevent Ukraine, the most valuable and strategically important part of Russian security zone, — the outer figure of the Russian Matryoshka, — from becoming a springboard for the United States and NATO.

In 2006, according to information leaked to the Russian Internet, Moscow informed Washington about its decision “to oppose US and NATO plans by all means”, including military. At that time, the White House expressed little concern, but the Kremlin became convinced that at that point the West launched a hybrid war against Putin’s regime and him personally.

The purpose of that hybrid war, as the Russian leadership understood it, was to undermine the regime, commit a political coup and remove Putin and his clan from power, to block Russia’s transformation into a superpower, to break up Russia into several states, or, at the very least, to contain its influence in the world within its current borders and to turn the surrounding countries, including the former Soviet republics, into an anti-Russian «security belt» controlled by the United States and its allies.

Putin and his group accepted the challenge and the war began.

                    The Kremlin’s goals in hybrid war with the West

The Kremlin did not seek to destroy Western democracies. Putin’s goal was to force the West to accept Russia as it was at that moment as state, as well as its elite. Russia’s ruling elite strived to be recognized as equal, to be incorporated into international elites and to become a respected part of them.

Most important, the Kremlin set its goal to return Russia back to lost positions in world politics, that was formulated in the time of Empress Catherine The Great, who ruled from 1762 to 1796: No gun in the world can shoot without the approval of Russia. 

The difference in the purpose of war between the West and Russia determines the Kremlin’s perception of international politics and its reaction to the events taking place in the world.

Until now, the Kremlin still needs to wear down the West and force it to come to an agreement with Russia. If the agreement cannot be reached with the united West, then the Western bloc must be divided to allow Russia to make an alliance with one of the bloc members, an important centre of power. It is especially important for that Russian ally to have influence in the spheres of international finance, regulations and laws, where Russia’s positions are weak and where it will not be possible for Russia to catch up with the West in the coming years. Russia needs a partner who is strong and influential in the spheres of AI, information, science and technology. Defence, wars in the «world of shadows» and political rivalry for influence in the world, the Kremlin can take upon itself or shoulder.

Given these plans, Ukraine and other former Soviet republics become not just the outer zone and underbelly of Russia, but an important economic and political resource, which can’t be given to rivals.

                   Ukraine as the nearest threat

 Since 2004, when Ukraine began talks on joining the EU and NATO, the fate of Russia and Ukraine began to develop along trajectories that inevitably should have led to conflict.

In 2004, the Kremlin was convinced, as it remains convinced now, that Ukraine’s transformation into the US and NATO ally, the deployment of US troops, air defense systems, electronic warfare, aviation and the first strike missile systems in Ukraine will give the West an unacceptable superiority over Russia. Moscow cannot allow this under any circumstances.

The Kremlin sees the only way to prevent this in collapse of the current regime in Kiev, which is based on Ukrainian nationalism, in reviving Russian identity among the majority of the population, in growth of influence of pro-Russian politicians and business groups and in turning Ukraine into political and military ally of Russia. 

If Ukraine cannot be transferred from enemy to ally of Russia, Ukraine as a state should be destroyed. Its main territory, which is of strategic interest to Russia, should be annexed by Russia, or, preferably for the Kremlin, become a state under the control and protectorate of Moscow.

In 2004, the Kremlin could do very little. Putin had to prepare for the war for Ukraine. It was then that the Kremlin began to develop a plan to prevent Ukraine from becoming a foothold of the United States and NATO against Russia.

Viktor Yushchenko, who was elected President of Ukraine in 2005, advocated not only Ukraine’s convergence with NATO and the EU, but also for the revision and then cancellation of the treaty with Russia on the presence of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol. This meant that there was a real threat of NATO’s seizure of Crimea. That forced the Kremlin to break down its plan into two stages, and at the first stage Russia had to regain Crimea.

                     How to make the Olympics successful

Putin made the decision to annex Crimea nine years before it actually happened, and that’s when the planning of this operation began. The main role in his plans was to be played by the special forces and the reserves in the “world of shadows” inside Ukraine that were created during the time of Yevgeniy Primakov.

By the end of the 2006, the plan to annex Crimea was prepared. The situation in Ukraine was such that the reason for the seizure of Crimea by Russia could appear at any time. The pro-Western President of Ukraine Victor Yushchenko completely lost support among the Ukrainians. The country was in political chaos. Putin was waiting for the right moment.

If Yushchenko was declared the winner in the 2010 presidential elections, a political explosion of protest in Ukraine would be inevitable, and this would create conditions for the separation of Crimea from Ukraine and its accession to Russia.

However, the pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych won the 2010 elections, and Yanukovych’s victory postponed the start of the special operation. However, Yanukovych did not stand for long on pro-Russian positions and gradually began to turn on the path towards the EU and NATO.

In late 2013, demonstrations began in Kiev in support of Ukraine’s accession to the European Union and against Viktor Yanukovych, who first decided to join the European Union, and then shelved his plans when Moscow «gave him a kick» and «washed his brains», explaining that the transition to the EU standards and joining the European Customs Union by Ukraine will lead to the abolition of duty-free trade with Russia, which will bring down the volume of trade and most importantly, will lead to a sharp drop in the Ukrainian exports. That alone could bring down the Ukrainian economy, and chances of Yanukovych to be re-elected will disappear. At that time, Russia accounted for more than 35% of Ukraine’s foreign trade.

Those who wanted Ukraine to join the EU under any conditions, began protests in the central square of Kiev.

At that time in Russia, preparations for the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi were in full swing.

In December 2013, in Kiev, clashes broke out between police and protesters. The authorities themselves, including Yanukovych and his inner circle, were to blame for the aggravation of the situation.

Police units from all over Russia, as well as special forces began to gather in Sochi to ensure the safety of athletes, residents and guests during the Olympics.

Important detail:

Most of the police and security officers who came from other regions of Russia to ensure the safety of Olympic facilities and the safety of athletes, residents and visitors of the city, which stretches for a hundred kilometers along the Black Sea coast, were warned that after the Olympics they would not be able to return immediately to their families and places of residence. Their stay in Sochi will be prolonged after Olympics for several weeks.

In January 2014, Yanukovych began to lose control over the situation in Kiev. Demonstrators seized government buildings, clashes broke out between demonstrators and police. Yanukovych began negotiations with the opposition, trying to find a compromise.

In Sochi, meanwhile, athletes, the officials of the International Olympic Committee and foreign guests and spectators from all over the world started arriving. Celebrations and preparations for the opening of the Olympics have begun.

Important detail:

On arrival to Sochi policemen and officers of the Russian special services received a secret warning that after the Olympics they will get vacations, which will be additional to their main annual leave, and that the state will pay for their accommodation in sanatoriums and holiday homes in Crimea, where they will spend their vacations.

 In February 2014, in Kiev, the confrontation between President Yanukovych, the government of Ukraine, on the one hand, and the opposition, on the other, continued. Yanukovych made concessions. In early February, he dismissed the government and began negotiations to form a coalition government.

The Olympic Winter Games opened in Sochi on February 7.

On February 12, Yanukovych decided to form a government with the participation of the opposition, and protesters began to disperse and vacate occupied government buildings. It seemed that the crisis in Kiev was over, and Ukraine would calm down.

These days the Olympics were in full swing in Sochi.

Important detail:

By that time, the Administration of the City of Sochi knew that most of the city police, as well as special services will get vacations and leave the city immediately after the Olympics. The city planned to maintain order in the situation of a sharp reduction in the number of police officers. Community youth organizations were involved for this purpose.

In Kiev, unexpectedly for Yanukovych, there was a sharp aggravation of the situation. More than a hundred people were shot in the center of Kiev by unknown snipers. On February 21, representatives of foreign states arrived in Kiev, and under their pressure and with their guarantees Yanukovych signed an agreement with the opposition to resolve the crisis in Ukraine. The agreement included formation of a government of national unity and holding of early presidential elections.

In Sochi the Olympics were coming to their finish.

Important detail:

By this time, the Russian police officers and officers of special forces, received a command to prepare for the move to Crimea. They were provided with tickets and pre-paid accommodation and hotel booking confirmation documents. All their expenses were paid. In addition, they received special payments, which are made in the case of a trip to the war zone. The “vacation move” from Sochi to Crimea has begun.

The day before the end of the Olympic Games, Yanukovych left Kiev, receiving information that he would be assassinated.

The closing ceremony of the Olympic Games took place in Sochi on February 23, 2014. Leaders of the International Olympic Committee, world sport federations and the Russian government officials, including President Vladimir Putin, attended the Sochi Olympic stadium VIP box.

Pictured: Vladimir Putin in the VIP box during the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games in Sochi. He has already given the order and began the operation to annex Crimea to Russia. The operation began three days before the closing ceremony. It began so quietly that at the stadium no one knew about it and did not understand what was happening in Crimea at that moment.

On February 23, the day of the closing of the Olympic Games in Sochi, the duties of the President of Ukraine were entrusted to Alexander Turchynov. On 24 February, the acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov announced the initiation of a criminal case against President Yanukovych and other officials of his government, who by this time were already in  Russia. 

Seven days earlier, on February 20, 2014, with three more days remaining until the end of the Olympics, the operation began to annex Crimea to Russia. By this time, hundreds of Russian police and security officers had moved to Crimea and began their active «vacation». The operation ended on March 18.

The operation was carried out without shooting and blood by «green men», special units of the Russian Ministry of Defense, stationed in advance in Crimea in accordance with the existing treaty between Ukraine and Russia, and «couth holidaymakers», the tourists who came to Crimea on vacation, but actively participated in rallies and demonstrations, professionally and quietly suppressing in the bud any attempts of supporters of the regime in Kiev to start a clash.

                      The Ukrainian Matryoshka

In 2014, Ukraine could not provide all conditions for the implementation of the Kremlin’s plan in full. Moreover, Russia itself at that time was ready only to implement the first part of its plan: the annexation of Crimea and the creation of an additional foothold in the East of Ukraine for use at the second stage of the plan.

These goals have been achieved. The West gained control over Ukraine, but without Crimea, the island-fortress, from a strategic point of view the most important territory in the Black Sea basin. Crimea became Russian, and a springboard for the future expansion of pro-Russian influence was created in Donbass.  

The separatist republics in the Donbass are often seen as manifestation of Moscow’s weakness. Many believe that the Kremlin wants to annex unrecognized Donbass republics, as it did with Crimea, but the Kremlin still lacks strength, and that is what stops it. 

However, the Kremlin sees the situation differently. The republics in the Donbass, created by the so-called «separatists», were originally planned as a military and political stronghold of pro-Russian forces inside Ukraine. They were no separatist pawns on the Kremlin’s chessboard.

Well-trained pro-Russian Ukrainian military formations and state structures have been created as stronghold able to resist the Ukrainian government forces and maintain the territory under the Russian control for the entire period, while Russia was preparing for the second stage of the confrontation with the West in Ukraine.

In the event of a military conflict between Ukraine and Russia or a political crisis in Ukraine resulting in large-scale protests of the population in the eastern, southern and central regions of Ukraine, the military formations of «separatists» are to provide main support to pro-Russian political forces in other regions of Ukraine and help them to take power.

There were no conditions to implement that plan in Ukraine 2014. The Kremlin could not achieve and therefore did not seek to achieve its goals. The Kremlin did not respond to the desperate demands of the nationalists in Russia and anti-Maidan forces in Ukraine to recognize independence of the republics in Donbass under the control of «separatists». The Kremlin rejected demands to annex these republics or to move in the Russian troops on their territory. All those demands contradicted Putin’s plan.

Since 2004, the Kremlin needed time and to keep a foothold for future operations. He used his time to resurrect most important defense technologies kept secret since Soviet times, including hypersonic weapons, strategic missiles with nuclear engines (I first heard about the readiness to start production of these missiles in 1991) and others, in order to make a breakthrough in strategic weapons and leave behind the West, which, relaxed and lulled by all sorts of Serdyukovs, remained convinced that the USSR collapsed from impotence of socialism and not at the behest of influential groups in the ruling bureaucracy, and Russia was bound to remain in this impotence for a long time and will not be able to be reappear as a great power.

Since 2004, Putin’s task was to keep the West in this belief as long as possible, and to use the time to create Russia’s superiority in strategic and tactical weapons, to create an effective army and powerful mobile special services able to operate in all hostile regions. Russia was to be able to repel any attack and destroy any enemy without occupying foreign territories and without major military actions on enemy’s territory.

At the same time, it was necessary to eliminate the dependence of the Russian army and military-industrial complex on the supply of equipment and weapons from Ukraine. Moscow could not allow the destruction during the armed conflict of the Ukrainian defense productions that were important for the Russian military complex. Before the outbreak of such a conflict, these productions were to be partly relocated from Ukraine to Russia and partly recreated in Russia on new technological level. To do this, it was necessary to relocate the Ukrainian weapons designers, specialists and engineers into Russia.

It took several years to solve these problems, and by the end of 2019 Russia was ready for the new stage of the conflict in Ukraine and confrontation with the West.

At that moment the coronavirus came, and the political situation inside Russia changed dramatically threatening Putin and his regime.

However, the difficulties and problems for Putin and «Peter’s» clan began earlier, in 2008, and the reasons were partly in the «Russian Matryoshka» that Vladimir Putin himself created…

   (to be continued)

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