Friday, February 27, 2015

Russian Government Saw Opportunity For Ukraine Partition In Early 2014


MOSCOW — A memo drafted in the weeks leading up to the collapse of the Ukrainian government last year recommended that Russia take advantage of the chaos next door to annex Crimea and a large portion of southeastern Ukraine, a Russian newspaper reported on Wednesday, printing what it said was a document that had been presented to the presidential administration.

Russia has long contended that it acted spontaneously to reclaim Crimea, mainly to protect Russian speakers who it said were threatened, and to stave off what it suspected was an attempt by NATO to colonize the Black Sea region.

The report in Novaya Gazeta, one of the few often-critical voices still published in Russia, said that before the Ukrainian government collapsed on Feb. 21, 2014, the memo had already advised the Kremlin to adopt the policy it has since largely pursued in Ukraine.

The memo appears to have been drafted under the auspices of a conservative oligarch, Konstantin V. Malofeev, the report said. The memo laid out what it called the inevitable disintegration of Ukraine and suggested a series of logistical steps through which Russia could exploit the situation for its own good — steps not far from what actually occurred, though Russia has not annexed any territory in eastern Ukraine.

Sometime between Feb. 4 and Feb. 12 — while Russia was still voicing staunch support for its ally in Kiev, President Viktor F. Yanukovych — the memo predicted Mr. Yanukovych’s overthrow and suggested that Russia use the European Union’s own rules on self-determination to pry away Crimea and a significant chunk of eastern Ukraine.

Dmitry S. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, dismissed the memo as a hoax. “I don’t know whether this document exists at all,” he said. “I don’t know who might be the author, but for sure, the document has nothing to do with the Kremlin.”

The authenticity of the document could not be independently verified. The newspaper did not publish any pictures of the memo or provide any proof that the policy described in it had actually been adopted.

The loss of Crimea had been a sore point in Moscow since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. In addition, President Vladimir V. Putin suggested last year that much of southeastern Ukraine, from Kharkiv to Odessa, actually formed a distinct area known in czarist times as New Russia.

That talk faded as it became clear that only a minority of the population in and around just two cities, Luhansk and Donetsk, had any interest in joining Russia. But Russia has pushed for federalization of Ukraine, another recommendation in the memo, since the beginning.

In February, with the Yanukovych government teetering, the memo’s author recommended that Russia take advantage of the “centrifugal forces” tearing Ukraine apart to merge its east with Russia.

“The dominant regions for the application of force should be Crimea and the Kharkiv region,” it said, noting that strong groups there endorsed the idea of joining Russia....

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