Vladimir Kornilov on the War in Donbass, Poroshenko’s Successor, and the Information War Against Russia

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard



The political scientist Vladimir Kornilov presented the fourth edition of his book “Donetsk-Krivoy Rog Republic” in St. Petersburg, and gave a big interview to the Federal News Agency about today’s situation in Donbass and in Ukraine. At the same time he summed up the results of the expiring year for Russia. Is a change to the dragged-out war in Donbass planned? How will Ukraine obtain for itself a strong hand in power? What is the destiny of Poroshenko, Avakov, and other leaders of the neighboring country? How is Russia being demonised in the West, and why is nobody in the world able to outplay the Russian President Vladimir Putin? Read the details in the material of FAN.

Donbass: its own great war

Vladimir, since 2011 it’s already the fourth edition of the book “Donetsk-Krivoy Rog Republic”. What makes it so successful?

“This topic is still actual. Unfortunately, for me as a Donetsk citizen… When there is talk about the reasons for what is happening now, all the same there is a reference to history, to events in the past. It is the fourth edition because the book is still on sale … Although, when at the beginning of war in Donbass I proposed this book to publishing houses, some editors refused, saying that the topic is too local. The ‘Piter’ publishing house understood in time just how important this book is, that it is not only about Donbass, but about the conflict that Russia is today being dragged into, and that it is even not a Donbass topic, but our common Russian one. It burns, hurts, and will still be actual in the next few years.”

We finished our last interview with the fact that you arranged with your friends a meeting on French Boulevard in Odessa at 18 o’clock after the war. Did this hour become closer since our last conversation?

“We also confirm this meeting now. But nobody believes that it will be tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. We hope that this war will end, that it will end with the victory of the people of Donbass. But our adversaries consider that this war will end with their victory. This is where the problem is. All sides want the completion of war (except those for who it is favorable, those who make a profit on it). But everyone wants the end of war on their conditions, and they very much differ.”

What changed in the last year concerning the character of the war in Donbass?

“By and large, little has changed. Still a year ago the war moved to the slow post-Minsk Agreements phase. Now there is the same pushing around on the contact line, when there is a change of guard Ukrainians in the same way continue to shoot all remaining ammunition towards Donetsk, the citizens of Donetsk endure strengthened shelling once per 1-1.5 months, then the other soldiers arrive and there is some silence. Then it repeats again. Donetsk citizens are fatigued from war. Four years of the Great Patriotic War, at the time, was a lot, and Donetsk citizens now live almost the same thing in a state of war. For them it is their own great war that they are obliged to endure. They will be glad when the war ends, but they don’t want to live under Ukraine.”

The Great Patriotic War had its own turning points, Stalingrad, for example. You expect such a Stalingrad for Donbass?

“There are a lot of options. First of all, those who live in Donbass connect their fate to the decisions of Russia. After all, you understand what the inhabitants of Donbass wanted, and even those who didn’t support the DPR at the beginning of war. When people express their doubts to me about Donbass wanting to be with Russia, I always say: ‘Think, what can be the only guarantor of security for Donetsk citizens?’. Crimea, where no shells landed, showed that this is thanks to the protection of Russia. That’s why Donetsk citizens dream of becoming a part of Russia. This will be a guarantee of protection against Ukrainian bombs.

But we understand that Russia doesn’t plan to consider this option in the short term. Although, never say ‘never’: there are a number of factors that, when they coincide, everything can change. There are a lot more options that can cause change. For example, the political process in Ukraine that got out of hand, which will lead to disorder in the country and its disintegration, when Ukrainians and the Armed Forces of the country won’t have any time for Donbass. There are many options, but the majority of them can be implemented by the will of Russia. A lot will depend on the firmness, consistency, and even the rigidity of the actions of the Russian Federation.”

Ukraine: “successor” project

What do you think about today’s state of affairs in Ukraine?

“If to remember grandfather Lenin’s classic definition of a revolution – ‘the bottoms don’t want and the tops cannot live in the old way’, then the revolutionary situation in Ukraine developed long ago — and the post-Maidan tops showed that they indeed can’t, that they aren’t able to govern the country, and don’t want to learn, and that the bottoms can’t live in these conditions anymore. But if to return to Lenin, there was one more necessary ingredient — the existence of a force capable of leading the masses. Such a force doesn’t yet exist in Ukraine, and from everything that is being cooked in this cauldron, it’s not still foreseen or seen on the horizon. But I, as a historian of the civil war, can give a mass of examples of how leaders, often from revolt or from an uprising of the masses, appear on the surface from nowhere. If Ukrainians will desire a strong hand, as it was in 1917 in Russia, then I don’t exclude that such a hand can appear.”

From within or from the outside?

“Now the Americans work on the successor project to replace Poroshenko – who everyone is fed up of, and who compromised himself, who will be a certain ‘Macron in Ukraine’. They are preparing this person. But I have doubts that they will be able to lay claim to the leadership in the conditions of anarchy and, especially, for the status of a strong hand.

So far there are people with radical views, who won’t satisfy us. The demand for a strong hand can also lead to the arrival of right-wing radicals, who are not just anti-Russian, but also Russophobic. For this issue there is a need to calculate different options for the protection of the national security of Russia itself. But their coming to power will strengthen the disintegration of Ukraine. The West won’t be able to openly support such people, and a considerable part of the territory of Ukraine won’t be able to accept them, and this can entail the emergence of a ‘new DPR’, but this time in the western side of Ukraine …”

Can the figure of Tymoshenko appear in a serious way in the political arena?

“She is present even now. According to some ratings, she shares first or second place with Poroshenko. This is just a need to consider that these political figures are so discredited in the opinion of the population and that their trust ratings are so minute that in these conditions it is impossible to say that Poroshenko and Tymoshenko are future leaders. At the beginning of the electoral campaign it is possible to propel anyone, that’s why the West covertly prepares the possible successor, in order to not reveal them now or subject them to opinion polls. This successor will appear a bit later, before the start of elections. This causes excitement among elites, who lay claim to the leadership, in particular, this same Tymoshenko — it is seen how she is nervous concerning this successor.”

But Poroshenko is still in power, and do you think that he will still be able to conduct his affairs?

“He does stupid things every day — the story with Saakashvili and his attempted arrest on the roof is noteworthy in itself. It is visible that Poroshenko frankly loses control over the situation, he is nervous, he makes new mistakes, he tries not to fall out with the West. But Bloomberg already writes: ‘The West backed the wrong man in Ukraine’. It forces him to be nervous and to worry.

Why did this fight become so aggravated? Poroshenko, Avakov, and all who came on the Maidan wave were aware that they are timeservers, and that they won’t be able to stay in power for long. It is seen in their statements and speeches that they themselves are surprised at how long they’ve remained in power. But why do they fight so furiously — it’s already a fight not for posts or control over little factories. Many of them, especially Avakov, understand that it is a fight for life. As soon as these people who committed a mass of crimes – who created for themselves a mass of enemies – will lose their posts and protection, they will be obliged to flee. They won’t be able to reach an agreement with anybody in Ukraine. They will need to hide themselves, because even political asylum won’t save them from a killer.

Unlike Yanukovych, Poroshenko and Avakov understood that their time in Ukraine wasn’t long. They didn’t build gold mansions in Mezhgorye. In the Panama Papers it is seen where Poroshenko stores his money — he covered his tracks using not just one offshore. I don’t envy their future. Their lives will be terrifying, they will be afraid of their own shadow — they have the grounds for this. There are so many ruined lives, so many killed people and their children, who will want to revenge. They will have to live in fear for the rest of their days.”

What are the forecasts for the lives of ordinary Ukrainian people?

“I wrote an analytical note for the Institute of the CIS countries, describing all possible scenarios — it is 17 scenarios with a mass of sub-events. And no matter what scenario we look at, it is possible to affirm that the mess will last a long time. For the people, in the short term, there is no shining exit where everything will be resolved and everyone will start to live happily and longly.”

What are the relations between Ukraine and Europe like, where the former rushed to the latter with so much urgency?

“The politicians who promised  Ukrainians that they will soon receive European salaries frankly lied to the very people who they called a biomass. They knew that Ukraine will never be a member of the EU — this was clear even to the most ardent Ukrainian euro-integrator. They were aware that they will receive their posts, and the people will be left with nothing.

Now Ukrainians massively flee the country for any job. Depopulation is taking place, there is already nobody to fill up the labour force, those who are able to do at least something [who are qualified in something – ed] leave. The EU now, without hesitating, issues conditions to Ukraine: we will renew financial aid to you if you remove the moratorium on the sale of land and forests. They don’t hide it: we need your land, we need your forests. NATO also doesn’t hide it: we need your territory for bases adjacent to the borders of the Russian Federation. This country interested the West as a territory. What will happen to millions of people doesn’t concern the West at all.”

Russia: propaganda war and Putin’s strategy

Let’s try to sum up this year’s results for Russia?

“This year we prepared for the World Cup, for elections, now we worry because of the unfair decision concerning Olympians. The level of the propaganda war – which was officially unleashed against the Russian Federation in all directions: cultural, sports, information, and political – became the most important phenomenon of this year. Many were morally not ready for a such level of war against Russians and Russia, and now perceive it with surprise and stupefaction. But this is not the end. We need to prepare ourselves for worser scenarios. They turn Russia into a besieged fortress, and try to cast it into a condition of cold war with all countries of the world. This is not the first time that this has happened in the history of Russia, we already passed through such tests with honor.

But we mustn’t now have overestimated expectations. Many recent problems are connected to some illusions. When Donbass began, many thought that Poroshenko will come, and it will be possible to reach an agreement with him. And he came and launched an anti-Russian campaign. Then the illusion appeared that Trump will come, and we will surely be able to reach an agreement with him. Now, in my opinion, there mustn’t be such illusions any more. It shouldn’t be assumed that the West won’t undertake anything before the elections in the Russian Federation, before the World Cup. They can disrupt and boycott the tournament in Russia, and even worse — they can disqualify our national team… Anything can happen. Closer to the elections the intensity of emotions, the avalanche of lies, disinformation, attempts to destabilise Russia — everything will accrue. We need to prepare ourselves for this and build echelons of counter-propaganda.”

What you think about the situation with the Olympians?

“I expected it, I warned about it long ago. It shouldn’t be the shock and surprise that it became for many. I have no right and am not willing to offer advise on how to behave. I personally wouldn’t go there with the white flag of capitulation. At the same time I remember my neighbor in Donetsk — a well-known football player of ‘Shakhtar’. He considered his participation in the Olympic Games as his only chance. He broke through to the Olympic team of the USSR, the western press started to write about, he wasn’t selected for the national team, for the World Cups, he invested everything in the Olympic team. And suddenly there is the boycott of the Olympic Games of 1984… After this he simply stopped playing, it was the tragedy of all his life. The only chance to become a global star … If he had the choice to play or not, I am sure that he would choose to play. It is also like that for some athletes, especially in sports where you can only really play at a young age, and such chances won’t appear again.

All of this was cooked up for the sake of humiliating Russia and its athletes. They will be jeered during the raising of white flags, they will be whistled during competitions. Here it is impossible to recommend what to do. I urge everyone not to throw stones at these people, irrespective of the decision they made. Yes, I am not someone who would go out under a white flag. But it’s not me who devoted all my life, health, and family for this chance. Society must have a golden mean of perception of these events.”

Comment please on Vladimir Putin’s promotion to a presidential candidate.

“In such a situation neither him or the country has a choice. You know, I deal with issues of propaganda and counter-propaganda against Russia. In this situation I am interested not so much in Putin’s decision — we mostly didn’t doubt it. I’m worried about how, before the elections, a wall of disinformation will be built against the Russian Federation. I study how the western media reacts to his candidacy. There are some tendencies that make it clear what western propagandists will use to build their tactics.

Firstly, everyone understands that nobody has a chance to outplay Putin, and it means that it will be necessary to do everything in order to declare the elections as illegitimate, to declare that the opposition isn’t given the opportunity to be promoted, to lower the voter turnout in Russia, to plunge the country into an atmosphere of mistrust towards the elections. In addition, the wave connected to statements about a feeling of uncertainty after Putin’s departure will be strengthened. ‘Look: you choose Putin, and then he will leave, and then what?’. The fact that a presidential term is sufficient enough time for a successor to appear doesn’t bother them. But now the lion’s share of western articles finish precisely with this: ‘in Russia the period starts when it is necessary to reflect: and what will happen after Putin’. Supposedly it will be utter chaos. This situation of expecting chaos will be forced down the throat’s of Russians.”

Who is Putin in the opinion of the West? Oliver Stone’s movie didn’t clear up the situation?

“What is now one of the West’s tactics? If a Western celebrity or experts speak even not in support of Russia, but at least as a moderate person who will call to build bridges and will try to call for dialogue, then for the West there will be a need to immediately defame them, to accuse them of being an agent of the Kremlin. Lists of Western experts and politicians who dare to appear on RT are already being formed. Oliver Stone was already included on the ‘list of the Kremlin’, his words aren’t perceived by the establishment. But look, in the conditions of this hysteria – McCarthyism of the worst times, there is one peculiarity. In any western country, if some populist force emerges before elections and tries to collect more votes, it advocates establishing dialogue with Russia. All messages, popular among the people, contain the proposal of friendship with Putin. The opinion of the establishment differs from the opinion of the people. There is the full demonising of Putin and Russia in the media, but there is no such thing among the population! This year showed the crisis of the establishment in many countries.”

Does the West’s recognition of Crimea as Russian and the removal of sanctions await us in the near future?

“Tillerson stated that until Crimea returns to Ukraine, the sanctions won’t be lifted. A useful statement, by the way, in case the elite was under any illusions … No, nobody is going to lift the sanctions in the nearest years, decades … The recognition of Crimea as Russian won’t happen any time soon. Tillerson voiced one possibility whereby the US can recognise Crimea as Russian — if Ukraine will recognise it as such. And such a scenario is possible should Ukraine be disintegrated. The only question is will the US recognise this disintegration…”

Not the most pleasant prospects …

“The sense isn’t in being pleasant or not. I dare to assure you that to live in pleasant illusions is more dangerous than preparing yourself for the worst option. Any strategy is based on an assumption of the worst scenarios: like this there won’t be a big disappointment, and you will be fully equipped. If you prepare yourself for bad things, but everything goes in a more iridescent way — this will be more pleasant. Any strategist must consider the most negative options.”

Putin, in your opinion, is a good strategist?

“As I described, every strategist thinks. Vladimir Putin still outplays everyone with his strategy. Perhaps not only one textbook will be written about the strategy of Russia of the 21st century, about Putin’s strategy. There will also be a lot of criticism. But in the meantime it is difficult to find a better strategist, this is recognised also by the western spiteful critics.”

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