Russia’s deniable war

The other day we saw and heard that convicted leader of banned Russian neo-Nazi paramilitary organization RNU Barshakov was giving direct instructions to Donetsk separatist leaders on how to forge the elections.  In the blog post below I discuss the likely usage by Putin of “deniable agents” to orchestrate the events across Eastern Ukraine – typically fringe political activists that – as we can hear in the leaded calls – get full support from the Kremlin, yet remain unrelated to the Kremlin in case they are caught. And they do get caught.

The latest example of the same tactics came to light. The SBU (Ukraine’s secret services) published a fragment of the interrogation of a Russian citizen who was caught recently in Ukraine as part of – according to the SBU – a group organizing sabotage and subversion planned for May 9th, Russian V-day.

On the video, 23 year-old Russian Sergey Zapanov admits – rather proudly – that he is a member of the unregistered Russian political party “Drugaya Rossiya” (The Other Russia), and that he came to Ukraine to help local separatist groups because “our party believes that the rights of Russian-speakers in Ukraine will be curtailed by the new government”.

Next he goes on to describe how he met with FSB (former KGB) officers who offered to help him cross the border into Ukraine, in exchange for information that he might gather for them – but not on the Ukrainian government’s activities, nor on any observed military movements, but rather – on the sentiments, background and plans of the rebels. Mr. Zaplanov ends his on-camera moment with a comment, that the “Kremlin needs a controllable opposition in  Ukraine”.

The above is all interesting and plausible. But I don’t think that is the whole picture. Mr. Zaplanov indeed exists, and has been in the center of at least three public disturbances in Russia, where he has been detained for a couple of weeks at a time. He is a member of the banned anarchist/ultranationalist organization headed by extreme left-wing nutcase Eduard Limonov.

However, the most recent trouble that Mr. Zaplanov got into is a bit too recent to make sense. He was arrested in mid-November 2013 for launching fireworks on the Polish embassy in Moscow, and together with other Other Russia members, covering the embassy’s facade with a placard reading: “Russia – from Warsaw to Ulan Bator”.

You can see him here being politely led away from the scene by a Russian policeman.



Despite the international scandal that this attack caused, and the fact that this was at least the third felony committed by Mr. Zaplanov, he got a meager 14 days in jail. Again. The attack got primarily sympathetic press coverage in Russia.

Whether or not Zaplanov has been an agent for the FSB for a while, or his Ukrainian job is the first time he cuts a deal with the Kremlin, this is just one more example of the strategy of indirect and deniable warfare that Russia has opted for in its “non-war” with Ukraine.