Interview with a Madman
The Moscow weekly Novaya Gazeta, which is the last independent newsmagazine left in Russia that has a critical stance towards the Kremlin, has published an extended interview with Aleksandr Boroday, the Russian national who until recently was the “prime minister” of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR) in eastern Ukraine. As I’ve previously reported, Boroday is an odd duck who has an extensive history with Russian intelligence, what they call the “special services” in Moscow, as well as strong connections with Russia’s hard-line nationalist scene. He stepped down on 7 August, in favor of Aleksandr Zakharchenko, an actual Ukrainian, with Boroday becoming the “deputy prime minister” of the ailing pseudo-state, which is in slow-motion collapse under pressure from Kyiv’s advancing armed forces.
Boroday has long been known for his vehement views, and they are on full display in this rambling interview, conducted by Pavel Kanygin, which gives the subject many opportunities to castigate his foes and rivals. The interview is remarkable for both its tone and content, which demonstrate how far removed from earth orbit is the worldview of the motley band of fanatics and mercenaries that Vladimir Putin has employed to destabilize eastern Ukraine. I am passing on some highlights that clarify Boroday’s unique perspective.
Kanygin interviews his subject in a non-descript DNR building in Donetsk, with “almost nothing at all to catch the eye in the office unless you count the portrait of Putin.” Boroday speaks with a pistol strapped to his waist, which he takes out on several occasions as he walks around the office, talking to the reporter. Shellfire is heard in the distance, not far from the city. Boroday belligerently denies suggestions that Ukrainian forces are closing in on the DNR “capital”: “The Ukrainian so-called military, all those gangsters, mercenaries, and all kind of scum, including the military, are trying to encircle us. They are making a bad job of it.” Kanygin notes that he saw absolutely no DNR forces in the city, asking a question about it, leading to this remarkable reply:
Q: Your combatants are not to be seen in the city at all.
A: You should not forget that today is a day off.
Puzzled, the interviewer continues, asking Boroday about his own safety, citing reports that Russian special services have him, along with several other DNR higher-ups, on a death list, as targets for liquidation. This suggestion Boroday brushes off:
I remind you that I am a Russian citizen and somehow I have difficulty in imagining the Russian special services launching certain operations against me. And against any other leader of the Luhansk or Donetsk Republic. That’s bullshit. My bodyguard protects me from the enemy, from the Kyiv junta, from their mercenaries. And it is absolutely not protecting me from the Russian special services, because I don’t need that.
This provides a segue to a revealing discussion about just exactly what and whom Boroday considers to be Russian. This leads to analysis of the inverted world that is the DNR:
Q: Who then are the separatists?
A: The Kyiv junta are separatists. Because there is a gigantic Russian world which has formed over millennia. This is a common civilization — Russian, Belarusian, and Little Russian. For hundreds of years we had a common state which was forged with sweat and blood.
Q: Fine. But where are the borders of this state?
A: They are known. Where the Russian language is heard, where Russian culture is active, where Russian blood has been shed…
It bears noting that the term Boroday uses for Ukraine is “Little Russian” (малороссийская), a Tsarist-era term; he avoids using the actual name for Europe’s second-largest country. Moreover, his definition of what constitutes Russia now is remarkably similar to the 1990s definition employed by Serbian nationalists to define the boundaries of Greater Serbia: “Wherever there are Serbian graves.”
Unsurprisingly, Kanygin’s observation that Russians have shed blood for Estonia also is dodged by Boroday, who is reluctant to openly advocate aggression against a member of NATO and the European Union. Nevertheless, he does state that he wishes to discuss “the borders of the Russian Empire in 1913” — which would include all the Baltic states as well as much of present-day Poland.
Boroday then mentions his comrade in arms Igor Ivanovich Girkin, AKA Strelkov, the Russian mystery man who until recently was the DNR’s “defense minister.” Boroday admits that he has known Strelkov, “one of our highly trained military men,” since their mutual involvement in Russian military adventures in Moldova twenty years ago. Bizarrely, he recalls that Strelkov, a devoted reenactor hobbyist, repeatedly invited Boroday to attend Napoleonic War reenactments with him, which he declined. It has been reported that Strelkov, too, is under secret death warrant by his former Kremlin masters, leading to this bizarre exchange about him:
Q: But he may not survive?
A: I am not prepared to discuss that.
After a meandering walk through the confusing politics of the DNR as seen via Boroday’s odd prism, the subject then removes an object covered in tinfoil from a bag, explaining to the reporter, “This is my Moscow telephone, an iPhone, it’s wrapped up in many layers of tinfoil as a security measure.”
A: The GPS satellites get confused and cannot identify my whereabouts.
Q: But you turn it on when you enter Russia?
A: Absolutely right. I turn it on when I enter the Russian Federation. But when I am here not a single telephone call from Moscow reaches me here in the Donetsk republic. That’s all there is to it. I also have a local telephone with a local number
Q: I don’t understand., Surely people can phone you from Moscow on this telephone?
A; They can, but they don’t.
Inevitably the issue of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, shot down near Donetsk on 17 July with the death of 298 innocent people, comes up, with Boroday brushing off questions about DNR reactions to the disaster, specifically why international investigators were kept from the crash site for nearly a week, as “more bullshit.” Naturally, Boroday places all blame for the shootdown on the Ukrainians, leading the interviewer to inquire why his subject is certain of this:
Q: How did you establish the Kyiv junta was to blame?
A: You know this is so obvious that in principle there is no need of proof. You must understand, this is a simple matter…
Q: What does ‘obvious’ mean, Aleksandr Yuryevich?
A: Please don’t interrupt me.
As a distraction, Boroday goes on extended rant about the supposed “fifth column” inside the DNR — and even in Russia itself — which, he maintains, “this fourteen percent, unfortunately, have a quite high level of social activity.” This leads to a further explanation:
Yes. I am saying that our fifth column is large and profuse. Accounts in Switzerland, homes in London or somewhere on the Cote d’Azur, this is all the fifth column. But there are those among its ranks who are sitting around doing damage on the social networking sites. Incidentally, let me note that I am not on the social networking sites. What I am saying is that when I arrived in Moscow, I found to my surprise that I had a presence on Facebook and Twitter. But I state officially: This is not me, this is a fake. I have a negative attitude toward social networking sites. Because the sites are an opportunity to manipulate public consciousness.
Kanygin asks about the relationship between the DNR and Kyiv, particularly in light of recent military successes in the east registered by Ukrainian forces. He inquires about the possibility of a long-term truce with Kyiv, leading Boroday to explain, “We are certainly not prepared to conclude a peace on capitulation terms.” When asked about his objectives, Boroday’s response is revealing:
Q: But what is your aim? To create two autonomous regions inside Ukraine?
A: But there is no longer any Ukraine. It does not exist, because the state has in fact collapsed. There are no authorities and there is no longer a country.
Q: But the country has elected its president by a majority
A: But how could it elect when there was no vote in Crimea, Donetsk, or Luhansk? Three enormous oblasts have split from Ukraine. That means it is no longer the same country. And the authorities who have now become entrenched in Kyiv emerged as the result of an armed coup.
Q: The same can be said of you: There was a seizure of power in Donetsk and you organized a junta. And you have looters and gangsters here.
To that, Boroday has no coherent answer. He then flatly denies that any journalists have been abducted by DNR forces, despite evidence to the contrary. Kanygin inquires about reports that DNR military police have been shooting people, leading to this astonishing reply:
Q; And the shootings authorized in Slovyansk by Girkin by Stalin’s edict from 1941 — what was that?
A: We have a tribunal in operation — a military field court martial which regularly authorizes shooting sentences. Why? Because martial law has been introduced in our republic with all ensuing consequences. Yes, some looters and deserters and, thank God, there have not been many of them, have been shot.
After a final citation of the interviewer as “a representative of enemy media,” Boroday concludes his discussion. The magazine appended this as a concluding line: “P.S. Novaya Gazeta‘s chief editor has left A. Boroday’s interview without comment.”
What to comment, indeed?