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The Kremlin to nominate Babich as its Ambassador to Ukraine? Better the devil you know?

July 29, 2016

Following on from yesterday’s entry regarding the surprise – or not – incorporation of the “Federal District of Crimea” into the Southern Federal District of the Russian Federation, and its forewarning (again) of Kremlin shenanigans that seem to concentrate both in the month of August and also around major international events (Rio Olympics this year also in August), the 28th July also saw The Kremlin remove its long-standing  Ambassador to Ukraine Mikhail Zurabov from his post.

To be fair, if he had been serving a “western” diplomatic posting, the rotation cycle would have seen him gone years ago.  Most “western” nations having 3, 4 or 5 year tenures, and Mikhail Zurabov is far beyond serving that time as the Russian Federation Ambassador to Ukraine.

The 29th July has witness the State Duma Committee for Foreign Affairs recommend Mikhail Babich as the replacement for Mikhail Zurabov – which will be seen by many as a provocative and inflammatory move.

Indeed, Ilya Ponomaryov (who this blog has met several times for the sake of full disclosure) and Olga Kurnosova whom a reader may class as a “Russian emigre” for want of a better label, both immediately raised red flags regarding this potential appointment, publicly appealing to President Poroshenko not to accept Mikhail Babich as the new Ambassador of the Russian Federation.

Whether a reader accepts, partially accepts, or fundamentally disagrees with the commentary Mr Ponomarov has publicly made – previously or indeed upon this occasion – having spoken with him on a personal level, he is clearly intelligent, very insightful and no fool when it comes to the workings within the Russian political system – as a reader would expect of a former Duma deputy.

With regard to this potential ambassadorial appointment, Mr Ponomorov stated Mr Babich would create a “spy nest” and was “guaranteed to coordinate the Russian special services and to organize election campaigns for the benefit of Russia.

That is, his purpose should be interpreted as preparation for possible early elections, upon which Russia can bet.

I just urge the President never give to consent to the appointment of this man as Ambassador. This is a classic candidate for interaction with the separatists to power operations.

Strong stuff and a strong reaction.

Nevertheless it was also to be expected that when replacing the long-standing incumbent that the following appointee will be a far more prickly and difficult individual – which then poses difficulties for the Ukrainian leadership.  If accepting the nomination and then having to deal with what will inevitably come (including external tutting when his activities suddenly become a stable of “western” communication) – or in refusing his appointment, a very rare but not unheard of occurrence, the claim will be of Ukraine creating “obstacles”, and being “unhelpful” (at the very least), or “provocative” by those prone to naively or willingly swallow the Kremlin discourse.

Indeed his nomination refusal may lead to the Kremlin simply not nominating an alternative, thus downgrading diplomatic ties, and that being used as yet another reason for belligerence toward Ukraine – Yet more noise to tiring “western” ears in what is now clearly a diplomatic, economic, social and military war of exhaustion.

What has thus far not been said in public discourse, is much about the history of Mr Babich which has caused such a reaction, and therefore which informs the public and very clear warnings given.

His official government profile, as a reader will understand, is not entirely a full expose.  There is perhaps a requirement to put a little more meat upon the bones contained therein – insofar as it is reasonable to do in the public domain anyway.

Mikhail Babich

Mikhail Babich

Mr Babich was born on 28th May 1969 in Ryazan.

In 1990 he graduated from Ryazan Higher Military Command School of Communication, then serving until 1995 within the airborne troops of the Russian Federation, leaving with the rank of Captain.  Part of his service was in Chechnya.

From 1995 until 1998 he was one of the heads of a Joint Stock Company (JSC) Antej Corporation (Moscow), and simultaneously it appears, was also studying at Moscow Institute of Economy, Management and Law, qualifying in 1998.  This company “somehow” managed to get the contract to supply the Russian secret services with food and uniforms.  “Connections” within the Russian secret services have not faded with time – as will become clear.

A reader is free to draw inference.

Briefly between 1998 and 1999 he became Chairman of the Board of Directors of Shuisky Chintz before becoming First Vice President of OAO Russian Trade and Industry Company Rosmyasomoltorg.  This led to his appointment as the First Deputy General Director of the State Unitary Enterprise “Federal Agency on Food Market Regulation” at the Ministry of Agriculture – another very brief appointment that lasted until 2000.

In 2000, Mr Babich apparently also qualified at the State Academy of Management.

In 2000, Boris Gromov ran for, and won, the office of Governor of the Moscow Region (a position he held until May 2012).  Gromov was a veteran of several tours in Afghanistan, and was also Deputy Minister of Defence during the events in Chechnya of which he denounced as “barbaric”, thus resigning from his defence role in 1994.  By 1996 Gromov was chief adviser the the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for military matters.

2000 saw Mr Babich become Chief of Finances for Boris Gromov’s successful election campaign, resulting in Mr Babich becoming Vice Governor for the Moscow Region.  This appointment may have more to do with  Leonid Terekhov than Boris Gromov, for Terekhov was then a heavy hitter in an inter-regional economic group.

Whatever the case, Mr Babich soon fell out of favour falling out with some very big fish behind the then Guta Bank over loans to the previous administration.  As so often occurs in the Russian system, having made the wrong enemies, a criminal case (Number 9247 for those wanting detail) was opened against Rosmyasomoltorg of which he had been First VP only a year previously.  The case claimed embezzlement of RUB 2 billion in humanitarian aid from the US and EU intended for Russian pensioners.

The upshot was that Mr Babich, perhaps with some “help”, shifted whatever responsibility he had (if any) onto his successor at Rosmyasomoltorg, Dmitry Ilyasov.

Nevertheless Boris Gromov sacked Mr Babich, a sacking he appealed, won, and then promptly resigned – such was the way of things then, such is the way of things now in the Russian internal game.

In 2001 Mr Babich became a member of the Economic Expert Council under the RF President Plenipotentiary in the Central Federal District, being reborn in the Ivanovo region under then Governor Vladimir Tikhonov (not unknown for corporate raiding rumour has it).  Mr Babich became Deputy Governor, and it appears simultaneously ran the “Area Mission” in Moscow – concentrating upon opaque deals regarding alcohol and logging which it seems were both plentiful in Ivanovo.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, Mr Babich made enemies which resulted in a $5 million fraud investigation (Case 9247) relating to alcohol enterprises, squashed only after Governor Tikhonov appealed directly to President Putin.

There are also rumours of banking shenanigans with the late Boris Berezovsky, – who knows?

In 2003, after noted lobbying by the FSB among Chechen Ministers, Mr Babich was appointed Chairman of the Government of the Chechen Republic.  It was a position he managed to hold for 3 months before falling out with Sergei Abramov, then Finance Minister of Chechnya, over control of RUB 5 billion.  It is claimed that such was the internal friction that on or about 10th February 2003, Kadyrov flew to meet with President Putin – with Mr Babich resigning the following day.

By July 2003, Herman Gref then Minister of Economy Development and Trade  made Mr Babich his assistant – another appointment that was not to last long.

On 7th December 2003, Mr Babich was elected to the Russian State Duma as a parliamentarian for Ivanovo (District 81) for the United Russia party.  A party to which his loyalty is forever being repeatedly proven in the public domain.

Aside from another brief political faux pas in 2005 when he tried to unseat sitting Ryazan Governor Georgy Shpak, apparently via the black arts and allegedly having local entrepreneur Natalie Suchkova claim she had lent Governor Shpak RUB 48 million in return for a Vice-Governors post but that he then broke his word simply taking the money.  In the resulting court case  Mr Shpak managed to prove there was no case to answer, thus ending Mr Babich’s attempt at becoming the Governor of the region in which he was born.

Mr Babich then briefly held the position of Assistant Director of the FSB Border Guards Service and Deputy Minister for Economic Development and Trade in his early Duma career,  ultimately ending up as long serving Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Defence Committee until 2011.

In 2008 Mr Babich also became leader of the public chambers of the Prime Minister – who in 2008 was Vladimir Putin during his 4 year job swap with Dmitry Medvedev.

In December 2011 he became the Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy to the Volga Federal District.

This very brief historical recap brings us to his current nomination as Ambassador to Ukraine.

So is Mikhail Babich a Putin loyalist without boundaries – absolutely.  Is he part of the Russian secret services machinery – unquestionably.  Organised criminality – clearly.  A practitioner of the dark arts to the detriment of those around him – of course.  Is he somebody prepared to throw the Vienna Convention under the same bus as so many international instruments have been due to recent Kremlin actions in Ukraine – naturally.  A character that Ukraine would be wise to be extremely wary of – yes.

Should President Poroshenko and Ukraine take the warnings of Ilya Ponomaryov seriously – very much so.

However, the above is but a historical glossary of Mikhail Babich (albeit perhaps going beyond what has been disclosed at the time of writing) ,  The Ukrainian spooks (and others) however are undoubtedly well acquainted with Mr Babich and his history in far more detail than will be revealed in this entry – and have a good idea of why he has been chosen, to do what, how, and with whom.

The judgment call for Ukraine is therefore, is it better the devil you know in deciding to accept or deny him as the next Ambassador for the Russian Federation.

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