Archive for November 22nd, 2017


The “Luhansk Coup” that isn’t.

November 22, 2017

The on-going events in the occupied Luhansk territories have, unsurprisingly, grabbed the attention of many in Ukraine.

On 21st November “little green” men were reported to be taking over administrative centers within the “republic”.

The occupied territories of Donetsk sent a fairly notable deployment to Luhansk.

Speculation and “hot takes” naturally flooded the social media space.

The outcome of it all is still somewhat unclear, however the situation within occupied Luhansk certainly centers around Igor Plotnitsky, currently Kremlin anointed “leader” of the occupied territory, and the “republic’s” current “Interior Minister”, Igor Kornet.

Mr Plotnitsky is naturally a puppet of Vladimir Surkov, the man (currently) tasked with overseeing the “republics” by The Kremlin.  If he were not a subservient puppet to Mr Surkov, then obviously he would not be in the position he is allowed to hold.

It is no secret that Igor Plotnitsky is simply not a capable leader, or for that matter, administrator.  Since assuming his position many of those that held power and/or influence within the occupied Luhansk territories, and who recognised his weaknesses, have been sacked and “imprisoned”, or assassinated.   Thus it was unsurprising when Mr Plotnitsky was the subject of an attempted assassination.

Mr Kornet, to be able to hold the position of “Interior Minister” for the occupied Luhansk territory clearly does so with the “blessing” of the Russian FSB.   A Kremlin financed occupation, despite any pretense to independent structure and local leadership, requires those perceived to be looking after “internal security” to answer daily to the FSB – it can be no other way.

It has been apparent for a long time that Messrs Plotnitsky and Kornet have a cold relationship.

Whether that be due to Mr Kornet being very aware of Mr Plotnitsky’s leadership and administrative failings, or a dispute over corrupt money channels, or, at least in part, because they answer to different command structures in Moscow when it comes to daily affairs is unknown.  Perhaps they simply do not like each other – it happens.  It may be a combination of any or all of the aforementioned.

Whatever the case, Mr Plotnitsky decided to sack Mr Kornet a few days ago – with or without the Kremlin nod of approval is unknown.  Who knows if he bothered to inform the FSB at all – he answers to Mr Surkov after all.

The “Interior Minister” refused to accept or acknowledge his dismissal.  However Mr Kornet is obviously very aware of what happens to those that Mr Plotnitsky feels threatened by.

This seems unlikely to be a Kremlin instigated incident.  A public facing image of stability, regardless of realities, is much more likely to be the preferred Kremlin option – currently at least.

If it were a ruse to deploy “Russian peacekeepers”, why allow such a large deployment from the Donetsk occupied territories?  To instigate a small scale engagement between the “republics” first, and then send in overtly marked “peacekeeping” Russian military from Russia as a conclusion to fait accompli?  There has, as yet, been no such kinetic engagement between the “forces” of the two “republics”.  Nor does that seem particularly likely.  To “justify” the unilateral deployment of “Russian peacekeepers” across the occupied territories, it would surely require deployed in both “republics” and not only Luhansk.

A “unification” of the two “republics” through force perhaps, given the size of the Donetsk “military assistance” that was deployed?  Possible.  Perhaps more likely that “Russian Peacekeepers” at this moment.  That said, “unification” means bureaucracy, time, and money.  If Mr Kornets were to retain his position, then a “bonding” between him and Mr Zakharchenko would be required.  From a Kremlin management point of view however, it would have its attractions.

Having not entirely excluded those options, (for sometimes opportunity can appear too tempting to refuse) but considering it a low likelihood, then this incident would tend to suggest it is a “domestic” matter that The Kremlin had little interest in – which is perhaps why it escalated as it did.

Whether there was “radio silence” from the FSB, or whether Mr Kornet had serious doubts about the ability of the FSB to defend his retention in post before Mr Surkov and/or The Kremlin inner conclave would be speculative.   Whatever the case, it appears he felt there was a need to act swiftly to either save himself from a nasty fate, and/or to get a reaction from Moscow regarding the plight he perceived for himself.

It seems unlikely that Mr Kornet was seeking to achieve anything more than save himself.

He will no doubt be aware that the removal by “coup” of Mr Plotnitsky would require Kremlin approval first – and if The Kremlin was of a mind to replace Mr Plotnitsky, it could do so without setting the stage for a theatrical “internal coup”.

Indeed, Mr Plotnitsky’s signature sits upon some Minsk documentation (as does that of his counterpart in the occupied Donetsk).  Whatever their failings, would the Kremlin be any rush to remove and replace those signatories?  Further, both occupied territories leaders will be Kremlin bargaining chips in any negotiations for the reintegration of the occupied territories (if and when that occurs).  They are political sacrifices to be seen to be made (of little political consequence to The Kremlin).

From a Kremlin perspective, it is currently better to keep these men in place.  If there is a need to, the structures beneath them can be removed and replaced, leaving them but hollow figureheads with no local power whatsoever.

So the “little green men” that initially seized administrative buildings and took down local “republic” TV and radio on 21st November are likely to have been those most loyal to Mr Kornet.  That the rest of the occupied Luhansk security apparatus and/or “military” did not immediately react perhaps displays the weakness and/or contempt with which they hold Mr Plotnitsky.  A matter of not getting involved and waiting to see how the incident plays out.

The incident is still playing itself out.  Things can change.  Perhaps more solid information will come to light that will change the perceptions in this entry.

However, for now, this does not have the appearance of a Kremlin instigated operation.

Neither does it appear to be a misguided coup attempt.

The appearance is rather one of Mr Kornet sending up a very visible distress flare that could no longer be ignored by either the FSB nor Mr Surkov.

Time will soon tell whether Mr Kornet keeps his “Interior Minister” role or not.

Who will the Donetsk “military assistance” be perceived to support?

Naturally whomever they are told to by Moscow – but as the Donetsk “leader” Alexandr Zakharchenko is also necessarily a creature of Mr Surkov, should its forces be perceived to have a bias toward Mr Kornet, then that would perhaps give insight into The Kremlin decision on his future as “Interior Minister” within the occupied Luhansk.  It seems unlikely the FSB will allow their man to be rolled over for no reason, and it seems unlikely that Mr Surkov would strongly object to keeping him – to the ire of Mr Plotnitsky no doubt.

Time will also tell whether Mr Plotnitsky witnesses the removal of, and installation of, a new “administration” beneath him, effectively leaving him an entirely powerless figurehead – or not.

It will also tell whether this incident will cause any lasting friction between Mr Surkov and the FSB, or whether a “review” of daily occupied territories management will result in a more coordinated and micromanaged approach within Moscow.  After all, when it comes to governance in any nation, incompetence and/or issues falling within the cracks of the pavement between management/institutional structures, should never be underestimated.  Russia is certainly not immune in this regard.

Currently however, The Kremlin outwardly appears to be “comfortable” with how events are unfolding in the occupied Luhansk – whatever troubles may lay ahead, or regardless of any signals it sends for the future.

There can be no doubt that the distrust between Messrs Plotnitsky and Kornet will only further grow and ferment – which may or may not be exploited by The Kremlin to its advantage depending upon how it is managed.  It is a relationship that may yet again reach crisis point.

However, in sum, based on what can be currently ascertained, and with a little pondering, a Kremlin plot to deploy “peacekeepers” seems very unlikely.  The result of some internal Moscow conflicts between institutions/canters of power also seems unlikely.  A domestic coup to replace Mr Plotnitsky without prior Kremlin approval doesn’t seem likely either.

Thus, this currently appears to be the result of Mr Kornet sending up a rather noticeable distress flare to get the attention of Russian curators to his Plotnitsky instigated plight.  Thereafter, should Mr Plotnitsky go, it will be a Kremlin decision subsequent to, rather than the mens rea. for the currently unfolding incident.


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