Andreas Umland writes: Russia watchers have been intrigued by the recent email leak of Vladislav Surkov – Russia’s adviser responsible for policies towards Ukraine and Russia’s satellite states in northern Georgia. The so-called “Surkov Leaks” have reinvigorated the discussion of Moscow’s involvement in the war in Ukraine and the emergence of “people’s republics” in the east of the country. The leaks confirm the Kremlin’s involvement in the armed conflict in the Donbas, and make clear that fueling the conflict in east Ukraine is just one part of Moscow’s broader policy for undermining the Ukrainian state.
But these leaks do not alter our understanding of the conflict. Rather, they confirm — with more empirical proof — what was already known and proven. However, two months earlier there was another leak. And this one did provide new evidence that challenges earlier interpretations concerning the roots of the so-called “Ukraine conflict” in 2014.
In August 2016, Ukraine’s General Procurator published a video tape of audio recordings of a number of telephone conversations between Sergey Glazyev — a Russian presidential advisor — and several Russian as well as Ukrainian pro-Kremlin activists in southern and eastern Ukraine in late February and early March 2014. The recordings vividly illustrate Moscow’s covert support for the still unarmed anti-government protests in Ukraine several weeks before the actual war started. Specifically, the tapes reveal the Russian state’s involvement in the coordination and financing of separatist meetings, demonstrations, pickets and similar actions in Crimea as well as in various regional capitals in Ukraine’s eastern and southern parts immediately after the victory of the Maidan revolution in early 2014.
Despite the importance of the tapes and their revelations, they have largely been ignored by Western media outlets and think-tanks. This may be due to suspicions that the published records were tampered with, or that they do not reveal the full story. It is, however, unlikely that these recordings are mere fakes. The published conversations are held between interlocutors whose voices can easily be identified through audio verification and cross-referencing.
If the Glazyev Tapes are indeed authentic, they should change our understanding of the origins and nature of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Until the publication of the Glazyev Tapes, many observers believed that Moscow intervened with paramilitary and later regular military forces into an ongoing civil conflict between pro-Kyiv and pro-Moscow Ukrainian citizens. Few serious analysts ever doubted the Kremlin’s crucial role in turning the winter confrontations on the streets of the east and south Ukrainian cities into a putatively civil war in spring. But the extent of Russian meddling in the unarmed protests before the military escalation was disputed. [Continue reading…]