Internecine strife has broken out in the Kremlin, and it is playing out in Russia-invaded and occupied Ukraine. A coup that is not yet ready to break out in Moscow broke out as naked invasion of Luhansk instead. Putin’s hold on power is not as monolithic as it may appear, and his faction lost a battle today. Putin’s defeat may bring evil consequences to how Russia further prosecutes its war on the West. The suffering of that evil will fall most heavily on the defender of Europe, Ukraine.
From the time of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014 up to 21 November 2017, Putin’s favourite to be his proxy in Russia-occupied Luhansk has been Igor Plotnitsky. Putin needed a figurehead for the Russian occupation regime in Luhansk region, and he preferred the minor gangster Plotnitsky to other, more ambitious men. Putin used his agents of the Russian intelligence services to create a fake republic called the “Luhansk People’s Republic” and gave Plotnitsky unlimited TV airtime to be the public face of the Russian occupation regime. Putin allowed Plotnitsky to be the head of the local crime syndicate, which makes money by stealing coal, stealing factories, robbing banks, kidnapping Ukrainians and holding them captive for slave labour, and other criminal enterprises. To support Plotnitsky’s rise to power, Putin’s agents assassinated rivals to Plotnitsky, including Oleg Anashenko, Valery Bolotov, Hennadiy Tsyplakov, Pavel Dryomov, and Aleksey Mozgovoi. Putin uses Vladislav Surkov as his “grey cardinal” to manage Igor Plotnitsky. Plotnitsky doesn’t say or do anything unless Surkov says so. Plotnitsky is an arm’s length agent of Putin. Recently, though, Putin had the first direct contact with his terrorist-criminal proxy, and held a phone conversation with Igor Plotnitsky on November 15 for “consultations.” It was clear to everyone in Russia and in Russia-occupied Donbas that Igor Plotnitsky was Vladimir Putin’s man.
In recent days, Plotnitsky sacked a rival, Igor Kornet as a ‘minister’ in the fake “LPR” statelet. With the backing of Surkov, and implicitly Putin, it was assumed that Kornet would retreat quietly and avoid the fate of other Plotnitsky-Surkov-Putin rivals. Instead, shockingly, Igor Kornet stayed in place in Luhansk, and a large invasion of Russian troops and armour backed him up on November 21. Military columns came from Rostov region in Russia proper, from other parts of Russia-occupied Luhansk region, and even from the fake “DPR” statelet in Russia-occupied Donetsk region. The Russian soldiers invading Luhansk city on November 21 were “Spetsnaz” special operations forces from Russia proper, and Russian soldiers of the 1st Army Corps (so-called “DPR”) from Russia-occupied Donetsk. Whatever Kremlin faction it is that chose Kornet as a proxy (and it isn’t the Surkov-Putin one) controls powerful military forces. The Kremlin faction that controls puppet Igor Kornet seized control of a TV station in Russia-occupied Luhansk. The faction propping up puppet Igor Plotnitsky retained control of another station, and there was a battle of competing on-air statements at the start of the day.
What is the nature of the coup in the Kremlin projected onto Luhansk? Rumours are that since Plotnitsky is directly guided by Surkov, it is a Putin-Surkov-Russian Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) faction that uses him as a proxy. If that is so, then the opposing faction using Kornet as a proxy would consist of figures in the Russian armed forces and the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB).
The Putin-backed terrorist Plotnitsky has fled to Russia, according to Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs. Kornet remains in Luhansk. Surkov made a hasty statement saying that a “coup” had been averted in the “LPR” – but he was putting lipstick on a pig. Plotnitsky’s defeat is Surkov’s failure, and this is not good news for Putin.
Ukraine convened an emergency meeting of the ‘military cabinet’ to assess Russia’s expanded invasion of eastern Ukraine. Russia’s expanded invasion of Europe in Ukraine today will probably end any UN peacekeeping initiative and cancel the Minsk Agreements. Many Ukrainians fear that the massive influx of troops and armour means that Russia will try to defeat Ukraine in battle, perhaps at Stanytsia Luhanska to achieve a breakthrough and a crossing of the Siverskiy Donets River. Without any shadow of a doubt, Russia is invading Europe in Ukraine. Putin cannot deny the war that he started – nor can Western leaders. The battlefield of Russia’s war on the West is eastern Ukraine, and it just got a lot hotter.
Luhansk was quiet by nightfall on November 21. The Russian soldiers in the streets, speaking with Moscow accents, said they didn’t take orders from Plotnitsky. There was no indication that Igor Kornet was out as a ‘minister’ of the fake “LPR” or that he had vacated the Russia-seized Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs building in Luhansk. The Kremlin faction that used Kornet as a proxy in Luhansk had won the day. The Kremlin faction that used Plotnitsky as a proxy had lost.
The massive numbers of Russian troops that invaded Luhansk, Ukraine on November 21 cannot be explained as having much at all to do with two crime underworld nobodies such as Igor Plotnitsky and Igor Kornet. Only something that touches the heart of power in the Kremlin could lead to such a massive escalation of military aggression. There was a coup, but it wasn’t happening in Luhansk, it was happening in Moscow. In fact, nothing of what happened in Luhansk on November 21 had anything to do with Ukraine or Ukrainians. Putin lost a big internal battle in the Kremlin, and this is the first time such a thing has happened since Russia invaded Europe in Ukraine on 20 February 2014. Putin was allowed to save face by having his “grey cardinal” Surkov be the propaganda voice that the world heard. But the resentful ex-KGB man will not suffer his defeat lightly. To cover for the exposed weakness at the heart of Russian power, it is very likely that Putin will reject UN peacekeeping for Ukraine and tear up the Minsk Agreements. It is now more likely that Putin will expand Russian aggression against Ukraine. On November 21 Russia was seen by the world to be openly invading Ukraine with three columns of troops and armour. Putin will never stop until he is stopped, and now Russia’s invasion of Europe in Ukraine will get a whole lot worse.