Global markets wobbled uncomfortably last week when the unexpected grabbed the headlines: Israel was launching a ground attack on Gaza and MH17 was shot down over Donetsk by a Russian BUK SA17 missile.
The media closely followed the gathering Palestinian conflict until they increasingly realised that the MH17 incident was by far the bigger of the two, in terms of its potential global consequences, both politically and economically.
Western media and politicians were also awakened to the reality of Putin’s state-sponsored terrorist destabilisation of new EU-associate Ukraine, following his unopposed seizure of Crimea in April. No one, however, has yet woken up to what Putin is really doing in Ukraine, a country that he thinks is destined to be under Russian influence, not European – and not just eastern Ukraine.
The real news out of Donetsk was not the air-crash on 17 July, but an incident unreported in the West a week earlier: the appointment of a Russian special operations commander, Lieutenant-General Vladimir Antyufeyev, 63, as deputy prime minister for state security of the newly self-proclaimed DPR – the Donetsk People’s Republic, aka the part of Ukraine which has seceded.
Antyufeyev’s brief is to wage, in Kremlin-speak, ‘frozen conflict’ on Ukraine. This policy is applied to former USSR satellites by Moscow in clandestinely supporting a secessionist mini-state within as a thumbscrew, to turn the host state back to Moscow as a submissive ally.
Failure to tow the Moscow line and the thumbscrew tightens: the terror-driven secessionist programme could be spread to adjoining Dnepropetrovsk, for example, whose capital hosts the world’s best rocket-boosters, as used in the ICBM SS60 SATAN rocket and to the Nikolaev diesel engine plant, as used in tanks and gas-pumping stations.
Antyufeyev is a real charmer, straight from KGB central casting: a man in charge of a ruthless and murderous campaign in newly-independent Latvia in 1990/1, a specialist destabiliser of USSR break-away satellite countries.
When the dust had settled from the implosion of the USSR in 1991, Ukraine was one of those former satellites, and until the overthrow of the pro-Moscow Yanukovich this year had been spared the Lieutenant-General’s worst attentions and had even enjoyed 23 years of independence.
No longer: the political lacuna left in Kiev by the president’s overthrow created the unexpected gap for Putin to reacquire the Crimea and for the DPR to come into unlawful existence, with the swift recall of the Lieutenant-General.
Antyufeyev’s questionable career started in Latvia in 1990/1, commanding a unit of Soviet Interior Ministry Special Operations Forces (OMONs in Russian acronyms). His violent attacks on Latvians led the new state to issue an arrest warrant, so he fled to Russia. He quickly reappeared as Vadim Shevtsov, new KGB minister for state security in Transnistria, along the Ukrainian-Moldovan border.
His regime in this sliver of land earned him the epithet the ‘Transnistrian Beria’, after Stalin’s chief of the secret police, and the region is fervently pro-Moscow to this day. While transfixing Transnistria to the Kremlin cross, the Lieutenant-General also helped out the Ossetian separatists in Georgia too.
His new role in the DPR is the culmination of his career. Those who appointed him will be expecting the usual rewards to be had from annexation and smuggling and criminality. But suppose his Kremlin Bonus Plan was to link up the three Eastern secessionist Oblasts (Ukrainian districts), which he now effectively runs, with the Dnepropetrovsk’a, Mykolayivs’ka and Odes’ka Oblasts and then with his beloved Transnistria, giving control to Moscow of the whole northern shoreline of the Black Sea, along with Russia’s biggest warm water port, Ukraine’s Odessa.
Well, now Comrade Antyufeyev could be throwing slimline Transnistria like a scrap to a hungry dog, leaving Kiev as capital of a shrunken Ukraine, like a one-eared dog, leaning towards Europe but tottering back towards Moscow. Forget Perestroika: the ghost of Beria is back. Let’s hope this doesn’t develop out of control and become an Archduke Franz Ferdinand-type moment.