Staunton, March 23 – It has become an article of faith that Vladimir Putin acted suddenly in annexing Ukraine’s Crimea that many have ignored something that Leonid Grach, the former leader of the Communist Party on the peninsula, knows well: Russia was actively preparing the groundwork in Crimea for such actions six years before it pounced.
In an interview given to the Meduza news agency, Grach, who headed the Crimean Supreme Soviet from 1998 to 2002 said that Moscow was involved in political and economic life in Crimea at least as early as 2008 – just after Putin’s notorious Munich Security Conference speech (meduza.io/feature/2017/03/21/esli-by-nas-ne-podderzhal-patrushev-v-krymu-stoyal-by-amerikanskiy-flot?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=share_fb&utm_campaign=share).
The former communist leader says that while a Ukrainian peoples deputy, he never concealed his “pro-Russian attitudes” and took “definite actions intended to promote the rapprochement of Crimea and Russia … I openly professed pro-Russian sentiments. More than that, I realized them.”
“In particular,” he says, he and his people seized NATO equipment that was put in Crimea for a NATO-Ukrainian exercise in 2008 and did so on the orders of Nikolay Patrushev, then director of Russia’s FSB and now the secretary of the Russian Security Council. Patrushev understood clearly what was at stake in Crimea, Grach says.
Grach’s remarks are far from matters of historical interest only. They are an indication that Moscow is playing a long game and that it is putting in place in various parts of the former Soviet space people and institutions that it can use if and when it chooses to subvert or annex part of them.
On the one hand, of course, such statements are intended to further poison political life in these countries and thus promote precisely that outcome. But on the other, Grach’s words should serve as a warning to all the countries in Russia’s neighborhood and those who support of the real nature of the dangers they face given Putin’s intelligence operative style of foreign policy.