Friday, May 23, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Can a ‘Russian Orthodox Chekist’ Make a Revolution Abroad?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 23 –Igor Strelkov, defense minister of the self-proclaimed Donets Peoples Republic, has attracted attention because of his Moscow ties, but now a Russian news agency has suggested that he represents “an Orthodox chekist at the head of a revolution” and asked the broader question -- can an Orthodox oligarch carry out a revolution in a neighboring country?”

  ’s Denis Korotkov says that “’Colonel Strelkov’ isn’t lying.” He “really is who is presents himself to be: a retired Russian office acting out of conviction.” But that assertion, the journalist say, raises the larger issue of whether he and his oligarch backers can carry out a revolution” in Ukraine or elsewhere (

            According to the journalist, Strelkov (the literary pseudonym of Igor Girkin) “not a line officer of the GRU” but is “a retired officer of the FSB, a historian and a restoration specialist.”  Moreover, as he says, he is “an Orthodox patriot, a supporter of great power views, and a literary figure of the romantic type.”  And he has taken part in “three or four wars.”

            Strelkov “always has spoken the pure truth about himself.” Indeed, he seems extremely willing to do so and to insist that he “does not represent any state structures” but is “acting in correspondence with what must be changed not only in Ukraine but in Russia as well.” 

But that raises questions that Kortkov doesn’t ask: Has Strelkov-Girkin adopted the tactic of hiding in plain sight, by creating a legend that would allow for deniability? Or is his appearance an indication that the line between official and unofficial is now so blurred, that people with private means and power may be in a position to make a revolution?

People of both kinds have existed at various points in Russian history, most famously during the Russian civil war, when self-proclaimed figures emerged to raise armies and try to change history.  And they certainly to have been used by Soviet and Russian special services abroad when deniability was a requirement and confusion a tactical necessity.

But this article raises three even more disturbing possibilities: It suggests Moscow may not always be able to control those it has encouraged. It indicates that Russian nationalists close to Orthodox Church are actively involved in these troubled waters. And it shows that people like Strelkov-Girkin have as their ultimate goal not neighboring countries but Russia itself.


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