Interview by Anatolii Sharii
Transcript and Translation: Alena Scarecrow
Basurin on the frozen Novorossiya project, Putin, war and media
This interview is with Colonel Eduard Alexandrovich Basurin, Deputy Corps Commander for personnel and Zakharchenko’s (the head of the Donetsk People’s Republic) assistant on social rights of servicemen and their families.
What was your pre-war occupation?
Business. Polymers and PVC production. My military career started in July 2014; before joining the Corps, I was involved in securing safety of the people arriving to and leaving the region and monitoring humanitarian deliveries.
Have the Ukrainian militia called you in for questioning yet? There are lists of the ones to be questioned, you know.
Waiting on it. They are fighting on two fronts, legally accusing us of terrorism – banditism, probably, or whatever they term it, and also trying to pressure us and our families psychologically. Say, my son regularly gets all sorts of messages on social networks slinging mud at me.
Have any of your Ukrainian friends cut off contact with you?
To begin with, there are not that many friends – real friends; mostly people I have certain common interests with. I am an open person and welcome any communication. I guess there are people avoiding contacts with me now – well, so be it then. I am here, as well as my wife, my children, my parents, who all refused to leave the region choosing to stay by my side; we are here, simple people living for simple but so important things – just like all others around us. I always try to put myself in their place so that to understand what our people need and strive for, and most importantly – how to help them.
You are a public person now. How do you feel about it?
Strange. I still can’t get used to being public – well, not public but recognizable, that’s a better word.
Do you keep an eye on the Ukrainian media?
I try to be in the know and thanks to journalists I always am, even though we are often at loggerheads. They usually ask me to comment on what the Ukrainian officials say. It’s not right and so I tell them – it is the Ukraine who should comment on us, not the other way round. There is something amiss in the very concept of the modern journalism. Journalists used to get to the bottom of things by hook or by crook; they are different now… negligent.
Have there been many journalists denied further accreditation?
There have been some – mostly foreign ones – who were not quite objective in presenting the information in the media, doing that not because they wanted to bend the truth, but rather had to. There are few journalists capable of getting their message across in a “loud and clear” – and above all impartial – way; the vast majority, just like any other employees, have no choice but to play their masters’ game. So the journalists maneuver as best they can between truth, half-truth and pure lie, often choosing to rely on their own assumptions rather than on facts, in case of which we do deny them further accreditation. Journalists’ work is of immense importance, especially when it comes to warfare, and any mistake might have dire consequences. There are lives, human lives at stake here and any word or phrase, if presented in a biased or even ambiguous way, can lead to another tragedy.
What happens if journalists come with no accreditation?
They get detained and passed on to the military headquarters for further investigation. There are strict rules in regards of human safety; these rules are to be abided by.
What do you think of the captives’ exchanges?
There are our people held captive on the other side and it’s the only way we can help them out. There is no such thing as their importance-unimportance, or adequacy-inadequacy of such exchanges. Prisoners – they all differ. War does presume fighting an enemy, but killing an enemy in a fair combat is not the same as murdering adversary’s soldiers in the name of Murder and oppressing civilians, frightening them into obedience at the gunpoint. Such intimidation was the very tactics the Ukrainian nationalistic battalions chose to adopt. So, there’s no talking about any correlativity of exchanges. Civilians frequently fall prisoner too, along with military men. There was a case… They arrested a woman, our woman, the mother of three our soldiers. Could we leave her there? We couldn’t. That’s it. The problem is it has always been very complicated. The Ukraine has always dictated her own terms.
Is it hard to negotiate with the Ukraine?
It is. Very much so. The Ukraine tends to look down on her opponents, refusing to consider them as equals. We have always insisted that no fruitful dialogue is possible unless the parties treat each other as equals. We still have to be heard.
Lots of people are coming back to Donbass. Do you think the curfew will be lifted? Are the “new”-comers likely to have conflicts with the people who had stayed and lived through the bombings?
You see… The people who’ve seen out that nightmare have changed. It might seem paradoxical, but they’ve got gentler… More lenient… Their views and priorities have undoubtedly changed, with spiritual and moral values distinctly outweighing the rest ones. I think the people coming back here to stay will soon get used to the new atmosphere and will easily assimilate if they accept and live by the new rules and regulations that are being implemented. If they don’t, than yes, conflicts might occur.
Are you standing for election?
No. I am a military man and I don’t see myself in politics. I believe I can be of greater use to people staying where I am now.
How do you see the future of the Ukraine?
The Ukraine will be the Ukraine. It is only a matter of time. But one thing is certain – the current Kiev government will change. People are bound to understand that the power is in unity. The DPR (Donetsk People’s Republic) is 70-80% Ukrainian – speaking geographically; it might expand and become “the Ukraine”, or merge with the current Ukraine with this new integrity subsequently acquiring some new name or keeping the old one, – time will tell.
Don’t you feel that the “Donbass project” has gone into reverse and the region is being passed back to Kiev’s protectorate?
The main thing we all need to realize is the Ukraine we’ve known has had her day. She is giving her way to a fundamentally different country with a completely new order. What frightens people is the name – the Ukraine – which the vast majority inexorably associate with the current Kiev regime, the regime of repressions, persecution, terror. People who left the area at the start of the warfare fall into two categories – those who simply fled escaping the imminent punishment for the ugly deeds they’d done, and those who took this step in order to save their lives and protect their families. There is another moment… At the referendum held on 11 May 2014 about 90% of the population voted for granting DPR an independent status. They were not barred at the time to express their will and they did. At all events, people consider this area as homeland; they belong here, but we cannot and should not make broad generalizations. What we have now is a broken society of people gone through a terrible experience, through a civil war. Apart from the havoc it has already wrecked there will inevitably arise other, more distant but no less dire consequences, such as social divisions and clashes between different groups of the population – between people supporting newly established regulations and their opponents, hindering them. Only a dialogue, words can resolve conflicts. Words and truth.
You do not seem to relish the idea of the dissolution of the Ukraine, do you?
Nobody does. Neither Russia, nor Europe, nor even the United States. I won’t vouch for the latter, though. It’s in America’s interests to keep on destabilizing the region, kindling indignation and fanning intolerance so that to be able to spark off a conflict in case she finds it necessary – be that to enhance her control of the situation or wage new hostilities. Such a provoked conflict can take any form, from a demonstration to, say, that nonsense we all are witnessing now with the Ukraine cutting off transport communication with Russia – first flights, that have already been banned, then railway and road connection that might well follow. But… people are tired of lies – people there, on the other side. Poroshenko declared at the last UN assembly that the number of poor people in the Ukraine has reduced by a factor of three. Yes… People are tired of lies…
What do you think is Putin’s ultimate objective?
He is trying to restore Russia to her former glory, like it was in the Tsarist times when the Russian Empire was the power to be reckoned with. Some choose to talk big. He acts big. That is the only right path.
Is there a politician in the Ukraine you respect?
There isn’t. Really, there isn’t. Designers tailored the Ukrainian suit right and tight, with no space left inside for worthy ones. Politicians there are skilled at drawing communicative barriers and propagating their “truths” by all possible means whenever a smallest opportunity arises. Say, it’s not a secret that prices for foods and transport here in our region are higher that in the Ukraine – for evident reasons. Even this fact the Ukraine turns into a tool for manipulating people’s consciousness – a sort of “See? You’ll get the same if you support those on the other side of the fence”. People willing to say the truth, so needful truth are hushed. This is the ideology that currently reins and is echoed on all those their TCN, ACTV, STB and other TV channels. Their ability to awaken patriotism is impressive. “Here is this brave Ukrainian soldier. He is defending his Motherland. He is defending his family” they said. A great move. Or that “Russian aggression” they invented, when Russia allegedly snatched a piece of the Ukrainian territory, the DPR/LPR that is, sent in her troops and so on as the story goes. That is how they serve it to their people and their people sincerely believe it. Even for her Crimean “intervention” Russia is less attacked than for “conquering” Donbass.
Speaking of Crimea, many see its current “blockade” as an attempt to kill Ukrainian business.
Well, business people, even if enemies, come to see eye to eye and find some common ground much faster and easier than politicians. Money is a unifying factor. Left to their own devices – without politicians’ interference – entrepreneurs will always get to cooperate and think up a way out.
Have you ever apologized to journalists?
Not exactly. But there are a lot of interesting things happening here, what with distortion of facts, subtitling our videos in a weird manner etc. Turning back to media… I wish I could always have several different TV channels on – for one thing, it’s curious to get one and the same item of news presented in all imaginable and unimaginable ways, from all sorts of angles; for the other, it’s useful for it allows to foresee their further moves. As for the Internet, it bristles with tales rather than facts. I understand how confused people are trying to cope with the informational flow flooding them. Take the so-called First Maydan of 2004, for example, when they wanted to change Kuchma’s regime which many businesses found suffocating. That is the reason Yanukovich lost people’s support – the “family” as they called themselves, the elite, turned into assets usurpers, which caused business circles’ indignation with subsequent riots. Yanukovich actually has his hands stained in blood, because it was in his power to nip that turmoil in the bud. As for Kuchma, he just preferred to bury his head in the sand… Lord is their judge. That Orange revolution plunged the country into chaos which further exacerbated with sheer ignoramuses coming to power, which adversely affected living standards of people and bred social insecurity. Things got polished and somewhat straightened out in time, and now it’s recurring again. It’s so sad that people won’t learn from history…
What is your opinion of Strelkov (former Defense Minister of the DPR) and his statements?
The thing is how can we be sure that he really said all that’s been ascribed to him? The videos Strelkov is in are often inconsistent with the written transcripts accompanying them. Either way, I have mixed feelings about this person. Let’s just say that he played a certain role in the history of the DPR and his work is now done. Regarding his current views and statements, I prefer not to focus on them leaving them to his own discretion. Besides, we get to see him far less now than we used to – Strelkov is sinking into oblivion, just like the Novorossiya project. It’s been quite a long time since I last heard this notion – Novorossiya – from any of the Russian politicians.
Will there be another project to replace the Novorossiya one?
I don’t know. Nobody does. There is a certain unity with Donetsk and Lugansk as its nuclear, the unity that used to be thought of as “Novorossiya”. It never got any official status, so there’s no such thing as Novorossiya now. Igor Plotnitskiy (the head of the LPR – Lugansk People’s Republic) might have some ideas on that score, but I am not in a position to comment on them; I do not know him so well – either as a person or as a politician – as to attempt to predict what his ambitions might guide him to.
Is it true that some companies in the area under your control pay taxes to the Ukraine?
It’s true. And it’s another consequence of the civil war that’s torn the country apart. You see, the Ukraine found herself in a unique situation, unique in the sense that nothing of the kind has ever happened before. So now there are quite a few companies having their head offices there in the Ukraine and branches here on our territory. I’ve heard the Ukraine is going to tighten her grip over such companies – “Oh, you pay taxes both here and there? Deep pockets you have? Then share”. We are all to blame for the current state of things; it was us who let them happen. We are all guilty and it’s because of us – every one of us – that people are suffering now. There, on the other side, it’s the same. People yield to manipulation too easily… It often comes to the point of absurdity when, say, the Ukraine threatens to lock a person up in jail for some 5-8 years in case they refuse to join the army and they do join, they do choose to turn into murderers rather than become a prisoner. Crippled human minds – that’s what this war’s done.
Commentary by The Saker: at a time when, much to my regret, Strelkov and others are making regular hyperbolic and generally over the top statements on a regular basis, it is good to hear from a man who is level headed. Please pay special attention to the parts of his replies which I have bolded our in red above. This is the first semi-official explanation of what I believe the project has been all along: not just to protect the people of the Donbass, which was always a necessary first step, but never an end goal, but to regime change the Ukraine into a fundamentally different Ukraine. There never was a viable option just to “bite off” Crimea and the Donbass and then accept a Nazi Ukraine run by NATO. The only possible end goal is to at the very least secure a non-Nazi, neutral, federative Ukraine. If the plan is to break it up, then much more than just the Donbass needs to go to Russia (at the very least all the southern seashore and all of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions). Either way as long as “Novorussia” is confined to the current size of the Lugansk and Donetsk Republics it leaves too much of the Ukraine to the Nazis. This is why the “Novorussian” project is currently “frozen”. This is why Basurin says that the name “the Ukraine” can mean very different thing and why he says that Putin has a grand project for Russia. Read between the lines, and it is all there. Coming from the mouth of the DNR spokesman.