The Kremlin is planning to annex the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine and combine them into a single federal district within Russia, three sources close to the Putin administration told Meduza.
“The district should appear after referendums on joining Russia are held in these territories. Ukrainian territories will not accede to existing districts [in Russia],” one of these sources explained.
Sources also told Meduza that Kremlin official Boris Rapoport (the deputy head of the presidential directorate for State Council affairs) has been tapped to supervise the creation of this new federal district. Rapoport was involved in the Kremlin’s Donbas policymaking back in 2014, working alongside Putin’s aide and Donbas point man Vladislav Surkov.
Inside the Putin administration, Rapoport is referred to as a “crisis manager”, best known for working on the electoral campaigns of Kremlin-back candidates. According to Meduza’s sources, Rapoport played a key role in salvaging Alexander Beglov’s run for governor of St. Petersburg in 2019.
According to Meduza’s sources, Rapoport is currently recruiting personnel to run regional and municipal administrations in the Donbas, as well as “civil-military administrations” in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. These same officials will be expected to handle the preparations for staging referenda on joining Russia.
Two possible referendum dates are supposedly being discussed so far. The first is “mid-July, if the situation at the front allows it.” The second, “more realistic” option is September 11 – the same day Russia is set to hold regional and gubernatorial elections.
As Meduza reported in late April, the Kremlin has been seeking out political strategists to work as “political officers” in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine (one source described the role using the Soviet-era term politruk). According to the three sources close to the Putin administration, this work has now “intensified.” What’s more, a different Kremlin department has been put in charge of the hiring process: the presidential directorate for State Council affairs, which is led by Sergey Kiriyenko’s associate Alexander Kharichev and his deputy – Boris Rapoport.
“They’re looking for people who have experience working with the opposition, who can operate a bit unconventionally, because the tasks in the Donbas are not trivial,” one source underscored.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, several political strategists told Meduza that they’d already been offered jobs as “political officers” in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine. Officially, they would be given positions as deputy mayors, tasked with “supervising politics, public life, media, preparations for referendums [and] even social programmes.” Two sources told Meduza that Boris Rapoport is already in the Donbas and that he also visits the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions periodically. One source also said that Rapoport is the main candidate for the position of presidential envoy to the new federal district: “Kiriyenko wants to control the processes and put his confidant there.” (Another Meduza source close to the Putin administration corroborated this claim, but a source close to the United Russia leadership did not.) Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not respond to Meduza’s questions for this article. Boris Rapoport could not be immediately reached for comment.
The Kremlin is already prioritising Russian officials when it comes handing out jobs in occupied regions of Ukraine. On Wednesday, DNR head Denis Pushilin fired his government and replaced the cabinet with several former Russian state officials, including Alexander Kostomarov, the ex-deputy governor of Russia's Lipetsk and Ulyanovsk regions, and Vitaly Khotsenko, Russia’s former Industry and Trade Ministry department head.
“He [Kostomarov] knows how to break people, how to achieve what the bosses demand from him. Even where there’s resistance, he comes in and brings [everyone] to heel. In fact, Kostomarov will be the chief of staff, the local ‘Kiriyenko’ in Donetsk,” one of Kostomarov’s former colleagues told Meduza.
On Thursday, LNR head Leonid Pasechnik named Vladislav Kuznetsov, the ex-deputy governor of Russia’s Kurgan region, as his deputy prime minister.
“For Kiriyenko this is a model region. He wants to show Putin that he has a management team, that he can take on even such complex tasks and become [his] successor,” a source close to the Putin administration stressed. The source added that Kiriyenko “wants to control” the “very serious financial flows” that will be directed towards this region.
This person also said that the DNR’s Pushilin and the LNR’s Pasechnik may also be replaced by Russian officials in the near future. “Murky local figures shouldn’t be messing up the distribution of [Russian state] funding. The money has to go in the right direction,” the source stressed.
The governments of the “people’s republics” did not respond to Meduza’s questions prior to publication.
This story first appeared in Meduza here.