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Thursday 11 October 2012

Russian Ultranationalists in Coup Trial

Mitt Romney has the peculiar idea that Russia is the US’s “number one political foe”, which is, as matters stand, outlandish. However, had a small group of conspirators based in the city of Ekaterinburg realised their grandiose ambitions, then Romney’s position would possess merit, rather than representing a fossilised attitude lingering long after the end of the Cold War rendered it redundant.

Yesterday, Izvestia brought to its readers’ attention the trial of a group of Russian ultranationalist plotters in the city of Ekaterinburg. Arrested on 19 July 2011, they stand accused of planning a coup designed to sweep Putin from power and to restore what they perceive to be Russia’s lost superpower status. Had they been successful their vision for Russian foreign policy would have been ruinous for their country, including as it did the belief in a near inevitable nuclear war between Russia allied with Iran on the one side, and the US and Israel on the other. Thankfully however, the plot itself drew little support and never stood any chance of success. Indeed, the man initially identified as its leading light – entrepreneur Aleksandr Ermakov – suffers from schizophrenia, which possibly accounts for military expert Aleksandr Gol’tz’s characterisation of the coup plot as the product of “monstrous delirium”. Following his arrest, the court ordered that Ermakov be put on compulsory anti-psychotic medication.

At the time of their arrest, the plotters possessed only 50,000 roubles (in today’s exchange rate somewhere in the region of £1,000), a large quantity of “specialist literature” dealing with the use of explosives, setting booby-traps, blowing up railway lines, bridges and the electricity supply, as well as general tactics of partisan warfare. A quantity of ammunition and explosives is also said to have been found at the time of the arrest. They had not got around to calculating the quantities of weapons and ammunition that they would require to realise their plans, and it was intended to stage a series of bank robberies – in the manner of the pre-revolutionary Bolsheviks – to fund their preparatory activities.

The nature of the plot
The men, led by Colonel Vladimir Kvachkov of the GRU (the Main Intelligence Directorate) intended to launch the coup with the immediate aim of taking control of Ekaterinburg – a city of 1.4 million – and the surrounding region of Sverdlovsk. Having established a military base there, the intention was then to take on Moscow and seize the apparatus of the state. This remarkable (or more accurately, delusional) plot was scheduled for 2 August 2011, and was to be spearheaded by an armed insurrection initiated by the Ekaterinburg “national-patriotic cell” of an organisation named “The People’s Militia of Minin and Pozharskii” (PMMP). Its leader – Kvachkov – and a number of other PMMP members are currently being tried in Ekaterinburg’s Sverdlovsk District Court. Also standing accused are Leonid Khabarov, a retired reserve colonel and Afghan veteran; pensioner and ex-policeman Aleksandr Ladeishchikov, and Viktor Kralin, an inventor and Doctor of Sciences. Aleksandr Ermakov is considered to be the group’s ideologist and organiser. Medics consider that Ermakov is suffering from schizophrenia, and since the summer he has been compulsorily put on medication by order of the Sverdlovsk District Court.

The intended coup was to use a number of “military cells”, and both Sergei Katnikov and Vladislav Ladeishchenko “have given evidence against the other plotters, thereby receiving reduced sentences”.

The plotters codenamed their operation “Daybreak”, and whilst possessing only a limited budget and little in the way of material and manpower, they were certainly not short of imagination as demonstrated by the fantastical dimensions of their plan which was broken down into a number of clearly defined stages. However, the plot was uncovered in July 2011 shortly only weeks from its scheduled launch, but given the paltry resources and manpower discovered, would they really have gone ahead with their hare-brained scheme? Independent experts consider that it would take a force of tens of thousands of troops to seize and control a city the size of Ekaterinburg, something that was clearly way beyond the scope of the plot. Nonetheless, the stages are worth outlining to provide an insight into the bizarre and unbalanced minds of the plotters.

Stage 1 was to consist of a series of “diversionary actions”; sabotage aimed at crippling key aspects of the city’s energy and transport infrastructure: cutting Ekaterinburg’s electricity supply by knocking out a mainline of pylons; blowing up railway tunnels and the severing of its gas and oil pipelines. These actions were intended to create general panic and to disrupt the governance of the city.

Stage 2 would witness the unleashing of a campaign of terror, with the plotters targeting and killing key figures on a detailed hit list who included: leaders of the local sub-departments of the Ministry of Defence, the directorates of the FSB and the MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs) and the emergency services. Also singled out for “liquidation” were named leaders of ethnic minority populations in the city representing the Jewish, Azeri and Armenian diasporas. Given that they were unable to identify a clear leadership amongst the Chechen and Dagestani populations, it was deemed that all members of these two minorities should be shot at will. A synagogue, national-cultural centres and a number of cafes were also singled out for destruction.

Stage 3 envisioned the seizure of weapons and ammunition and assumed that elements within the MVD’s Spetsnaz would come over to the side of the plotters. Next, stage 4 was intended to consist of the full-scale mobilisation of the city’s military as well as sympathetic adult males within the civilian population, with those not wishing to become involved being removed to one of Ekaterinburg’s satellite towns. The final stage of the plan involved the plotters consolidating their hold on the whole of the Sverdlovsk Region, with sympathisers from the rest of Russia being encouraged to come and join them in their armed uprising. Having thus established their armed redoubt through setting off a chain reaction of insurrections, they hoped to seize the Russian state.

The plan hinged upon the deployment of several groups of saboteurs each about ten strong, with ancillary forces numbering around 30-50 men, as well as circa 200 “others”. Where were these men to be found? Who were they? Did they exist outside of the confines of the conspirators’ imaginations? For a group of half a dozen men – elderly men at that – such a plan is clearly ludicrous. The recent revolutions – “the colour revolutions” – that have taken place in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, required considerable amounts of money and mass popular participation to bring about political change; were the plotters really so deluded as to think that they could achieve their far-reaching objectives with next to no resources or public support, and to bring about change through political violence?

With respect to support for the PMMP elsewhere, there is not a great deal of evidence. Kvachkov travelled to different Russian cities in the summer of 2010 attempting to drum up support, but he achieved little. However, a man named Petr Galkin who was said to have been a member of the PMMP’s Togliatti Cell was arrested that year. He was carrying a crossbow. Following Kvachkov’s arrest in the summer of 2011, a benefit concert was arranged on his behalf by a number of sympathisers at Moscow’s October Cultural Centre in the northwest of the city, but it was burned down on 29 October 2011 the day before it was due to take place. Russian “antifascists” were suspected.

The current of Russian nationalism represented by Kvachkov and his confederates is a virulently anti-western and militaristic one, and embodies the type of ugly attitudes that are routinely and incorrectly attributed to moderate democratic nationalists by their opponents around the world – including in the UK. The negative ultranationalism articulated by the likes of Kvachkov and his ilk in Russia, or indeed in any country, deserves to be roundly condemned. Insofar as any rudiments of ideology can be discerned in the plotters’ position, it is entirely negative in tone and content, and would bring no benefit to the Russian people. The PMMP in its bloody intent seems to represent the latest incarnation of the negative spirit that has animated the worst excesses of Russian history throughout the ages, whether under tsars or Communists. In their own way, the plotters may well have seen themselves as contemporary oprichniki – “the men apart” – who did Ivan the Terrible’s bloody work in the name of his concept of “good governance”, which happened to be autocratic and merciless. Below is Sergei Eisenstein's and Sergei Prokofiev's lurid vision of one of Ivan's drunken late-night revels with his handpicked killers - the oprichniki: "Zhgi! Zhgi! Zhgi! Zhgi!" ("Burn! Burn! Burn! Burn!") they chant; an apt summary of their destructive mentality.

Ivan's Feast with the Oprichniki

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