Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: An audience with Alexander Borodai the man whose fighters are accused of downing the plane

 

Donetsk

Alexander Borodai, the man who styles himself Prime Minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic, had set the time of his press conference for half-past noon.

By the time he reached the conference room, situated on the 11th and highest floor of the city administration building, he was 35 minutes late. So Mr Borodai, dressed in jeans, a grey T-shirt, a pale blue jacket and with his hair cropped close, quickly got down to business.

He was ready to cooperate with international experts and hand over the bodies from Flight MH17, he announced, though he would like some of those experts to be Russian. He could not hand over the bodies to the Ukrainians because the Ukrainians could not be trusted. And the media should not believe the accusation that he and his separatist fighters shot down the plane.

“We did not have the technical capability or the motive to shoot down this plane,” he declared, as two thick-set bodyguards looked on. “The enemy had all the technical ability and they had the clear motive to shoot it down.”

The 41-year-old Mr Borodai, who is originally from Russia, arrived in Donetsk in May when he was appointed head of the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) by its rag-tag parliament. The same month fighters loyal to him stormed the administration building in the city centre and booted out other separatists who had been occupying the grey premises for weeks.

There have been widespread allegations that Mr Borodai has long been close to the Kremlin. In 2002, the Russian Communist newspaper Pravda reported that Mr Borodai had been appointed deputy director of the FSB, the successor agency to the KGB, though he claimed that was nothing more than a prank to mark his 30 birthday.

What is known with certainty is that during the 1990s, Mr Borodai was one of a number of far-right Russians employed by the nationalist Zavtra newspaper, where he wrote many articles celebrating the glories of Russia’s past. He apparently supports the expansion of Russia’s borders to take in its former imperial territory.

While still supposedly a journalist, he was also involved in an uprising in Moldova, where a small enclave, ‪Transnistria, was set aside for Moldova's Russian minority

Mr Borodai has also confirmed that earlier this year he was in Crimea, working as a strategic and security adviser to Sergey Aksyonov, the separatist Prime Minister of Crimea, which Russia annexed in April.

“He’s a fascinating individual, a key figure in the shadowy network of ultranationalist writers, businessmen, criminals, and army veterans that has existed on the fringes of Russia’s secret services since the early 1990s,” said Daniel Treisman, a Russia expert and Professor of Political Science at the University of California.

He added: “He’s certainly in close touch with the Kremlin. I would guess that he is coordinating with the political managers there very regularly, but he is also reacting to rapidly unfolding events and the volunteers and other troops under his command may sometimes have their own ideas.”

Precisely how Mr Borodai came to make his way to this part of eastern Ukraine is unclear. But he told journalists he had come at the invitation of Igor Girkin, better know as Igor Strelkov, the man who heads the armed forces of the Donetsk People’s Republic.

Mr Girkin, who is said to be an enthusiast of military reenactments, appears on a European Union sanctions list, where he is said to be on the staff of Russian military intelligence. He and Mr Borodai both once worked for Konstantin Malofeyev, a tycoon who reportedly funded much of the break-away activity in Crimea.

In recent days, a new infamy has engulfed Mr Girkin after he was allegedly spotted on social media boasting about shooting down what he thought was a AN-26 Ukrainian military transport plane at the same time Flight MH17 fell from the sky. The posting was subsequently deleted, but not before copies were made. “We warned you not to fly in our skies,” it said.

On Monday, Mr Borodai was asked about Mr Girkin’s alleged comments. He said he had spoken with the military commander but claimed that “this was not the subject of our discussions”.

Also watching the press conference was Vladimir Antufeyev, Mr Borodai’s supposed deputy. Reports say Mr Antufeyev, with a background in Russia’s intelligence world, previously served as head of security in the Russian-controlled territory of Transnistria. He was recently brought to Donetsk to try and end infighting.

Mr Borodai claimed he was ready to hand over the bodies to international experts and would help them if they came to Donetsk. He said he was ready to try and ensure their safety.

Yet he said the bodies would not be handed over to the Ukrainian authorities because they cold not be trusted. He claimed the authorities in Kiev were only interested in blackening the reputation of the DPR.

He said he would like to offer his condolences to the families of the 296 passengers and crew killed when Flight MH17 crashed, allegedly shot down his men or else Russian fighters operating alongside his team.

“Don’t listen to the news on social media, especially the social media from Ukraine,” he said. “It’s very hard to find the truth.”

Mr Borodai took questions for around 45 minutes and then called things to a halt. His two burly bodyguards stopped journalists pursuing him down the corridor. With that, the Prime Minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic was gone.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there