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
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: Glazier

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist historic buildi...

Recruitment Genius: Office and Customer Services Manager

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small but very busy (and f...

Recruitment Genius: Portfolio Administrator

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has become known a...

Recruitment Genius: Mechanical and Electrical Engineer - Midlands

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrig...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot