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
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior IT Support Technician

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Junior IT Support Technician ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior / Graduate Front End Developer

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides actionabl...

Guru Careers: Customer Support Advisor

Negotiable depending on experience, plus benefits: Guru Careers: We are seekin...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

£16000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash
I would never quit Labour, says Liz Kendall

I would never quit party, says Liz Kendall

Latest on the Labour leadership contest
Froome seals second Tour de France victory

Never mind Pinot, it’s bubbly for Froome

Second Tour de France victory all but sealed
Oh really? How the 'lowest form of wit' makes people brighter and more creative

The uses of sarcasm

'Lowest form of wit' actually makes people brighter and more creative
A magazine editor with no vanity, and lots of flair

No vanity, but lots of flair

A tribute to the magazine editor Ingrid Sischy
Foraging: How the British rediscovered their taste for chasing after wild food

In praise of foraging

How the British rediscovered their taste for wild food