Russia's roadmap for annexing eastern Ukraine 'leaked from Vladimir Putin's office'

One of Russia's leading independent newspapers says it has received a bombshell document showing Putin's office put together a 'step-by-step' guide to taking Crimea and other eastern Ukrainian provinces more than a year ago

Moscow has been planning to annex parts of Ukraine for more than 12 months, according to sensational claims made in a Russian newspaper.

Vladimir Putin’s office reportedly compiled a detailed roadmap of how a "pro-Russian drift" could allow it to seize Crimea and some eastern provinces, just a few weeks prior to the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych and the start of the Ukrainian crisis.

According to a document allegedly leaked to the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, Russia had identified Mr Yanukovych as “politically bankrupt”, and outlined a plan by which a “coup” would set in motion events ultimately leading to Russian expansion.

The extraordinary claims made by the newspaper, which is one of the last independent media outlets in the country and was recently nominated for the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize for its investigations, could not be independently verified. The alleged document, translated into English by the Kyiv Post, was reportedly provided to Mr Putin’s office for consideration between 4 and 12 February 2014 – the same month that Mr Yanukovych was removed by the Ukrainian parliament.

Novaya Gazeta reported in its introduction that the events that have followed in the past year in Ukraine resemble with “a great deal of correlation” the “step-by-step [guide to] the basis, political and PR logistics of Russia's interference into Ukrainian affairs and estrangement from Ukraine of Crimea and eastern provinces”.

Among the highlighted details of the plan are “a pejorative assessment of Yanukovych, whom Russia later presented as a victim of a coup and the only legitimate leader of Ukraine”.

It details the eastern, cross-border regions of “Donbas” and “Dnepr”, among others, as “euroregions” that are “legitimate from the point of view of the European Union”.

“Using [this] instrument, Russia should achieve deals on cross-border cooperation and then establish direct interstate relations with the Ukrainian territories where stable pro-Russian electoral sentiments exist,” the alleged document reads.

The document also suggests that Russia’s support for such territories “will obviously be a burden for the budget in the current situation”, but adds that “in geopolitical perspective it will give us a priceless gain – our country will receive access to new demographic resources and highly-qualified personnel in the industrial and transport sphere”.

One section of the document appears to lay out the need for the destabilisation of “events in western Ukraine”. “To launch the process of the ‘pro-Russian drift’ of Crimean and Eastern Ukrainian territories, it's needed to create the events that would give this process political legitimacy and moral justification, beforehand,” it reads.

In his most recent comments on the Ukrainian crisis during an interview with Russian state TV, Mr Putin repeated denials that his government was providing support to rebels in eastern Ukraine.

The Novaya Gazeta report, issued on Tuesday evening, came as a long-awaited truce appeared to be taking hold in eastern Ukraine with the start of the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front line.

A truce agreed in Minsk by Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany was due begin on 15 February, and after a shaky start seemed on Wednesday to have halted most of the violence on the frontline.

The OSCE says it cannot yet verify the withdrawal because the sides have not said how many guns were in place before the truce. It reported some shelling and shooting at various locations, including near Shyrokyne, a coastal town on the road to Mariupol where Kiev has also reported fighting.

The Kiev military nevertheless said the number of ceasefire violations had "significantly decreased" for a second straight night, and its account of the past 24 hours was the calmest since the truce was agreed in the Belarusian capital.

Additional reporting by Reuters