Written by Nikolaus von Twickel


Ukrainian media have unearthed some details about Alexander Ananchenko, the “DNR” secretive “Prime Minister”. Meanwhile, Donetsk leader Denis Pushilin made fresh promises about economic integration with Russia and the “LNR”, while the Donetsk Foreign “Ministry” praised the opening of a second “DNR” office in Italy.

Ananchenko’s biography revealed

The secretive new Prime Minister of the Donetsk “People’s Republic” used to work for a Donbass-born metals tycoon in Russia and later for a businessman close to former Ukrainian President Vyktor Yanukovych, a Ukrainian media report said.

Alexander Ananchenko worked for metals magnate Mikhail Zhivilo in Moscow in the 1990s as head of the legal department of Zhivilo’s company Mikom, according to a report by Sloviansk-based Donbass Public TV published on January 19. Zhivilo fled to France in 2000 after being accused of plotting to kill Aman Tuleyev, the long-standing Governor of the Siberian region of Kemerovo.

Ananchenko subsequently returned to Donetsk where he worked for Eduard Prutnik, a businessman turned politician who was an advisor to Yanukovych turning his time as Ukrainian Prime Minister (2002 to 2005). According to the report, Ananchenko also worked for NTN, a TV channel set up by Prutnik. The report noted that both Zhivilo and Prutnik hail from Selydove, a town west of Donetsk. It is not entirely clear, where Ananchenko was born, but the TV station speculated that he may also come from Selydove.

Ananchenko has been shrouded in mystery since first appearing in Donetsk in September, shortly after the assassination of separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko. Despite being appointed a deputy head of cabinet in charge of economic policy and later to the new and powerful post of “Prime Minister”, Ananchenko has never appeared in public so far. He was not scheduled to speak at a parliamentary hearing on February 15th, when his government reports about its past year’s work.

The only available photo shows Ananchenko slightly from behind, shaking hands with Vladimir Pashkov, CEO of the equally secretive company Vneshtorgservis. Ananchenko is thought to have been an advisor for the company before joining the separatist leadership.

Vneshtorgservis has been linked to Serhiy Kurchenko, a billionaire businessman who in turn was closely linked to Yanukovych during his time as President of Ukraine. The holding company appeared in 2017, after the separatists seized local factories following a trade blockade imposed by Ukraine. Said to be registered in South Ossetia, Vneshtorgservis is thought to act as an intermediary between the “People’s Republics” and Russia, which has not recognized them for fear of international sanctions. However, the company only holds a dozen plants in the region, while most seized factories (34 alone in the “DNR”) were made state enterprises controlled by the government – which is headed by Ananchenko.

Ukrainian observers speculate that Ananchenko was chosen to restructure the “DNR” industry on behalf of business interests based in Russia. Just like separatist leader Denis Pushilin – who took over after Zakharchenko’s death – just acts as a front man to Vladislav Surkov, President Vladmir Putin’s aide for Donbass, Ananchenko acts as a front man to Dmitry Kozak, the Russian deputy Prime Minister in charge of rebuilding the Donbass economy, the TV report said.

“DNR” to form state corporations

Pushilin meanwhile, ordered Ananchenko to form new state corporations. Such corporations cannot be privatized and may have offices inside and outside the “DNR”, according to a decree published on February 12, the official DAN news site reported. Earlier,  deputy “Prime Minister” Igor Martynov said on the same day that two such corporations will be formed in the energy sector – one of them, Donbassgaz, would incorporate Donetskavtogaz and Donbasstransgaz, while the other, Donbass Energy, would include three local energy providers and transmission companies.

Most companies in separatist-held areas continue to suffer heavily from the blockade, which cut them off from long-established supply chains. On February 1, Pushilin admitted that there were wage arrears at the Stirol chemicals plant in Horlivka. “This question is being solved by the government and workers will get their pay soon,” he told DAN in an interview. The plant in Horlivka with 4,500 workers has not been operating since 2014 and was seized by the separatists along with other enterprises in 2017 (see Newsletter 39).

In the same interview, Pushilin reiterated the separatist narrative that integration with Russia and the “LNR” will save the “People’s Republic’s” ailing economy. Cooperation with Russia would be widened to Russian regions and the creation of joint business platforms, he said. Pushilin also claimed that bot “DNR” and “LNR” had decided to merge their railway companies. However, Luhansk separatist “Prime Minister” Igro Kozlov said in December that experts were currently looking into ways how to implement this.

The separatist statelets’ hopes of uniting both with Russia and with each other have proven futile so far. Not only has Moscow refused to recognize the “People’s Republics”, Russian companies shy away from doing business there for legal reasons – a lack of export-import certification plus the large risk of being hit by western sanctions.

 “DNR” claims second office in Italy

It came as little surprise then that the Donetsk separatists claimed the opening of a “representative office” in the Italian city of Verona as a diplomatic breakthrough. The office was opened on February 9 by local pro-Russian activists linked to campaigns for an independent Veneto, the local Italian region.

The opening gives us more possibilities to spread correct information about what is happening in Donbass, “DNR” Foreign “Minister” Natalia Nikonorova said in an official video-message. She added that the centre should help to move the “DNR” closer to achieving international recognition.

Ukraine immediately condemned the opening as a “shameful” anti-Ukrainian provocation and sent a formal protest note to the government in Rome.

However, the Verona centre is already the third separatist “office” in Italy. The first “DNR” representation opened in Turin in December 2016, while the “LNR” opened its first ever representation abroad in Messina, Sicily, in June 2018 (see Newsletter 35).

The “DNR” has already opened representations in five European countries, including Greece, Finland and France. A centre in the Czech city of Olomouc was closed by authorities in April.

Deaths at the contact line

The past weeks saw an unusual spike in deaths of civilians trying to cross the “Contact Line” that separates the “People’s Republics” from the rest of Ukraine.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on February 8 that since the beginning of the year ten elderly people had died while crossing due to serious health complications, with two cases alone occurring on February 7. At least two deaths occurred in Stanytsia Luhanska, the only crossing point in the Luhansk region, where civilians often have to stand in long lines in the freezing cold to cross a makeshift pedestrian bridge.

While the separatist armed formations in Donetsk accused the Ukrainian side of causing deaths by artificially slowing down the crossing process, there was also open criticism from “DNR” MPs at separatist authorities. On January 18, the (nominally oppositional) Svobodny Donbass faction launched a public appeal at Pushilin, asking him to crack down on artificially induced long lines at the crossing points. As a consequence, the head of the ruling Donetsk Republic faction, Vladimir Bidyovka, announced that MPs would regularly travel to crossing points and inspect the situation.