Plans are afoot in the Kremlin to replace the leaders of the Russian-occupied territories in the Donbas, Oleksandr Zakharchenko in Donetsk and Igor Plotnitsky in Luhansk, according to several sources.
The move may even be a prelude to a wider settlement of Russia’s war on Ukraine in the Donbas, the unconfirmed reports indicate.
Novosti Donbassa, a reputable news website founded in Donetsk, quoting its own sources, reported that the Donetsk statelet might in future be headed by Oleksandr Bobkov, a former Ukrainian lawmaker from runaway former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s party, and the Luhansk statelet by Vasyl Volga, who was a lawmaker for Ukraine’s Socialist Party in 2006-2007.
Novosti Donbassa also reported that Vladislav Surkov, an advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin who is thought to be directly involved in the management of the Kremlin’s proxy statelets in the Donbas, visited Russian-occupied Donetsk in late August and told local leaders to “prepare for reintegration” with the rest of Ukraine.
“We received information that there is an agreement to reintegrate these territories, although not under the leadership of Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky, but more appropriate people,” Oleksiy Matsuka, the chief editor and founder of Novosti Donbassa, told the Kyiv Post.
Both Zakharchenko and Plotnistky assumed control of the Russian-occupied areas of Donetsk and Luhansk in August 2014, the bloodiest month in the Russia’s war against Ukraine, which has now claimed more than 10,000 lives.
Defense blogger and lawmaker Dmytro Tymchuk also wrote on his Facebook page about a probable change in the leadership of the Kremlin’s Donbas statelets, in October.
Matsuka said that the change of power may happen either this autumn or closer to the end of the year.
He added that Russian consultants are currently interviewing Donetsk officials to pick candidates for upcoming local elections in Donetsk.
Born in Donetsk, Bobkov managed one of the local markets in the city in the 1990s and became a director of Horlivka coke plant in 2010.
As a lawmaker of Party of Regions, he supported the illegal separatist referendum in Donetsk in May 2014. There are photos on the web showing him being present at the “inauguration” of Zakharchenko as the new leader of the Russian-occupied part of Donetsk oblast in Donetsk’s opera house in November 2014.
Born in Severodonetsk of Luhansk Oblast, Volga participated in the presidential elections in 2004 and created his own political party, the Union of the Left Forces in 2007.
In 2010, Volga headed the State Commission of Markets and Financial Services. In 2012, a court sentenced him to five years in prison for attempting to take a $500,000 bribe. Volga was released in 2014.
In April 2016, Volga announced that his party was ready to participate in local elections in the Russian-occupied territories if they took place according to the Minsk agreements.