The recent publication of emails from the office of Putin’s aide Vladislav Surkov provides answers to the questions about the most shameful episode in the newest history of Ukraine’s left. The authenticity of the leaked emails from 2014 was confirmed by authoritative independent sources like Bellingcat agency. Among piles of technical documents, there were hidden precious pearls.
One of such pearls is Aleksei Chesnakov’s letter with a list of influential media persons with whose help Russia was planning to transmit its propaganda in Ukraine. Chesnakov, a former member of United Russia, has long been known for his work with the media – specifically, publishing sponsored articles. In 2014, he was active in Ukrainian events; in the summer of that year, Ukraine’s security service published records of his phone talks with Aleksandr Borodai, one of the DNR’s ideologues.
Unsurprisingly, we find on this list activists of Borotba organisation: Viktor Shapinov, Andriy Manchuk, Sergei Kirichuk, and Aleksei Bliuminov, who left the organisation during Maidan but then rejoined his old comrades. 2014 was the peak year for Borotba, which gained popularity not so much for its activities in Ukraine as for the resonance it provoked among the international left. Germany’s Rote Hilfe gathered tens of thousands euros to help “Ukrainian anti-fascists” (nobody knows what happened to that money); Borotba received solidarity aid and support from the left around the world, who knew nothing about Ukraine but were willing to believe the beautiful tales of revolution and reaction, perfectly fitting the patterns of leftist anti-imperialist mythology.
Two years later, Borotba is no more: even its website is gone, while its prominent members dispersed into different directions. Sergei Kirichuk got himself a job in Berlin with the help of his friends from Die Linke, and now enjoys middle-class lifestyle of a European bohemian bourgeois; Shapinov and Albu have completely merged with the brown-red pro-Russian “left” scene, from which they had tried to distance earlier. Now the experiments are over, and former Komsomol functionaries returned to their roots. Political consultant Bliuminov who prior to joining Borotba had worked for a whole range of political parties, from Natalia Vitrenko’s Progressive Socialist party to Svoboda, is now downshifting in Asia – while maintaining activity on social networks.
Kirichuk, and Sevim Dagdelen (MP, Die Linke)
Die Linke MPs Wolfgang Gehrke and Andrej Hunko, making photo with Alexandr Sakharchenko, the Head of the DPR
Andriy Manchuk is the most interesting figure in this list, where he is assigned the title of the “cluster leader” (kustovoi, literally “the bush”). This weird term, which spawned a number of jokes online (reminiscing on bush dill or bush cucumbers), needs an explanation. It means an organiser, ringleader. A “bush” (kust) is something like a self-organised collective, the frequent term in the vocabulary of various youth scout organisations. This title means that a figure has some influence on a particular audience.
Andriy Manchuk still enjoys a certain status in the left movement; in addition to his usual travels around the world, he often visits Kyiv as well. Recently he posed for a photo in front of the empty pedestal of Lenin monument in Kyiv together with the leftist musicians from Russia, who, despite their opposition to Putin’s regime, are prepared to treat Manchuk as friend and comrade. Borotba’s unofficial website, liva.com.ua, has recently been revived after a period of inactivity. It looks like Manchuk is going to gradually return to Ukrainian marginal left political scene, and everything indicates that he will be able to easily do it: the Ukrainian left don’t have very good memory, and even the loudest scandals in their midst are usually completely forgotten over a few years.
Let’s remember how it all started.
Borotba was created in 2011 as a split-off of the Organisation of Marxists (OM). OM was an attempt to unite people from different political traditions of Bolshevism, the “Stalinist” and the “Trotskyist”. The ideology was jokingly called Shapinism, after the name of Viktor Shapinov, the author of the thesis: “There is no Stalinism and Trotskyism anymore, there is only revolutionary Marxism and reformism”. OM’s central idea was to overcome the “historical” contradictions between the Marxist schools and unite them around a common political practice today. Predictably, in a few years the organisation split into those same “Stalinists” and “Trotskyists” whom it wanted to reconcile. On the other hand, today both spare little attention on their ideological roots and, being faithful to Shapinov’s dictum, focus primarily on the current moment. Both Borotba and Left Opposition (now known as Social Movement) trod different paths towards the same aim: creation of a left party which would become a full-fledged subject of parliamentary politics.
The two projects counted on different audiences, though. Left Opposition and its successors appealed to left liberals, on the one hand, and independent union activists, on the other. Borotba chose a wider target audience, the disenchanted Communist party voters. It was actively poaching party activists: former communist MP Vasyl Tereschuk played important role in both OM and Borotba, former leader of Kyiv’s komsomol Yevgeniy Golyshkin was prominent in Borotba’s youth branch. Alexei Albu (who was honoured with the title of “high-profile” in Surkov’s emails) was especially valuable asset: he was not just any CPU activist but a regional council deputy, who helped to create Borotba’s second most influential regional cell.
While in Kyiv Borotba tried to maintain contacts with the “new left”, wasted resources to gain influence over anarchists and left liberals (with little success), in other regions the main bet was on conservative and pro-Russian cadres of CPU and even PSPU, who saw Borotba as the more consistent advocates of their own political views. While in Kyiv homophobia or sexism were frowned upon, elsewhere they were considered a norm. Already in 2012 Borotba activist Yevgenii Vallenberg (who later joined Mozgovoi’s “Prizrak” detachment) together with the red-brown “anti-imperialists” in Donetsk attacked the art gallery Isolation, which was, according to them, an agent of American imperialism. A couple years later, Isolation will be occupied by armed men and converted into the militants’ base, while the artwork will be destroyed.
“You also can help”: Borotba promoting the Russian war against Ukraine
Alexei Mozgovoi, Yevgenii Vallenberg, and Vlad Voitsechovsky
It was Alexei Albu who became one of the leaders of the 2 May 2014 stand-off in Odessa. Shortly before the massacre he was bragging about Odessa Anti-Maidan’s fighting power and promising to stop the opponents’ march by force. It was he who led the people into Trade Unions House, where as a result at least one member of his party cell died, becoming a symbol of “Ukrainian antifascism” for Borotba’s European comrades. The fact that the “antifascist” was on the one side of the barricades with the neo-Nazis from Slavic Unity and the far right from Rodina, is willingly left unnoticed by the Western left, since it ruins the neat heroic picture. It was the Odessa tragedy that made Albu a sought-after speaker and promoted his organisation onto the international level.
“Committee for Liberation of Odesa”: Alexandr Vasiliev (nationalist Rodina party), Dmitrii Odinov (neo-nazi “Slavic Unity”), and Alexei Albu (Borotba)
The cooperation of Borotba’s leaders with Russian political strategists was not a secret for their comrades. It was not an ad-hoc partnership caused by the far right threat during and after Maidan; the cooperation had started much earlier. One of the reasons of OM’s split was a scandal around Viktor Shapinov’s employment at the elections in Russian town Gus-Khrustalnyi, where he worked for the “independent” candidate (in reality member of United Russia). Similar jobs were taken in Transnistria: in 2011, Borotba worked there against presidential candidate Yevgenii Shevchuk. This was not advertised, but neither it was a closely guarded secret. Thus, members of antifa subculture were hired to act in fake video ads discrediting Shevchuk: the punks posed as his supporters, praising Shevchuk for his musical taste. The campaign tried to present the candidate as a “pro-Western” politician, lecher and enemy of traditional values. The Borotba specialists traditionally failed, though: Shevchuk eventually did win the elections.
Before and during Maidan, Shapinov and his close friend Maxim Firsov, also Borotba member (and the owner of the defunct website borotba.su), coordinated so-called Kiberzahin (Cybersquad). As was usual with other spin projects, Shapinov’s authorship was not advertised. Humanitarian college students filled social media with light politicised content and raked up subscribers for groups and public pages (Pornolitika was one of the most famous of them). After the situation on the Maidan became critical, these resources turned into the Kremlin propaganda tools; that’s when the project ran out of steam – the workers who had often sabotaged the instructions even before that, simply refused working for Borotba. One of them has publicised emails from January 2014. Their tone is strikingly reminiscent of Surkov’s leaks which were issued seven months later.
The direct connection between the technical instructions and the media persons is easily corroborated by monitoring social media. The texts on MH17 plane crash which Manchuk and Kirichuk published in the summer, literally reproduce Surkov’s memo, mentioning Ukrainian interests, Nato, and attempts to distract attention from Ukrainian army’s failures. One Kirichuk’s article contains almost all at once.
This can be all explained away by accidental coincidence, and Shapinov’s cybersquad can be declared malignant slander. This was the basic strategy of Borotba’s defence during the recent years: ignoring all accusations, and denying everything in the case of emergency. This worked quite well: people don’t like admitting their mistakes, and those who participated in Borotba’s demonstrations, canvassed for Kirichuk at the parliamentary elections, called for cooperation with the “left party”, would rather deny the obvious than assume partial responsibility on themselves. Borotba is, and never has been, a serious threat to the Ukrainian state. Kremlin’s bet on them was a mistake: Shapinov even failed the election campaign of United Russia’s candidate in the Russian backwoods. The problem is that Borotba and everyone who solidarised with them are still presenting an obstacle to the very possibility of the left political perspective in Ukraine. A movement which still considers Andriy Manchuk and his allies and sympathisers at home and abroad to be its part, cannot exist.
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