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26 Feb, 2020 15:17

Ex-Putin aide Surkov's parting shot: Ukraine will eventually break up or cling on within shrunken borders

Ex-Putin aide Surkov's parting shot: Ukraine will eventually break up or cling on within shrunken borders

He wasn't going to go without stirring the pot one last time. Predictably, Vladislav Surkov has launched a few broadsides in a valedictory interview and Ukraine is the main target of his prognostication.

The one-time Kremlin 'gray cardinal' told Moscow outlet 'Actual Comment' that Ukraine doesn't exist as a nation, but did concede there is a Ukrainian identity, or "Ukraineness." He also predicted the turbulent country will eventually collapse or shrink.

There is only a "specific disorder of minds [there]," he said, adding that Ukraine has a "bloody local history" and a "muddle instead of a state."

Despite this, Surkov labeled himself a "Ukrooptimist," saying that Ukrainians will eventually succeed in creating their own nation and statehood because they "are stubborn guys." But he warned this won't be inside the existing borders.

He also believes Moscow needs to be more forceful with its neighbor. Surkov noted that Russian-Ukrainian relations were never simple, observing that "forcing coercion into fraternal relations is the only method that has historically proven effective towards Ukraine."

Regarding the fate of the breakaway Donbass, Surkov was vague. First, he expressed the belief that the region will not return to Ukraine, because "it doesn't deserve such a humiliation" and Kiev isn't entitled to "such an honor." However, then he made it clear that Donbass won't follow Crimea in being absorbed into Russia.

Surkov also said he intended to quit public service in 2013, but returned to the Kremlin because he saw Ukraine as a "unique opportunity." Since then, Russia's Kiev has been his main focus. He also made a point of noting that his final departure was his own idea.

"I chose Ukraine, it was purely intuitive, I simply felt, or rather, sensed it would be a big deal," he recalled. "I guessed that there would be a real struggle with the West, serious, with victims and sanctions... I foresaw this in the summer of 2013... And so it happened. I am proud that I was a participant."

Inciting Ukrainian passions wasn't sufficient for Surkov. He also lobbed a few grenades into the speculation about Vladimir Putin's intentions after his current presidential term ends. Most notably, he said proposed amendments to the Russian Constitution may mean presidential term limits will be reset.

This means Putin could technically serve until 2036, even though the president has made it pretty clear he intends to step down by 2024. "Legal logic will lead to the need to restart the countdown of the presidential terms because with the new powers it will be like a different institution of the presidency, so the restrictions of the current presidency will not apply to it," he ventured. "This is my private opinion, of course. But based on my experience of lawmaking."

He added that it would be logical to implant a "hyper-presidential" form of government in the Constitution of Russia because it suits the Russian method of governance. "We naturally developed not just a presidential, but a hyper-presidential form of government," Surkov believes. "It is organic for our political culture and in my opinion, it must be formally and legally consolidated."

Putin's spokesman reacted by saying Surkov is entitled to his own opinion. Dmitry Peskov emphasized that he's now a private citizen and no longer works in the presidential administration. Meanwhile, the co-chair of the working group on constitutional amendments, Senator Andrei Klishas, pointed out that the proposed constitutional changes did not imply the nullification of previous presidential terms. “All this is speculation,” he added.

Surkov seems proud of his role in creating "Putinism." Although, he did make it clear that he lost that sort of influence after 2012. "Of course, I created the system, but I was never a part of it," he noted.

- This article was updated on Wednesday afternoon to include reaction from Peskov and Klishas. 

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