In 2014, streams of Russian journalists, opposition figures, and activists literally rushed to Ukraine, all at once and without any logical justification, allegedly seeking some kind of refuge from Vladimir Putin's criminal, totalitarian rule. Over the past years, however, those who have found refuge in Ukraine have been retransmitting narratives compromising Ukraine and playing along with Russian propaganda.
In fact, Ukraine has become a haven for serpents it has sheltered on its chest, who successfully implemented Kremlin propaganda projects from within. And it looks like the scenario with the "refugees" is being played again, this time – with the Belarusians.
So, the ex-contender for the presidential post in Belarus, former head of the High Technologies Park Valery Tsepkalo, who recently fled from the totalitarian regime of Alexander Lukashenko to a "democratic" and "freedom-of-speech-honoring" Russia, moved to Kyiv!
Just weeks after an odious restaurateur Vadim Prokopyev, who has called to turn Kyiv into an assembly point for the “Belarusian opposition”, which in fact doesn't exist, another latent puppet in a hybrid political game emerged in the Ukrainian capital. Not only did he emerge – he has already been interviewed by Hromadske, a local outlet that has long compromised itself and whose representative, Russian national Katerina Sergatskova, was more than once caught on spinning second-rate fake stories, not so long ago left Ukraine citing alleged "threats".
So let's stop there a moment and draw a preliminary line. Valeriy Tsepkalo, who last month fled from a "totalitarian" Belarus to a "democratic" Russia, suddenly resurfaces Ukraine and immediately gives an interview to the local media outlet, whose journalist Katerina Sergatskova, the one affiliated with Russian special services, has been spreading fake news about Ukraine. But these are only preliminary facts...
Valery Tsepkalo arrives in Ukraine amid Kyiv's calls on Minsk to extradite Russian militants with the Wagner PMC, who were previously detained in Minsk on suspicion of plotting sabotage in order to radicalize local protests and add to them a violent element of confrontation.
Moreover, not only had some of these militants taken part in Donbas hostilities alongside Russia's occupation forces, some also appear in the Maidan deadly shooting case – like Andrei Bakunovich, a former Berkut riot police operative.
Do you think the emergence in Kyiv of a so-called "opposition figure", who is like a bone in the Belarus government's throat, will contribute to a normal, mutually beneficial dialogue on the issue of extradition of extradition of the busted terrorists? I doubt it.
In fact, Tsepkalo plays the role of a parking brake in the negotiation process between Ukraine and Belarus in the Kremlin's ongoing game. The dialogue regarding the extradition of the Wagner mercenaries to Ukraine will simply be driven into a dead end, since the Belarusian authorities may demand extradition of the fugitive opposition figure, which is exactly what Moscow needs. After all, if Belarus turns to Ukraine with a request to extradite Tsepkalo, then pro-Russian talking heads, both high- and low-profile (politicians, journalists, and human rights activists) will immediately raise alarm, insisting that Kyiv not hand over an odious figure to the evil guy Lukashenko. He should be offered a political asylum instead, they will claim. This will not only stall the dialogue on the transfer of the Wagner militants who committed crimes against Ukraine, but also undermine trust between Ukraine and Belarus.
The most ridiculous part of this play is that Russian propaganda is already spreading the narrative that Tsepkalo has no contacts and support in Moscow whatsoever, and that's why he allegedly moved to Kyiv, from where he intends to coordinate protest rallies following the election day on August 9. But what has the guy been doing in the Russian capital for the last two weeks or so? It looks like he has been rehearsing for his new role in line with the new legend and receiving relevant instructions.
This story reminded me of the events of 2010, when the Russian special services came up with a ridiculous legend for their agent Akhmed Chatayev, the man who was yet to become an ISIS commander and organizer of the terror attack at the Istanbul Airport. When Chatayev was initially arrested in Ukraine and intended for extradition back to Russia, where, according to his legend, he was on wanted list, pretty much like any other Russian agents that had been deployed in the West under the guise of Chechen refugees, lots of human rights activists and pseudo-patriots proclaimed that Ukraine must not hand over to Russia Mr Chatayev, "Putin's enemy", as they said.
As a result, this "Putin's enemy", with his new, reinforced legend, later got back to Europe, then caused a stir in Georgia in the interests of Russian security forces, became an ISIS operative responsible for terrorist attacks in Europe, and reached a pinnacle of his "career" by organizing a terrorist attack at the Istanbul Airpiort before being killed in Tbilisi.
So now, in 2020, Ukraine is once again becoming a platform for Russia's geopolitical game against the neighboring state – Belarus. Russia is once again trying to draw Ukraine into a hybrid game through manipulation of democratic and humanistic issues. This time, the game is against Belarus.
As I always say, if someone's warned, they're protected. But as always, I should add, is it really the case?