The rebel republic’s deputy PM, who describes himself as a “political scientist,” says he also worked in Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Crimea. “My employment history is no secret, I was awarded medals by the state in these countries, and I am proud of it,” he tells VICE News.
Siberian-born Antyfeyev is just the latest arrival from Moscow in war-torn eastern Ukraine. The key positions of defense minister and prime minister of the rebel People’s Republic — the political and administrative helm of the armed insurgency in the country’s east — are also held by Russian nationals: Igor Girkin and Alexander Borodai.
Girkin, better known by his nom-de-guerre “Strelkov” — meaning “Shooter” in Russian — arrived in the rebel republic in mid-April. A war re-enactment fanatic, with a fondness for playing the role of the White Guard general Mikhail Drozfovsky, who was killed in a battle with Bolsheviks in 1919, Girkin has openly admitted he was a Russian intelligence officer until one year ago.
Self-styled Prime Minister Borodai, a Muscovite like Antyufeyev, also worked in Transnistria and says he knows Strelkov from Crimea, Chechnia, and other “hotspots.” Both have written articles for the Russian nationalist newspaper Zaftra — a publication that has grown hugely in influence during Putin’s third term.
“This is the classic playbook of the Kremlin, to parachute in its own people to guide locals and augment existing resentments,” Brian Whitmore, Senior Eurasia Editor at Radio Free Europe, tells VICE News. “We have seen this strategy deployed many times before, in Transnistria, Abkhazia, and so on, but this time it is dialed up to 11, and these figures [Girkin, Borodai, and Antyufeyev] are the absolute personification of this strategy.”