Kiev: It is a strange revolution unfolding in the east of Ukraine. Moscow repeatedly denies it is stirring the secessionist drive in a restive border region, but in a matter of days Russians have slipped into two senior positions in the organisation that calls itself the Donetsk People’s Republic.
On the weekend, reporters were summoned to a hotel in Donetsk, where rebels occupy key buildings but do not control the city, to meet the man they were told was prime minister of the breakaway enclave.
Describing himself as a "professional consultant", a thickset Aleksandr Borodai, 41, introduced himself as a Russian citizen who recently had worked in Crimea, explaining he had helped to manage Russia’s annexation of the strategic Black Sea peninsula.
“In essence, I am what can be called a professional consultant,” he said, according to a report from the gathering. “I have resolved all kinds of complicated conflict situations. For that reason, personally speaking, my specialisation was what was needed here.”
Mr Borodai’s appointment, apparently by the body that calls itself the people’s parliament, was announced days after the man who has regularly featured as the leader of the breakaway, Denis Pushilin, announced a new "main commander" had been appointed by the movement. He was talking about Igor Girkin, whose nom de guerre is Strelkov, meaning "the gunman", whose face now adorns pro-secessionist billboards on highways in the east of the country.
Mr Girkin was on the airwaves on the weekend, too, pleading for locals to volunteer as fighters. But while people in the east are willing to vote "yes" in big numbers in a secession referendum, it seems they are less willing to put their lives on the line.
"For over a month now, we, a small group of volunteers from Russia and Ukraine, responding to calls for help, came to Donbas to counter the Ukrainian army,” he said. "If men are not willing, we have no other option than to call up women.
"I would have expected there would have been at least 1000 men willing to risk their lives not just in their home towns but on the frontlines."
He said many who asked to be issued weapons merely wanted to protect their homes.
With just a week to go before a presidential election that the rebels claim will not proceed on their territory, the less daring business of simply attending a secessionist rally drew just a few hundred in Donetsk on Sunday.
Given Moscow’s efforts to portray the breakaway movement as home-grown in Ukraine, one of the mysteries of the crisis is a video interview Mr Girkin gave to a Russian news crew last month. Dressed in combat fatigues, he explained matter-of-factly that he had come to the eastern part of Ukraine, bringing his men from Crimea, which Russia annexed in March and only belatedly acknowledged that its troops were on the ground there.
He further undermined claims about the strength of anti-Kiev sentiment in the east, saying: "The [secessionist] militia is, of course, strongly sprinkled with volunteers from other regions," before estimating that as many as two-thirds of the rebel fighters were not locals. In a subsequent interview, he backtracked, arguing that locals accounted for 90 per cent of his force.
"The unit that I came to Slaviansk with was put together in Crimea. I'm not going to hide that," Mr Girkin told the Moscow-based Komsomolskaya Pravda tabloid, referring to the one town in the Donetsk district that is under rebel control. "It was formed by volunteers - I would say half or two-thirds of them are citizens of Ukraine."
The story Russian citizen the new PM in breakaway Ukrainian enclave first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.