A Russian newspaper has published what it says is a strategy document calling for Russia to annex Crimea and absorb other parts of Ukraine that was presented to Kremlin leaders in early February 2014, shortly before Ukraine's pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych was forced from power.
The independent weekly Novaya Gazeta posted an abridged version of the document on its website Tuesday. It calls it an "analytical note" presumably presented to the Russian administration between February 4-15, 2014.
“The V. Yanukovych regime finally went bankrupt. For the Russian Federation to continue to support it politically, diplomatically, financially and informationally no longer makes any sense,” the paper says, citing the alleged internal document.
The document also warns that Russia risked "losing not just the Ukrainian energy market, but what is much more dangerous, even indirect control over Ukraine's gas transport [pipeline] system."
The document says this would jeopardize the position of Russia's giant gas producer Gazrpom in central and southern Europe, causing "huge damage" to the Russian economy.
Yanukovych, following months of protests against his government, fled Ukraine for Russia on February 22.
According to the document, in addition to Crimea, which Russia annexed in March, Moscow singled out regions which already had strong business ties and some political leanings towards Russia.
“Russia… should [at first] attempt to enter into cross-border cooperation agreements and then establish direct inter-government relations with those Ukrainian territories, where there is stable pro-Russian electoral support,” the document says.
It adds that while incorporating these territories into Russia would burden the country's economy, the gain would be "invaluable" from "a geopolitical point of view," given that Moscow would "gain access to new demographic resources" and "highly qualified personnel in industry and transport.”
According to the document, the "industrial potential of eastern Ukraine," including its "military-industrial sector incorporated into the military-industrial complex of Russia," would help Russia re-equip its armed forces "better and more quickly.”
“A PR-campaign in Russian and Ukrainian media should lay the groundwork for these events,” the document added.
A NATO military official declined to comment directly.
"But it comes as no surprise to NATO that Russia has been directly involved in destabilizing military activities in Ukraine and Crimea from the outset,” he said.
Following the annexation of Crimea, Russia, as Kyiv and many Western government claim, orchestrated and continues to support separatist rebellions in Ukraine’s east seen as part of efforts to destabilize the country.
More than 5,600 people have died in the resulting conflict.
In an interview Saturday with Radio Ekho Moskvy, Novaya Gazeta editor Dmitry Muratov said he is certain of the document's authenticity. He added that Konstantin Malofeyev, a Russian financier and philanthropist with close ties to the Russian Orthodox Church, was one of those involved in preparing it.
Kyiv has accused Malofeyev of financing the rebels in eastern Ukraine. He is among those subject to Western sanctions, including a travel ban and asset freeze, for involvement in the Ukraine crisis. In an interview last year, Malofeyev called Ukraine "an artificial creation on the ruins of the Russian Empire."
Novaya Gazeta quoted Malofeyev's press office as categorically denying involvement in preparing the document and saying the businessman plans to challenge the claim in court.
A NATO official said, “NATO does not have any comment on the forthcoming publication of an alleged Kremlin strategy document. But it comes to no surprise to NATO that Russia has been directly involved in destabilizing military activities in Ukraine and Crimea from the outset.”
VOA National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.