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June 24, 2017

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Mysterious Russian Mr. Fixit heads Ukraine rebel state after Crimea post

DONETSK, Ukraine--A mysterious "consultant" from Moscow who helped steer through Russia's annexation of Crimea has been appointed prime minister of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic in eastern Ukraine.

"In essence, I am what can be called a professional consultant," the burly Aleksandr Borodai told journalists at his first press conference Saturday in a plush Donetsk hotel.

"I have resolved all kinds of complicated conflict situations," the 41-year-old said. "For that reason, personally speaking, my specialization was what was needed here."

The unshaven Muscovite — who says his expertise is in ethnic conflict — was chosen as premier by the parliament of the Donetsk rebel republic on Thursday just days after it declared independence from Kiev following a disputed referendum and appealed to join Russia.

His appointment will fuel claims that the Kremlin is pulling the strings behind the separatist uprising in east Ukraine but Borodai rejected any links to the Russian authorities.

'Closely connected'

"I am a Russian citizen but I am a private individual so you cannot accuse the Russian government of having a hand in what's going on in the Donetsk People's Republic because of my presence here."

However he freely admitted he had recently been in the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea — which Russia took over in March — working as a "political strategist" and that he saw what was happening in the east of Ukraine as part of the same "geopolitical project."

"The territory of Crimea is quite closely connected to the Donbass and naturally the people who set up these popular movements and were the initiators are the same people, they are connected to each other," he said of the eastern industrial belt encompassing Donetsk and Lugansk.

"So when I finished the work in Crimea I automatically ... came here to work in southeast Ukraine."

Authoritative Russian daily newspaper Vedomosti reported Friday that Borodai worked as an advisor to recently appointed Crimea governor Sergei Aksyonov, who led the region's drive to join Russia.

According to Vedomosti, Borodai — a graduate of the philosophy department of prestigious Moscow State University — has a consultancy in Moscow and worked at a major investment fund.

'Logical choice'

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