Self-proclaimed Donetsk republic names Aleksandr Borodai as leader
Self-declared republic of Donetsk appoints 'Mr Fixit' Aleksandr Borodai as its prime minister
A mysterious "consultant" from Moscow who helped steer through Russia's annexation of Crimea has been appointed prime minister of the self-declared Donetsk republic in eastern Ukraine.
"In essence, I am what can be called a professional consultant," Aleksandr Borodai, 41, said at his first press conference on Saturday in a luxury Donetsk hotel.
"I have resolved all kinds of complicated conflict situations," he said. "For that reason, personally speaking, my specialisation was what was needed here."
Describing his expertise is in ethnic conflict, Borodai 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.
"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," he said.
However, Borodai 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 "geo-political project".
Authoritative Russian daily newspaper Vedomosti reported on Friday that Borodai worked as an adviser to recently appointed Crimea Governor Sergei Aksyonov, who led the region's drive to join Russia.
According to Vedomosti, Borodai, a graduate of the prestigious Moscow State University, has a consultancy in Moscow and worked at a major investment fund.
Borodai said he still lived in Moscow and that he would be in Donetsk "for as long as is necessary".
Others in the rebel leadership said he was chosen precisely because he was an outsider.
"Donetsk is politically cut off so it is difficult to find someone who is not too associated with one group or the other," the rebel state's deputy prime minister, Andrei Porgin, said. "From this point of view the choice of Borodai is logical because he wasn't connected to anyone too closely."
Whether Borodai is really in charge of the disparate and often chaotic rebels running the self-proclaimed republic is far from sure.
Many argue that the rebel state's new defence minister, Igor Strelkov, a shadowy figure who the Ukrainian secret service has accused of being a Russian military intelligence agent, was really the man in control. Strelkov denies this, saying he is Crimean.
Yelena Blokha, a spokeswoman for the separatist government, said that Strelkov and Borodai had "friendly relations" but said she did not know whether they knew each other from Crimea or had met before.
Borodai, who once reportedly edited a Russian nationalist newspaper, has also faced allegations of being connected to Russia's security establishment.