Donetsk People's Republic leader Alexander Borodai has his own style

Leader of self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic has his own style

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 July, 2014, 1:22am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 July, 2014, 1:22am

In a diplomatic world of blow-dried coifs and pressed Italian suits, Alexander Borodai stands out. His round face is perpetually patched in scruff, and, clad in grunge clothing, he always looks as if he just left a Pearl Jam concert.

This week, he presided before a throng of microphones at a news conference in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, wearing a blue denim coat, black undershirt and a look of alarm. He had reason to be concerned: A preponderance of evidence suggests that pro-Russian separatists used a Russian-obtained missile launcher to shoot down the Malaysia Airlines plane last week, killing everyone aboard and eliciting global condemnation.

As investigators sift through what happened and who did what, this relatively unknown and very unpolished leader of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic has quickly become one of the most important figures in the international tragedy. As the self-styled prime minister of the republic, he's the one who has controlled the fate of the black boxes that investigators said were vital to piecing together what happened.

On Tuesday morning, Borodai brandished the black boxes in a room jammed with journalists inside the republic's headquarters. He placed the boxes on the table. "Here they are, the black boxes," he said, handing them over to Malaysian experts.

The theatrics of the morning were only the latest in what has been a frenetic few days for Borodai, who just months ago was a Russian political activist and consultant.

On CNN, he delivered one of the more unusual interviews by any self-styled head of state, saying the crime scene was an object of "black humour". Borodai was in denim. The interviewer was hammering him over some of the evidence linking the plane crash to pro-Russian separatists. Borodai's eyes just rolled into the back of his head. He threw his head back and a pained look came over his face. "It is very simple to disprove," he said. "All the information that comes through the internet in my opinion is practically all lies."

Borodai may not be the smoothest operator, but he says he's experienced at handling conflict. "In essence, I am what can be called a professional consultant," the 41-year-old Muscovite told reporters at his first Donetsk news conference in May. "I have resolved all kinds of complicated situations. For that reason, personally speaking, my specialisation was what was needed here."

He's often accused of having ties to the Russian government - being a Russian - but Borodai denies that. "I am a Russian citizen," he said. "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."