Alexander Borodai, a Russian citizen from Moscow, emerged last week as the new leader of the separatist rebellion in Donetsk region.
He took power at a critical moment when Ukraine’s army had won its first significant victory by retaking Donetsk airport - only five miles from Mr Borodai’s headquarters in the regional administration building in the city centre.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Mr Borodai said there was an “extremely great” danger of an offensive by Ukraine’s army and its controlling “oligarchs” to recapture the city of 1 million people.
“But I can’t answer this question exactly, since I can’t get into the heads of the Ukrainian generals and the other oligarchic rulers,” he said.
In the face of this threat, Mr Borodai described how he was reorganising the separatist defence of Donetsk.
The barricades made from old tyres which once surrounded the regional administration building have been swept away, replaced by a new chain of defences on the city’s perimeter.
“This building is of no importance in terms of defence,” explained Mr Borodai.
“These barricades had such an importance a very long time ago - and presently they are only of symbolic significance. Now the defence of the city is being built on a more serious level. And serious and well-organised checkpoints and strongpoints and knots of defence - all these will be ready to repulse the enemy’s attack.”
“They are organised in such a way so as to reduce the amount of losses among peaceful citizens,” he added.
The rebel fighters themselves are visibly better equipped than they were only two weeks ago.
Once, the men on the barricades often possessed nothing more formidable than old shotguns and hunting rifles.
Instead of having a military bearing, they tended to wear shoddy jeans and black balaclavas.
Today, by contrast, rebels on the perimeter defences have gleaming AK-47 assault rifles and modern sniper rifles with telescopic sights.
They wear proper camouflage and some have been photographed with shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles.
Mr Borodai denied that Russia was supplying the weapons, claiming instead that all the new equipment had come from old Soviet arms dumps.
“We buy our uniforms, which are in sufficient amount in Ukraine,” he said.
“And you know, there is even more weaponry now in Ukraine. I remind you that there are quite a large number of ammunition depots in the territory of Kiev military district.
The Soviet Union was preparing for the war with the West - that’s why there is such a large amount of weaponry amassed.”
Mr Borodai jokingly claiming that some of his men were doing their best with vintage weaponry.
“To tell you the truth,” he said, “this fact adds a pinch of exoticism to our units, since, for example, the carbines which we come across very often were taken away from the Soviet army about thirty or forty years ago. But they are operating now. There are some machine guns from the Second World War - and mortars from the period prior to the War, from the 1930s. These weapons are almost 100 years old.”
Mr Borodai makes no secret of being a Muscovite.
How he suddenly emerged at the helm of a pro-Russian rebellion in Ukraine is unclear.
Improbable though it may sound, he has passed from being a consultant to a Russian investment fund to “prime minister” of a “People’s Republic”.
But the known facts of his biography make this transformation less mysterious.
Mr Borodai was one of a circle of ardent Russian nationalists who worked for the far-right “Zavtra” newspaper in the 1990s.
He took part in the rebellion in Moldova which carved out the enclave of Transdniestria for the country’s Russian minority.
Earlier this year, he was in Crimea as an adviser to Sergei Aksyonov, the separatist prime minister who oversaw the territory’s annexation by Russia.
So Mr Borodai has long experience of carving out secure enclaves for Russians who found themselves becalmed in former Soviet republics after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
By his account, he came to Ukraine at the invitation of Igor Strelkov, another Russian citizen now believed to be commanding rebel forces in the town of Slavyansk, 70 miles north of Donetsk.
Mr Strelkov appears on a European Union sanctions list, where he is described as being on the “staff” of Russia’s military intelligence service, the GRU.
Some have interpreted Mr Borodai’s arrival as a further sign of Russia strengthening its control over the Donetsk rebellion.
But the “prime minister” says that he is nothing more than a volunteer, no different from many other volunteers who have come from Russia and elsewhere to fight Ukraine’s “neo-fascist” regime.
Asked whether he could build enough military strength to expel Ukrainian forces from Donetsk region, Mr Borodai replied:
“Yes, I guess, we will.”
Then he added: “I think we’ll not just have enough strength to withstand their attack - we will win.”
Source: The Guardian