Ukrainian Lawmaker Publishes Proposal to Recognize Circassian ‘Genocide’

Valery Dzutsev
Eurasia Daily Monitor | July 14, 2014 – Volume: 11 Issue: 127

Oleg Lyashko, the outspoken deputy of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, published on the parliament’s official website his legislative proposal to recognize the 19th century Circassian “genocide” (Verkhovna Rada Ukraini, July 1). The proposal cites, by way of justification provided by the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide from 1948, “criminal acts of the oppressive Tsarist regime of the former Russian Empire,” historical justice, similarities between the tragic fate of Ukrainian people and other oppressed peoples, and the Kabardino-Balkarian parliament’s 1992 condemnation of the “genocide” of Circassians during the Russian-Caucasian war (Adyge Heku, July 9).

Apart from initiating deliberations on recognizing the Russian Empire’s “genocide” of the Circassians, the legislative project proposes recommending that the Ukrainian government implement a range of supplementary but highly visible measures. In particular, the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences and the Ukrainian Institute for National Memory would be encouraged to participate in organizing an international scientific conference on the “colonial policies of the Russian Empire in the Caucasus in the period from 1763 to 1864 and the crimes committed against the indigenous peoples of the Caucasus.” The conference would be expected to supply the Verkhovna Rada with the relevant historical, political and legal evidence, as well as recommendations. The parliamentary committees on human rights, culture, legal issues and foreign affairs are expected to hold hearings on the issue of recognizing the Circassian “genocide” and pass on their recommendations (Adyge Heku, July 9).

Earlier, several groups of Circassian and other activists appealed to the Ukrainian authorities to recognize the Circassian “genocide.” Subsequently, Circassian activists from the North Caucasus were summoned by the police and questioned. Not surprisingly, Circassians overwhelmingly support recognition of the Circassian “genocide” by Ukraine. In a poll taken by a website, 82 percent of the thousand people who voted supported such a move by Ukraine and only 15 percent opposed it (Adyge Heku, June 16).

By considering recognition of the Circassian “genocide,” Ukraine has created an entirely new situation in the North Caucasus, with the Circassians, unlike the vast majority of the country’s population, starting to oppose Russian support for separatists in eastern Ukraine. A similar but less pronounced sentiment can be found in other areas of the North Caucasus. The unrest in Ukraine has practically contributed to the further separation of the North Caucasus from the rest of Russian Federation, as some North Caucasians—in particular, the Circassians—clearly believe a Russian victory in the conflict in Ukraine would not be to their benefit. Ukraine, in turn, realizes that despite the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation remains a multinational empire with many oppressed and voiceless minorities. Given the strained relations between Ukraine and Russia, and aggressive Russian actions toward Ukraine, the Ukrainian government is naturally inclined to divide the ranks of its opponent by supporting the aggrieved groups. Apart from the war rhetoric and stoking fear of foreign enemies, Russia has little to counter the support of foreign actors for its minorities.

A letter from the administration of the president of Ukraine to one of the people who petitioned the Ukrainian government once again emphasized the seriousness of the Ukrainian government about possibly recognizing the Circassian “genocide.” Dr. Karden Murat Yildirim received a letter from the Ukrainian presidential administration which confirmed that Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Ministry had already made a preliminary assessment of the issue. The Ukrainian presidential administration expects the country’s parliament will consider all of the available evidence to arrive at a well-founded decision regarding recognition of the Circassian “genocide” (Natpress, July 9).

One of the ways Russia has tried to counter Circassian political activism is by creating puppet non-governmental organizations (NGO) that are Circassian in name, but in practice represent only the interests of the Russian government. However, one such organization, the International Circassian Association (ICA)—created by the Russian security services following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 for the purposes of controlling and infiltrating Circassian diaspora organizations in the West—was recently exposed in its bid to win a government grant to combat other domestic Circassian organizations. Now, Moscow may find it increasingly hard to use puppet NGOs like the ICA in its efforts to subdue Circassian activism. As one of the Circassian activists, Andzor Kabard, noted: “The anti-Circassian activities of the ICA have been known for a while. This organization is heavily controlled by the Russian security services and Russian bureaucrats that are recruited from among the Circassians and dispatched to Circassia by Moscow. This organization works exclusively for the neutralization of the Circassian movement and for providing support for the network of Russian agents in the countries where Circassians are present” (, July 8).

Kabard also cast doubt on the genuineness of the primary partner of the ICA in Turkey, the Federation of the Caucasian Associations in Turkey (KAFFED). According to the Circassian activist, the ICA and KAFFED held a joint meeting to counter Ukraine’s possible recognition of the Circassian “genocide.” The ICA argued that only it could represent Circassians worldwide, and no one else apart from it can ask for a recognition of the Circassian “genocide.” The other argument was that everything concerning Circassians was an internal Russian affair. Kabard wrote that the Russian state “failed to open the way home in Circassia to the Syrian Circassians, spit in the face of Circassians at the Olympics in Sochi 2014 and, using the ICA and KAFFED, stole an entire generation of Circassians, paralyzing their activities. Now it is trying to steal the second generation, which is perhaps the last still capable of making up a united nation” (, July 8).

As Ukraine becomes increasingly interested in the Circassian issue, the stakes rise significantly. Ukraine is not only one of the biggest neighboring countries, but it also has substantial expertise in how the Russian government machine works and how to deal with it. The Circassians, in turn, may potentially receive an invaluable friend that can provide real assistance to them and offset the loss of Tbilisi’s support for their cause, which originated with the former government of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. Now the cause of the Circassians appears to be quietly gaining some level of traction and increased backing among the Ukrainian political elite as evidenced by the support of Ukrainian lawmaker Oleg Lyashko. The initiative may have been inspired by Russia’s recruitment and deployment of fighters of North Caucasian origin to eastern Ukraine. This move by Moscow caused a great deal of outrage among many in Ukraine, and it may now come back to haunt Russian President Vladimir Putin.


Ruslan Kutayev: Chechen human rights activist

Maria Klimova
openDemocracy | 11 July 2014

Ruslan Kutayev, human rights activist, has been sentenced to four years imprisonment in Chechnya for possession of heroin. His fellow campaigners are convinced that the charges were false.

On Monday 7 July, a court in the Chechen town of Urus Martan, found Ruslan Kutayev guilty of unlawfully procuring and possessing heroin with no intent to sell; and sentenced him to four years in a minimum-security labour camp. Presiding judge Aleksander Dubkov also banned the 56-year-old president of the NGO ‘Assembly of Peoples of the Caucasus,’ and member of the political council of the ‘Alliance of Greens and Social-Democrats,’ from engaging in any public activity for a year after the end of his sentence.

Arrest and beating

Ruslan Kutayev was arrested on 20 February 2014, outside the house of relatives, in the hamlet of Gekhi. According to the Interior Ministry, a crime-prevention operation was being run at the time in the village, and the patrol detained Kutayev, whose behaviour struck them as ‘odd.’ When they searched him, they found three grammes of an unknown powder substance in his trouser pocket. Kutayev was taken in for further investigation.

Ruslan Kutayev has been sentenced to four years in a prison camp. Photo CC: youtube

‘For a long time we didn’t know where Ruslan was, who had taken him, and where,’ said his brother Shirvani. ‘We only knew he had been arrested outside our relatives’ house, in his slippers – they were just sitting down to supper. Several cars drove into the courtyard; then masked men came in to the house and took my brother away. It was only late that night that we discovered he was at the police station at Urus Martan,’ Later, the investigators informed him that Kutayev had confessed to possessing heroin. A day after that, he was taken for medical testing. After several attempts, they apparently found codeine and morphine in his urine.

His brother managed to get to see Ruslan when he was in the police station: ‘he had broken ribs and had been badly beaten. He seemed very low.’ Later, in March, the doctors discovered that Kutayev had two broken ribs and the lawyers recorded many bruises, a large hematoma on his back and in the chest area.

Relatives are in no doubt that the officers had beaten Kutayev, to try and get him to confess, though he denied this at the bail hearing on 24 February. Kutayev confessed that he had found the package with the three grammes of heroin in a taxi on the way back from Pyatigorsk, and had put it in his pocket quite consciously.

Upsetting the President

Kutayev’s arrest did not cause much of a stir in the Chechen Republic; it did, however, attract the attention of Russian human rights campaigners. Igor Kalyapin, head of the Committee against Torture, was the first to publicise the charges against Kutayev. He pointed out that two days before the arrest, Kutayev, among others, had taken part in an adademic conference in Grozny’s Central Library. This was to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the deportation of Chechens and Ingush; other participants included Chechen WWII veterans, Deputies of the republican parliament, academics and historians. The anniversary is usually commemorated on 23 February, but this year, President Kadyrov decreed that the date should be changed to 10 May, the anniversary of the burial of his father Akhmad Kadyrov.

Ignoring the decision of the Chechen President, Kutayev convened the conference on 18 February, and, in so doing, according to Kalyapin, fell foul of the head of the Presidential Administration, Magomed Daudov. Several of the people involved in the conference were called to a meeting with Daudov, who expressed his dissatisfaction at what had taken place. Kutayev was telephoned and ‘invited’ to attend, but refused, saying that he did not have to take orders from the head of the Presidential Administration; and he was too busy to attend.

‘After the conference, Ruslan rang me and several others in Moscow. He was sure he would be arrested quite soon because of his refusal to meet Daudov, said Kalyapin. ‘He called me from his relatives in the village to say he was being followed. Two hours later he had been arrested.’ Soon after the arrest, Kalyapin managed to get to see Kutayev in the Urus-Martan police station, where he confirmed the many hematomas and bruises on Kutayev’s body.

Kalyapin’s preliminary investigations led him to declare that the case was politically motivated and the charges trumped up. The Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, reacted very quickly to this statement: at a meeting in the Public Chamber he stated in his usual brusque manner that Kalyapin was involved in dubious financial dealings and even in aiding and abetting terrorist activities in the republic.

‘I emphasised that no one on earth is more interested in protecting the rights of Chechens. Our first President [Kadyrov’s father], Hero of Russia Akhmad-khadzhi Kadyrov and thousands of his supporters, paid with their lives for these rights. At the same time, however, some people in Chechnya are trying to make a career out of human rights and have their own agenda,’ said Kadyrov. According to him, Kalyapin is ‘trying to persuade some Ruslan Kutayev or other to give false evidence.’

This is not the first time that Kadyrov has attacked Kalyapin and his committee, criticising him and it for offering legal assistance to victims of torture, which they have been doing since 1995. ‘We have our own human rights campaigners, who can raise any questions with the Government and defend the legal rights of Chechen citizens; they have no need of any Kalyapins,’ was the conclusion of the President.

The Ombudsman

The next person to speak of the Kutayev case was the Chechen Ombudsman Nurdi Nukhazhiyev. He explained that as soon as he heard about Kutayev’s arrest, he tasked his subordinates with discovering both the circumstances and the reason for the detention. He said he had spoken to Kutayev alone, and could reveal that the prisoner had no complaints about his rights being infringed or the conditions of his detention.

‘I can see no reason for getting excited about this case, but those that are making the fuss are certainly working against Kutayev’s interests. The situation is being artificially hyped by some people who are pretending to be energetically engaged in human rights activities, but are really only interested in self-promotion,’ said Nukhazhiyev. He undertook to keep tabs on the investigation, and to react immediately if he considered this to be necessary.

Dressed in white, Chechen Ombudsman Nurdi Nukhazhiyev (far right) attends a session with Putin on human rights in Russia

The trial

The investigation of the charges against Kutayev was completed fairly rapidly: the investigators only took two months to prepare the indictment, and on 25 April the trial began.

The police who had taken part in his arrest were called as witnesses. During the trial, Igor Kalyapin more than once pointed out the inconsistencies and contradictions in their evidence. One of the witnesses said that Kutayev had attracted their attention because he was ‘unsteady on his feet, though standing in one place, and in some kind of agitation.’ This led the officers to suspect that he was on drugs. However, Kutayev was only taken for medical examination the day after he was arrested. Kalyapin’s suspicions were also aroused by the fact that during questioning many of the policemen asked the judge to read out to them the statements they had made earlier, during the investigation.

On 2 June, while on the stand, the neurologist who had examined Kutayev, said that she did not know who had entered into her signed statement the ‘fact’ that codeine and morphine had been found in his urine. She said that she had made no probe sampling for analysis, and that she herself had not been in charge of the laboratory investigation; who had done it and when she did not know. Kutayev himself explained at the trial that he had been compelled to confess under torture.

‘I was taken to Daudov. He and Alaudinov (Deputy Interior Minister) beat me viciously in the presence of their bodyguards,’ said Kutayev, during one of the court sessions, ‘I don’t think this was only personal animosity towards me, however, and it is by no means the main reason for the fabrication of criminal charges and the subsequent criminal proceedings.’ In his opinion the case against him is only one of the many examples of Russian officials and siloviki (officers from the uniformed ministries) settling scores with their political opponents in Russia.

‘The false accusation against me of illegal possession of drugs is, first and foremost, to do with my political activities. They are using intimidation to make an example of me so as to scare off other people in the same field, who dare to criticise the Chechen authorities.’

‘Lord’ Daudov

Magomed Daudov, head of the Presidential Administration, is well known in Chechnya as a former soldier with the codename ‘Lord.’ Two weeks before the trial, he expressed his intention of personally attending it.

‘I heard that during the last session my name gave rise to laughter. I am not working in a circus, and therefore do not take kindly to anyone ridiculing my name.’ He stressed that he had neither beaten Kutayev nor detained him. He also assured the judge that he was not personally acquainted with the defendant, had never met him and, contrary to what the defence had said, had only spoken with him once on the telephone. Daudov even asked the court to show mercy towards the accused on the grounds that anyone can make a mistake.

‘I do not support violent measures against someone who has made one mistake,’ said Daudov, ’I know our prison service, how people are held and in what shape they come out of prison. Unfortunately, anyone who receives a ten-year sentence will definitely suffer. Prison does not bring them to their senses and they are, therefore, ruined.’

In Russia, the penalty for possession of drugs in large quantities without intent to sell is from three to ten years. The prosecution called for Kutayev to be given five years. The court sentence was four years in a prison camp.


Kutayev’s arrest has attracted the attention of human rights campaigners inside Russia and abroad. In Russia, the human rights watchdog ‘Memorial’ designated Ruslan Kutayev a political prisoner. Memorial is sure that the case bears all the hallmarks of falsification: their suspicions were aroused, among other things, by the evidence of the policemen during the trial. Interior Ministry officials were unable to explain where the order had come from to carry out a crime-prevention operation in the village of Gekhi; and no documents on this subject were made available to the court.

In the opinion of the international organisation Human Rights Watch, the Russian authorities must immediately release Ruslan Kutayev. Hugh Williamson, director of the HRW Europe & Central Asia Division expressed his support thus: ‘The arrest of Ruslan Kutayev and his appalling treatment have unambiguously reminded us that it is better not to criticise the regime in Chechnya. The atmosphere of fear is so strong in the republic that few dare to protest any matter at all to Kadyrov.’

Novaya Gazeta journalist Yelena Milashina, who has been following the case, regards the Kutayev case as the first political trial in today’s Chechnya. ‘I was present at practically every session of the trial in Grozny, and I am absolutely convinced that the legal investigation was falsified from start to finish. The barrister for Kutayev completely demolished all the accusations against him, although the court totally ignored his conclusions, thus only emphasising the weakness of the verdict.’ She is sure that Daudov attended the trial of his own volition solely with the intention of scaring everyone involved, and demonstrating his strength.

‘It’s the first time that such a high-ranking silovik (bureaucrat) has wanted to be called as a witness at a trial. All the better – now his surname will remind everyone of the scandalous sentence imposed on Kutayev,’ she says. His relatives and friends point out the inconsistency of the charge against him – he could not bear cigarettes or alcohol, so how much more intolerant would he have been of drugs?

It is important to remember that there was no criminal episode, as Igor Kalyapin points out. ‘No one found heroin on Kutayev because he was not searched; he was detained at home by armed men. All the documentation materialised later on. We tried to prove this in court. We had only to ask for the phone records of the policemen who apparently arrested him but who were not actually in Gekhi on that day; and, indeed, Kutayev’s own records, to see that he hadn’t been to Pyatigorsk that day. So he didn’t come back in a taxi and didn’t find a package,’ says Kalyapin. Notwithstanding, he considers that the chances of the appeal court finding in favour of Kutayev, and reducing the sentence are virtually nil.

‘I’m sure that the appeal court too will be doing the will of the Chechen Government,’ he says. As for the officials’ part in Kutayev’s beating, he is absolutely convinced that everything happened exactly as Kutayev said. But, ‘It is extremely unlikely that the case will ever be investigated.’

NATO enlargement and Russia: myths and realities

Michael Rühle
NATO Review | July 2014

In his address to the Russian Parliament on 18 April 2014, in which President Putin justified the annexation of the Crimea, he stressed the humiliation Russia had suffered due to many broken promises by the West, including the alleged promise not to enlarge NATO beyond the borders of a reunited Germany. Putin touched a responsive chord among his audience. For more than 20 years the narrative of the alleged “broken promise” of not enlarging NATO eastward is part and parcel of Russia’s post-Soviet identity. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that this narrative has resurfaced in the context of the Ukraine crisis. Dwelling on the past remains the most convenient tool to distract from the present.

But is there any truth to these claims? Over recent years countless records and other archival material has become available, allowing historians to go beyond the interviews or autobiographies of those political leaders who were in power during the crucial developments between the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the Soviet acceptance of a reunified Germany in NATO in July 1990. Yet even these additional sources do not change the fundamental conclusion: there have never been political or legally binding commitments of the West not to extend NATO beyond the borders of a reunified Germany. That such a myth could nevertheless emerge should not come as a surprise, however. The rapid pace of political change at the Cold War’s end produced its fair share of confusion. It was a time where legends could easily emerge.

The origins of the myth of the “broken promise” lie in the unique political situation in which the key political actors found themselves in 1990, and which shaped their ideas about the future European order. Former USSR leader, Mikhail Gorbachev’s reform policies had long spun out of control, the Baltic countries were demanding independence, and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe were showing signs of upheaval. The Berlin Wall had fallen; Germany was on the road to reunification. However, the Soviet Union still existed, as did the Warsaw Pact, who’s Central and Eastern European member countries did not talk about joining NATO, but rather about the “dissolution of the two blocks”.

Thus, the debate about the enlargement of NATO evolved solely in the context of German reunification. In these negotiations Bonn and Washington managed to allay Soviet reservations about a reunited Germany remaining in NATO. This was achieved by generous financial aid, and by the “2+4 Treaty” ruling out the stationing of foreign NATO forces on the territory of the former East Germany. However, it was also achieved through countless personal conversations in which Gorbachev and other Soviet leaders were assured that the West would not take advantage of the Soviet Union’s weakness and willingness to withdraw militarily from Central and Eastern Europe.

It is these conversations that may have left some Soviet politicians with the impression that NATO enlargement, which started with the admission of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland in 1999, had been a breach of these Western commitments. Some statements of Western politicians – particularly German Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich Genscher and his American counterpart James A. Baker – can indeed be interpreted as a general rejection of any NATO enlargement beyond East Germany. However, these statements were made in the context of the negotiations on German reunification, and the Soviet interlocutors never specified their concerns. In the crucial “2+4” negotiations, which finally led Gorbachev to accept a unified Germany in NATO in July 1990, the issue was never raised. As former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze later put it, the idea of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact dissolving and NATO taking in former Warsaw Pact members was beyond the imagination of the protagonists at the time.

Yet even if one were to assume that Genscher and others had indeed sought to forestall NATO’s future enlargement with a view to respecting Soviet security interests, they could never have done so. The dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the end of the Soviet Union in 1991 later created a completely new situation, as the countries of Central and Eastern Europe were finally able to assert their sovereignty and define their own foreign and security policy goals. As these goals centered on integration with the West, any categorical refusal of NATO to respond would have meant the de facto continuation of Europe’s division along former Cold War lines. The right to choose one’s alliance, enshrined in the 1975 Helsinki Charter, would have been denied – an approach that the West could never have sustained, neither politically nor morally.

The NATO enlargement conundrum

Does the absence of a promise not to enlarge NATO mean that the West never had any obligations vis-à-vis Russia? Did the enlargement policy of Western institutions therefore proceed without taking Russian interests into account? Again, the facts tell a different story. However, they also demonstrate that the twin goals of admitting Central and Eastern European countries into NATO while at the same time developing a “strategic partnership” with Russia were far less compatible in practice than in theory.

When the NATO enlargement debate started in earnest around 1993, due to mounting pressure from countries in Central and Eastern Europe, it did so with considerable controversy. Some academic observers in particular opposed admitting new members into NATO, as this would inevitably antagonise Russia and risk undermining the positive achievements since the end of the Cold War. Indeed, ever since the beginning of NATO’s post-Cold War enlargement process, the prime concern of the West was how to reconcile this process with Russian interests. Hence, NATO sought early on to create a cooperative environment that was conducive for enlargement while at the same time building special relations with Russia. In 1994 the “Partnership for Peace” programme established military cooperation with virtually all countries in the Euro-Atlantic area. In 1997 the NATO-Russia Founding Act established the Permanent Joint Council as a dedicated framework for consultation and cooperation. In 2002, as Allies were preparing the next major round of NATO enlargement, the NATO-Russia Council was established, giving the relationship more focus and structure. These steps were in line with other attempts by the international community to grant Russia its rightful place: Russia was admitted to the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the G7 and the World Trade Organisation.

The need to avoid antagonising Russia was also evident in the way NATO enlargement took place in the military realm. As early as 1996, Allies declared that in the current circumstances they had “no intention, no plan, and no reason to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new members”. These statements were incorporated into the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, together with similar references regarding substantial combat forces and infrastructure. This “soft” military approach to the enlargement process was supposed to signal to Russia that the goal of NATO enlargement was not Russia’s military “encirclement”, but the integration of Central and Eastern Europe into an Atlantic security space. In other words, the method was the message.

Russia never interpreted these developments as benignly as NATO hoped. For Russian Foreign Minister Primakov, the signing of the NATO-Russia Founding Act in 1997 was merely “damage limitation”: As Russia had no means to stop NATO enlargement, it might as well take whatever the Allies were willing to offer, even at the risk of appearing to acquiesce in the enlargement process. The fundamental contradiction of all NATO-Russia bodies ‒ that Russia was at the table and could co-decide, but could not veto, on key issues ‒ could not be overcome.

However, these institutional weaknesses paled against the background of real political conflicts. NATO’s military intervention in the Kosovo crisis was interpreted in Moscow as a geopolitical coup by a West that was bent on marginalising Russia’s status as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. NATO’s missile defence approach, though directed at third countries, was interpreted by Moscow as an attempt to undermine Russia’s nuclear second strike capability. Worse, the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine and the “Rose Revolution” in Georgia brought to power elites who envisioned the future of their respective countries in the EU and NATO.

Against this background, Western arguments about the benevolence of NATO enlargement never had – and probably never will have – much traction. Appealing to Russia to acknowledge the benign nature of NATO’s enlargement misses a most essential point: NATO enlargement ‒ as well as the enlargement of the European Union ‒ is designed as a continental unification project. It therefore does not have an “end point” that could be convincingly defined either intellectually or morally. In other words, precisely because the two organisations’ respective enlargement processes are not intended as anti-Russian projects, they are open-ended and – paradoxically – are bound to be perceived by Russia as a permanent assault on its status and influence. As long as Russia shirks an honest debate about why so many of its neighbors seek to orient themselves towards the West, this will not change – and the NATO-Russia relationship will remain haunted by myths of the past instead of looking to the future.

Ukraine and the problem of local warlords

Kimberly Marten
The Washington Post | May 5, 2014

The following is a guest post from Barnard College and Columbia University political scientist Kimberly Marten.

A photographer takes a picture of an armed man in military fatigues standing guard outside the security service (SBU) regional building seized by the separatists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/ AFP-Getty Images)

Amidst all the talk of whether the Russian or Ukrainian government bears greater responsibility for the violence in eastern Ukraine and Odessa, we may be losing sight of a crucial dynamic that is happening on the ground.  Local armed men in Donetsk, Luhansk, Odessa and elsewhere have started down the slippery slope to warlordism — and Moscow may be encouraging this trend.

Warlords, as I discuss in my 2012 book of that same name, are individuals who control small slices of territory using a combination of force and patronage.  They are distinct from rebels, because their goal is not really to overthrow a government.  Instead they often cooperate and collude with weak, corrupt, or frightened state employees (including bureaucrats and security forces) to maintain their local control.  While they may have ideologies and passions, warlords are fundamentally self-interested: What they want more than anything else is to stay in a position of power, so they can coerce and blackmail their opponents while controlling payouts to their allies and clients.

Warlords are not just machine-boss politicians, because they are backed by private militias that are willing to go to war to keep them in control.  And while they are sometimes popular, and good at distributing the wealth to their communities, warlords rely on illegal activities like smuggling and informal financial links with outside players—not local taxes—for their resources. This latter point is crucial, because as Margaret Levi points out in her classic book, “Of Rule and Revenue,” taxation over the long-term works only when it is matched by accountability to the people.  Otherwise tax collectors face constant rebellion (as we know from the history of the American Revolution).  A warlord doesn’t have to worry about accountability — just about keeping down local challengers.

Warlords rise up any time states become too weak to control their own territories.  All nations and all cultures produce people who are willing and able to use force for their own purposes; strong states prosecute those people and put them in prison.  Organized criminals all over the world run “protection” rackets that feed off tacit collusion by corrupt state officials.

At the moment, we do not know much about the individuals who have seized power in eastern and southern Ukraine.  There is good evidence, though, that at least some of them truly are locals and that they do not really constitute rebel forces.  For example, C. J. Chivers and Noah Sneider of the New York Times have profiled a commander named Yuri, who is able to control a militia of 119 fighters in Slovyansk because of his past work as a Soviet Army unit commander in Afghanistan.  Yuri and his men do not seem to have any clear goals — not of leaving Ukraine, joining Russia, or declaring their own independence.  They are not united by ideology, just by their military training and by anger at Ukrainian leaders they consider illegitimate.  It appears that at least some of the local population values the protection they provide, but it is not clear exactly from whom they are protecting that population.  Ukrainian-appointed local police officers apparently cooperate with Yuri’s unofficial militia even as they go about their paid duties, and Yuri’s men claim to have bought at least one anti-tank grenade-launcher from corrupt Ukrainian soldiers.

Kiev has been announcing ever since April 13 that it is launching a major military operation to take back “rebel” held territory in Slovyansk and elsewhere, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has rumbled ominously about his right to intervene to protect the population in what he calls “Novorossiya.”  But the longer that Kiev and Moscow practice what amounts to a military stalemate, the more opportunity local armed actors have to change the actual power balance on the ground.  They can ensure that either the Russian or the Ukrainian state that eventually triumphs will have to bargain with them in the future.

Once ensconced in positions of local power, warlords and their threats of violence are hard to dislodge.  States that want to regain control over their territories have to overcome the corruption that encourages their own employees to collude with the warlords.  They also need fine-grained local intelligence to successfully coerce or buy off warlord support networks.

Buying off a network becomes much harder when it extends to a neighboring capital, and indeed that might be just what Moscow has in mind in this case.  Putin has used local warlords in the past to gain political influence in neighboring Georgia, and continues to cooperate with the warlord Ramzan Kadyrov and his militia to control insurgents in the Russian republic of Chechnya.  (I detail both of these cases in my Warlords book.)  Getting local warlords to do his bidding would be a relatively cheap way for Putin to exercise indirect rule over eastern and southern Ukraine without bearing the costs of military invasion.

Yuri may not be a warlord (at least not yet).  But conditions are ripe for Putin to find willing local strong-men to entice into his own informal patronage network.



Long live the Donetsk People’s Republic!
David Marples
openDemocracy | 8 July 2014

What will ‘Defence Minister’ Strelkov do, now that Slovyansk has been lost? And can he rely on Vladimir Putin?

The loss of Slovyansk to Ukrainian government forces has placed the so-called People’s Republics of Donetsk (DNR) and Luhansk (LNR) in a quandary. Can the war be continued from the main regional centres, and, if so, for how long? Is there a realistic hope of substantial military aid from Russia? Has the balance of power changed irrevocably for the separatist forces? And how should the Ukrainian leaders proceed?

Though the separatist forces, until recently, were far from united, perhaps the clearest enunciation of the priorities of the DNR – the most prominent of the two republics – was provided on June 12 by the press centre of the ‘South-East’ movement, coordinated by Oleg Tsarev. It listed several main objectives, the first of which was the creation of a union state with Russia, which would provide a common security system, contractual relations with Ukraine, and a state with full language rights for all citizens.

The action plan

The action plan envisaged compensation payments by the end of August for families and victims who had suffered ‘from the aggression of the Kiev junta,’ and material assistance for those with destroyed property. It also ‘guaranteed’ the prompt payment of wages, pensions, and social benefits, and proposed to cancel a 200% rise in tariffs for gas, electricity, and public utilities, announced by the government in Kyiv. Wages were to rise in factories owned by oligarchs (most notably those of Rinat Akhmetov), and there would be a transitional period during which Ukrainian institutions would fall under DNR control. The acquisition of Russian citizenship was also to have been permitted.

These policies fall under the heading of federalism as defined by the Russian leadership of Vladimir Putin. Notably they do not include foreign or security policy, in which respect they are not dissimilar to the sort of vision for the Donbas that Mikhail Gorbachev had devised for the former Soviet Union through his abortive Union agreement in 1991. Like Gorbachev’s Union Agreement, they appear to be unworkable.

According to a pro-Russian source, the leaders of the DNR, based in Donetsk, in the face of the sustained attacks from the Ukrainian army, were inclined to reach a compromise that would have signalled the end of the republic. In the view of this same author, the negotiations that took place between the aforementioned Rinat Akhmetov, the renegade leader of the Vostok battalion Aleksandr Khodakovsky, the pro-Putin Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk, and Russian officials such as Vladislav Surkov, the former First Deputy Chairman of the Presidential Administration in Moscow, would have led to the sacrificing of Igor Strelkov, the ‘Defence Minister’ of the DNR; and removed from regional decision-making Aleksey Mozgovoy (leader of the ‘People’s militia’ in Luhansk), and also Pavel Gubarev (‘People’s Governor’ of the DNR). The conciliatory position reflects in part the ‘substantial influence’ of Akhmetov over the Donetsk-based leadership of the DNR.


Strelkov, however, scuttled all these plans, when he arrived in Donetsk over the past weekend, declaring that he wished to put an end to the contradictions – what the above mentioned pro-Russian author called ‘grave digging’ because of its defeatist attitude – and unite all forces under a single command. Prior to that, many assumed that Strelkov would die a hero’s death in the defence of Slovyansk. Instead, according to one source, he departed ‘like Kutuzov,’ a reference to the calculated retreat of the Russian general in the face of Napoleon’s Grande Armée in the war of 1812. His arrival in Donetsk, and assumption of command appears akin to a coup d’état, replacing the hitherto uncoordinated leadership of the DNR.

In an interview with, Strelkov stated that he left Slovyansk to protect the lives of peaceful residents and his militia. In order to cover his retreat, a diversionary attack was organised, but the group commander bungled it, and most of the troops involved perished. Nonetheless, it allowed Strelkov to depart with 90% of his troops and most of his weapons intact. On July 7, he established the Central Military Council, which included all the main field commanders, with himself in the key position as commander of the Donetsk garrison. Shortly afterward, Strelkov appeared in Luhansk for a meeting with Valery Bolotov, the leader of the LNR, to coordinate activities.


The loss of Slovyansk to the DNR forces can hardly be underestimated. It was, as DNR supporters acknowledge, the key point of the breakaway republic’s defensive structure, with over 60 heavy guns in place. By July 7, however, the city had no electricity or water supply, and the ATO (Anti-Terrorist Operation) had disabled the nearby power station at Mykolaivka, with a shell. The retreat appears to have been much less orderly than described. This raises the question of where the DNR goes from here, and how it will be affected by the change of leadership.

Strelkov’s arrival will likely escalate the conflict. He has never made any secret of his commitment to the war, which he perceives as one for the ‘liberation’ of Ukraine, not merely the southeast. Under his command, whatever his difficulties, compromise with Kyiv is highly unlikely. That leaves a major decision to be made by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, namely, whether to continue the attack, thereby raising civilian casualties even further, in order to bring about a united Ukraine. Moreover, what would be Putin’s response to the destruction and ‘occupation’ – from the Russian perspective – of the DNR and LNR?

In an interview with Bloomberg on July 7, Ian Bremmer, head of the Eurasia Foundation, maintained that Putin would not be ‘the loser in Ukraine.’ He (Putin) wants ‘at the very least a federal Ukraine’ with its own foreign and economic policy (as we have noted, this was not on the DNR agenda). For Bremmer, this ‘federalism’ constitutes a ‘red line’ beyond which Putin will not move. It includes ‘Russian’ retention of the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk. Nevertheless, in his view, the Russian President need not rush to attain his goals in southeast Ukraine because the latter is facing an economic crisis that will only get worse as winter approaches, and which has been exacerbated by the high number of migrants coming from the conflict regions of the Donbas.

Strelkov returns to the Russian Civil War as a White Army officer in a military re-enactment. Photo via


Yet the division of forces in the southeast is looking increasingly complex, and many players remain in place, not least Akhmetov, who are looking for a way out. The size of the ‘Novorossiya’ faction, which favours union with Russia, is dwindling. Other than Strelkov’s small band of forces, virtually no one now believes that Ukraine will disintegrate or that the concept of Novorossiya is viable. On the other hand, it is clear that for large swathes of the Donbas population, full control by the present Ukrainian administration is as undesirable as a Russian invasion and, Ukrainian media reports aside, the general sentiment after the arrival of the Kyiv army is likely to have been one of relief at the end to fighting rather than triumphalism and liberation.

In other words, there is significant scope for compromise, though any agreement would need to distinguish between regional autonomy and Putin-style federalism or ‘power sharing.’ An autonomous or semi-autonomous Donbas within Ukraine is a logical alternative and, moreover, it might appeal to the population at large, even to some of the pro-separatist elements that voted in the contentious referenda last May. But Ukraine could not tolerate a new Transnistria or Abkhazia in its eastern territories, which would continue to destabilize the country. The removal of Strelkov and his forces is, therefore, the key prerequisite to any progress; and they are increasingly isolated.

‘Rights are earned in battle’. The Russian tricolour flies over the Donbas. Photo:

Some degree of autonomy, then, might be the way forward. In Western Ukraine during the Euromaidan protests, regional governments were functioning as virtually autonomous structures. A federal system has worked successfully in countries such as Germany and Canada – in the latter case with the retention of priority for the French language in Quebec. In Ukraine, it is imperative that the Donbas region be adequately represented in the Cabinet and in parliament generally, when Ukrainians go to the polls in the fall; and full language rights must be retained for Russian speakers.

This proposal makes one assumption, namely that Vladimir Putin is also looking for an exit plan, having apparently run out of options, and fallen foul of more militant hawks in Moscow. Already, as we have seen above, the Russian President was prepared to sacrifice Strelkov, indicating limits to the expansion of ‘the Russian world.’ This scenario, of course, offers a very different interpretation of where Putin stands, from that of Ian Bremmer. But, as things stand, it does seem that the Russian President might have lost this particular chess game.

Is Anyone in Charge of the Russian Nationalists Fighting in Ukraine?

Marlene Laruelle
PONARS Eurasia | 06-27-2014

As discussions swirl about the effectiveness of the current cease fire in Ukraine, it is becoming increasingly clear that the separatists fighting there have become important actors in their own right, much as Kimberly Marten predicted in the Monkey Cage blog. Moreover, in addition to homegrown Ukrainian separatists, we also now have to consider the motivation and capabilities of Russian nationalists who have come to Ukraine ostensibly to aid the separatists in their fight.

In interviews conducted last week in Moscow with several major figures from Russian nationalist movements and Russian experts studying them (no names will be given in order to preserve their anonymity and security), the picture that emerges above all is one of anarchy. Obviously these narratives must be taken with caution, and reflect only the partial reality of some actors, but it struck me how they themselves are surprised by the overall opaqueness in which they are operating.

According to estimates from those I interviewed, between 100 and 200 Russian volunteers have left for Donbass. It is important to distinguish volunteers from mercenaries. Volunteers are usually young men, without families, with limited or no military training, hoping for a romantic ‘rite of passage’ on a battlefield, a la Byron. Mercenaries, on the other hand, are often former security services officers or army contractors who fought in Afghanistan, Chechnya, or Yugoslavia, who are well trained, unable to return to civil life, and follow a field commander in whom they believe. Many mercenaries are related, directly or indirectly, to the Russian National Unity (RNU) movement of Alexander Barkashov, traditionally very active in the regions close to the borders of Ukraine and North Caucasus, and which offers serious paramilitary training (see one of their propaganda videoclips). The RNU is supposedly closely associated to members of the self-proclaimed government of Donetsk and in particular of Dmitri Boitsov, leader of the Orthodox Donbass organization, who is said to have been taken orders directly from Barkashov.

The volunteers come from several other Russian nationalist groups: the Eurasianist Youth inspired by the Fascist and neo-Eurasianist geopolitician Alexander Dugin; the now-banned Movement Against Illegal Immigration led by Alexander Belov; the group ‘Sputnik and Pogrom’; the national-socialist Slavic Union of Dmitri Demushkin; several small groups inspired by monarchism such as the Russian Imperial Movement; and some from the more Western-oriented groups such as the Russian Social Movement of Konstantin Krylov, often defined as a ‘national-democrat’. However, with the exception of the RNU, heavily involved in Donetsk, these groups do necessarily cover all volunteers, as the majority of them left of their own initiative and using their own funds. Some groups such as the Russian Social Movement do not organize the departure of their young volunteers, others like the Eurasianists seem more disposed to build networks that facilitate these trips.

Nonetheless, several of the groups do provide humanitarian aid (mostly medicine) and send light weapons and ammunition (although it should be noted that this is done individually by the different groups and not in a coordinated manner). Their ability to deliver weapons and ammunition remains modest and should not be exaggerated. That they can do this at all is thanks to their links to some paramilitary groups and to officers retired from active service who know how to obtain decommissioned Soviet-era weapons stockpiles. According to my interviews, Russian border guards and Cossack troops that patrol the Russian side do not welcome these volunteers, who either pass through outside check points or bribe border guards. Once in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions, utter anarchy reigns; each group exacts significant bribes, even from those who come to help them.  Those caught at the border by Russian border guards are repatriated back to Moscow or St Petersburg, and some seem to have been jailed.

What conclusions can be drawn from these narratives? First of all these few volunteers, both in their unpreparedness and their lack of integration into a chain of command, put in peril not only their own lives, but those of civilians in Donetsk and Lugansk. In addition, these missions may be of concern to the Kremlin as well, which sees them as rogue elements who are likely to one day return to Russia and will bring back with them their experiences of urban warfare.

More fundamentally, these narratives shed light on the operation of the Russian state. When Vladimir Putin personally makes a decision, as was the case for the annexation of Crimea, the Russian state is highly functional: the chain of command is fully, flawlessly operational, and both the administrative and public affairs apparatuses operate in a clearly defined and controlled manner. When the Kremlin decided to exit the situation in order to create a lawless zone in which it is impossible to determine responsibilities, the Russian state became highly chaotic. Russian nationalist movements are a part of this anarchy, alongside experimental field commanders like Igor Strelkov, militia mercenaries, and corrupt former officers who participate in it for both ideological and financial reasons.

Of course this ‘laissez-faire’ attitude is in the Kremlin’s interests. It allows for the futures of Ukraine and the Kyiv government to be permanently weakened, and avoids the necessity of assuming international responsibilities. Some figures close to the Russian authorities add to the complexity of the pictures, such as Orthodox oligarch Konstantin Malofeev, who many suspect of funding the self-proclaimed government of Donetsk. However, it seems also accurate to see the situation as a Pandora’s box that the Kremlin is now struggling to close, seriously concerned about the long term impact of this Russian nationalist junta that could potentially turn against Moscow. Donbass is a mess not only for Kyiv, which is unable to manage a flawless military operation, but also for Moscow. It remains to be seen whether order can be restored on the Russian insurgent side in coming weeks. In any case the irony of the history is that a man so risk averse and wedded to the status quo as Vladimir Putin, whether consciously or not, himself may have initiated dynamics that are no longer under his control.


Interview: I Was A Separatist Fighter In Ukraine
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty | July 13, 2014

Volunteer Artur Gasparyan during his time in the Vostok battalion, under the command of Aleksandr Khodakovsky

Artur Gasparyan, a 24-year-old native of Spitak, Armenia, was recruited in Moscow in May to fight in eastern Ukraine. Now back in the Russian capital, he spoke with Mumin Shakirov of RFE/RL’s Russian Service (see original in Russian here) in detail about his experiences.

RFE/RL: You expressed interest in going to Ukraine on a forum on Vkontakte after you read about the fire in the Odesa Trade Union Building in which 42 pro-Moscow separatists died. What happened next?

Artur Gasparyan: About 10 guys showed up at a meeting somewhere near VDNKh [the All-Russian Exhibition Center in northern Moscow]. We spoke in the entrance arch of a residential building there. A Slavic man in civilian clothes who didn’t give his name met with us.

First, he asked us whether we knew how to handle weapons. He warned us that we would be going to [the eastern Ukrainian city of] Slovyansk, that we were heading to certain death, that the punishment for looting was execution on the spot — which, by the way, I saw was true several times while I was in Ukraine. Two men immediately walked away.

RFE/RL: Did they promise you money?

Gasparyan: They didn’t promise a per diem or payment. Only free food, clothing, weapons, and a guarantee that they would transport our bodies to Rostov-on-Don and give them to our relatives. If, of course, they found them. They insisted that we destroy all our online accounts and, in general, remove any personal information from social networks. I deleted my accounts on  [Russian social-media sites] Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki.

RFE/RL: How did you get to the Ukrainian border?

Gasparyan: On the morning of May 12, the group got into two cars and headed south. It took about 24 hours to get to Rostov. It turned out that the drivers were also volunteers. One of them, by the way, was killed. They took us to a camp — some small homes near a creek and a forest — I don’t know where. They took away all our road maps. Our telephones and other personal things were logged and taken away. We changed into clothes they gave us.

RFE/RL: How long were you at this camp?

Gasparyan: Nearly two weeks. Every day, more and more new people came. By the end, there were about 100 of us. We didn’t rest at all — it was a military schedule. We got up; we went for a run; we had breakfast; we had training; we did orienteering in the fields, in the forest; we learned the hand signals.

RFE/RL: What do you mean, hand signals?

Gasparyan: They taught us to communicate using gestures and signs in order to recognize each other, to communicate silently at night, to give commands like back, forward, stop, get down, danger, and so on. Now I can speak with my hands like a deaf person. All this was taught by an instructor in civilian clothes. He, like all the other big and small bosses, didn’t give his name. We didn’t even know one another’s real names — just nicknames. Even now I don’t know the names of most of the guys who were killed beside me in that hell.

RFE/RL: Did you have any combat experience before Ukraine? You were in the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh, but that isn’t real war.

Gasparyan: Mostly we just had some exchanges of fire, automatic weapons or grenade launchers. In short, it was a low-level war of positioning. Nonetheless, I knew more about war than most of the guys there.

RFE/RL: Were there Russian nationalists among them?

Gasparyan: I didn’t see any nationalists, although most of the guys there were Slavs. Whether they were Belarusians, Russians, or Ukrainian — I can’t say. They were good, patriotic guys. None of them looked at me funny because I’m Armenian. There were a bunch of guys from the Caucasus, some Armenians from Krasnodar and [the Ukrainian city of] Kryvyy Rih. Some Chechens came a little later. I became friends with a few — one guy named Red and another named Small. Both of them were killed in those KamAZ trucks [see below].

RFE/RL: How did you cross the border?

Gasparyan: Near midnight on May 23 we left the base, about 100 guys in KamAZ trucks. We were accompanied by a guide in a Niva [Russian-made jeep]. We rode for several hours and stopped at the border. There we joined up with another 50 guys from other camps and we were given our weapons: grenade launchers, automatic rifles, pistols, and grenades. Then we got back into the trucks.

RFE/RL: Did they teach you to shoot?

Gasparyan: Some of the guys knew how to fire grenade launchers. I was made the commander of a machine-gun squad of from three to six guys. They gave me that job after looking over my military-service document. I guess there are some numerical codes there that I never noticed before. When they called me, they asked me to read the code. So they knew how to use my training. Apparently they worked separately with everyone like that.

RFE/RL: What do you mean "they"? Were they Federal Security Service, military intelligence (GRU), Interior Ministry? Who were these people who met you, trained you, crossed the border with you?

Gasparyan: I don’t know their names, even their first names. They looked like Slavs. They were all in civilian clothes. I don’t even remember their faces.

RFE/RL: When did you cross the border?

Gasparyan: It was around dawn on May 24. On the Ukrainian side, we were met by some high-level representatives of the [self-proclaimed] Donetsk People’s Republic. They had taken over some military base in Donetsk and they put us up in a barracks there. We slept the whole day. Then we washed up, got ourselves in order.

The next day, May 25, we took part in the well-known parade in the city in our KamAZ trucks — the one that the Chechens made famous. They gave interviews, fired their weapons into the air, posed for the cameras. People were cheering and they greeted the volunteers from Russia like liberators. In the evening, we returned to our barracks.

Battle Of Donetsk Airport

RFE/RL: And when did you first see combat?

Gasparyan: They sounded the alarm on the night of May 25-26. There were three guys in my group — from Moscow, Lipetsk, and Chukotka. They were all killed. We were put in civilian buses and taken to the airport. All 100 of us went into the building and there we joined up with some Ossetians. The passengers were quickly evacuated, but employees remained at their posts. In the morning, two planes landed and we didn’t interfere with the work of the airport. The building was quickly taken under control.

We positioned ourselves on every floor. My assistant and I were on the seventh floor — the roof. We were ordered to cover a high area about half a kilometer away so that no one else could be there. We set up a machine gun.

RFE/RL: What was the point of seizing a civilian airport in Donetsk? The fighting at that time was in a completely different place, near Slovyansk.

Gasparyan: To prevent them from sending in troops from Kyiv. They told us no one would fire at us. Just pose for the cameras and that’s all. They would see us, get scared, give up. We’d disarm everyone and send them home. The airport would be ours.

RFE/RL: Who do you mean?

Gasparyan: The Ukrainian troops around the airport. There was gossip that supposedly we were so tough and everyone was afraid of us. But it turned out just the opposite. At 2 p.m. the helicopters came. Then the airplanes, and they started bombing the place. I was on the roof and with my aide, I managed to get to the sixth floor. It was a big attack — I counted four helicopters and two planes.

RFE/RL: Did you have mobile antiaircraft weapons?

Gasparyan: Our commander from the Vostok Battalion [of volunteer fighters from Russia], Aleksandr Khodakovsky [regional head of the elite Alfa special forces under former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych], told us they wouldn’t bomb the airport and that "zenits" [shoulder-launched antiaircraft weapons] wouldn’t be necessary. So we left them at the base. Khodakovsky’s snipers were there.

There were agents of the Ukrainian SBU Security Service who had come over to the Donetsk People’s Republic. They had unusual rifles that I’d never seen before — not Dragunov sniper rifles. They left somewhere at about 1 p.m. and the bombing started at 2.

RFE/RL: What happened on your floor?

Gasparyan: One Chechen was killed on the roof immediately. Two others were wounded. They fired on the helicopters with everything they had. It took me two or three seconds to get up there. I fired on the high area from where a sniper was shooting at us. They forced us tightly into the building and were bombing from all sides. They had missile launchers around the perimeter of the airport and were firing on the terminal.

Khodakovsky naively thought that since the airport was new — just opened for the European soccer championships [in 2012] — they wouldn’t use heavy weapons on it. If we had only had our antiaircraft weapons, none of that would have happened.

RFE/RL: Do you think it was betrayal or incompetence?

Gasparyan: I don’t know. We lost a lot of men. One of the Chechens — a really smart guy — threw a couple of smoke bombs onto the roof and managed to drag his wounded comrades out. We made our way down to the first floor and were just sitting there, waiting to be killed. We couldn’t go outside. Someone contacted the commander — a guy called Spark — and we were given the order to get into the trucks. It was nearly evening. The trucks were standing inside — in the terminal. I didn’t want to get in. I knew how risky it was. Spark told me, "If you question the order, I’ll shoot you here." I took my weapon and got in.

RFE/RL: How many men were in the truck?

Gasparyan: There were two trucks with about 30-35 men in each one. A covering squad remained in the airport. They went out on foot at night — they all got away. Spark gave the order to drive out of the terminal and to fire in all directions at anything that moved. We lifted the covers — they were open trucks stuffed with volunteers. Our truck flew out of the terminal and we begin to fire on both sides, up in the air, everywhere. We proceeded along a road for about 4 or 5 kilometers. The trucks were about 500 or 600 meters apart. Two trucks speeding along, firing without stopping. It was terrifying.

It’s true that I stopped firing when I saw that there was no one there. When we arrived in the city, we saw that the first truck was standing in the road. I didn’t understand what had happened. Cars were driving around it and people were standing around — it was the edge of Donetsk.

RFE/RL: There were dead and wounded there?

Gasparyan: We rushed pass at high speed. I didn’t manage to look. Someone was still shooting. After about 500 meters, someone fired on our truck with a grenade launcher. The shell landed in the driver’s cabin. We thought we’d been lucky, so we jumped out. We got bruised up a little, but no one was hurt. The truck that they hit first got caught in a crossfire from machine guns. There were also snipers firing at them. At least 30 men died there — no fewer.

Then they began firing on us too from somewhere. I dropped my weapon and grabbed one wounded guy from Crimea. I loaded him on my back and ran blindly through some yards. Our medic found us. He had a weapon, so I took it and started firing in all directions, up onto the roofs. And I ran further with the wounded guy.

RFE/RL: Did you know who controlled the city?

Gasparyan: We were sure the city had been taken by the National Guard and that they were looking for us. We came to an ambulance depot and I fired toward the roof a couple of times to attract their attention. My comrade was bleeding badly. He’d been shot in the arm and the leg. I shouted to the medics: "Save him! Help!" A woman shouted back: "Don’t worry, we are on your side!" We put the Crimean into an ambulance and they took him to a hospital. I told them where the trucks were and six ambulances rushed out. Soon they were bringing guys from the trucks to the hospital.

Someone told me that only three guys survived from the first truck. There was panic and terror. Someone told me that one guy blew himself up with a grenade to avoid being taken prisoner by the Ukrainians. They didn’t understand that they were being attacked by their own people. Someone apparently told local militiamen that Right Sector [a Ukrainian nationalist group that was part of the Maidan protest movement] fighters were rushing down the highway in two trucks.

RFE/RL: What was the official story?

Gasparyan: On television they said something like that the militias were transporting unarmed wounded under the sign of the red cross and Ukrainian forces fired on them. At that point, I still didn’t know we’d been attacked by our own forces. I was sure it was the National Guard. Sometime in the morning of the 27th, two guys from the cover group that remained at the airport woke me up. They told me that it was friendly fire.

We were asking what to do next. We decided to run away during the night, secretly, on foot, back to the border and to Russia. We found some civilian clothes, changed into them, took some backpacks and left the unit. There was a driver with us who went by "Shumakher." He told us that he had an uncle outside of Donetsk. Six of us arrived at this private house to spend the night. On the morning of the 28th, we heard shouts from a neighboring house: "Don’t shoot! Don’t kill us!" It turned out they sent a squad out after us.

Fighting With The Devil

RFE/RL: How did they find you?

Gasparyan: I don’t know. Maybe someone gave us away. We threw away our packs and other things and ran off again. We were just wandering around the streets without any money or documents. We came to a town and a checkpoint and told them our story. They took us from the checkpoint to Horlivka [a city in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast] to a commander by the name of "Devil." But that’s a different story.

RFE/RL: Why did you spend two weeks with this Devil?

Gasparyan: We didn’t have any choice. I didn’t know how to get away. Devil turned out to be a normal guy, a professional soldier from Horlivka. He promised to send us back to Russia at the first opportunity. All five of us stayed with him. We told them what had happened to us, and he said he wouldn’t turn us over to the "easterners." He left us alone. Later, if anyone wanted to fight some more, they stayed. But I left.

RFE/RL: What did you do in Horlivka from May 28 until June 15?

Gasparyan: I put on a uniform again. We were given weapons and took part in several operations. They were better organized, more systematic. We carried out some diversions — snuck around, blew something up, snuck away. We blew up a Ukrainian fuelling post in Dokuchayevsk. We snuck in quietly during the night in civilian cars. I covered the position with a machine gun and they blew up the post with a grenade launcher.

RFE/RL: Why did you blow up the fuel depot?

Gasparyan: So they couldn’t gas up their tanks and trucks.

RFE/RL: But didn’t you need fuel?

Gasparyan: We didn’t have any vehicles. Stuff like that only appeared among the militias about three days after I left.

RFE/RL: What stories on television that you’ve seen strike you as the most outrageous and disturbing?

Gasparyan: When they do interviews with people from the Donetsk People’s Republic [DNR in Russian]. The DNR is a really a fiction. The DNR, as I understand it, exists only in the offices of [self-proclaimed DNR Prime Minister Aleksandr] Borodai, [self-proclaimed DNR parliament speaker Denis] Pushilin, [former Ukrainian parliament deputy Oleh] Tsaryov. But decisions are made somewhere else and by other people.

RFE/RL: Journalists who have been in the region say that about 20 percent of those fighting are Russians and the other 80 percent are local militias.

Gasparyan: I’d say exactly the opposite. Most of them are Russians, Chechens, Ingush. There are also Armenians like me. I spoke to some locals and they say that they did what they’d been told. I said, "What did they tell you to do?" They answered: "We voted. The rest is up to you." That is, they participated in the referendum on DNR independence but they don’t intend to fight. One guy told me, "I want to get my pay and then drink until my next payday." In general, they have no experience. Don’t know how to handle weapons. No one had been in the military. I’m talking about in Donetsk.

RFE/RL: And in Horlivka?

Gasparyan: There it is about 50-50. But the Russians fight better. They are people who have been in the military. It is a real army — Ukraine hasn’t [really] had an army for 23 years.

RFE/RL: Why are you telling us all this?

Gasparyan: Until now, the people who — basically — betrayed us (what happened at the airport could have been avoided and everything could have been different if they had organized it right) are still giving orders and volunteers from Russia are still going to serve with them. I want these people to understand who is going to be commanding them. I went. I survived by a miracle. I feel sorry for them. They are on their way to serve such commanders as Khodakovsky and others. I don’t know all their names.

RFE/RL: How did you get back to Russia?

Gasparyan: Devil kept his word. He thanked us, gave us each 1,000 hryvnyas for the road, wished us luck, and sent us home. Three guys came with me. One who was wounded and two others. We rode in civilian cars through Luhansk Oblast, avoiding the customs point, about 150 kilometers. We were met on the Russian side and they took us to Rostov. We ended up at the same base where we’d been trained. They gave us back our clothes, documents, telephones, some money for the road, and sent us home.

RFE/RL: You are a citizen of Armenia, from another country….

Gasparyan: I even fought under the Armenian flag. I have photos.

RFE/RL: Why would you be willing to die for a foreign country?

Gasparyan: I don’t consider Russia a foreign country. I have the mentality of a Soviet person. My grandfathers fought for the Soviet Union and I am fighting for it. I don’t consider Russia a foreign country.

Russia Considering ‘Surgical Strike’ on Ukraine – Report


A house in Donetsk, a town in southern Russia’s Rostov Region, hit by a shell fired from the Ukrainian side of the border RIA Novosti Sergei Pivovarov

MOSCOW, July 14, 2014 (RIA Novosti) – Moscow is considering “surgical retaliatory strikes” on the Ukrainian territory after the standoff has led to first civilian victims among Russians on Russia’s territory, a Kremlin source told Kommersant Monday.

“Our patience is not boundless,” the source told the newspaper, stressing that “this means not a massive action but exclusively targeted single strikes on positions from which the Russian territory is fired at.”

The Russian side “knows for sure the site where the fire comes from,” the source said.

The proposed plan echoes a statement by a deputy speaker of Russia’s upper house, Yevgeniy Bushmin, who told RIA Novosti Sunday that using precision weapons in response to Ukraine’s shelling would prevent further Kiev’s attacks of Russia’s territory.

«There is a feeling that if before firing was not aimed against Russian border guards, now provocations have been on the rise as there is no other means of forcing us to join in the standoff with Ukraine’s security troops," said Bushmin who represents Rostov Region in the Federation Council.

«The only way to fight against this like civilized countries do, namely the US and the EU. We should use precision weapons, like Israel, to destroy those who fired this shell [on Russia’s Donetsk]," the lawmaker said.

On Sunday, one Russian citizen was killed when a shell exploded in a yard of a house in Donetsk, a town in southern Russia’s Rostov Region. Another shell hit a house, injuring two women, a 82-year-old mother and her daughter. The elderly woman was hospitalized with brain concussion and fractures.

The Russian Foreign Ministry announced Sunday it protests the shelling calling it a provocation that might have irreversible consequences. Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said earlier that Russia promises «harsh demarches» against Ukrainian authorities over the incident.—Report.html



Tymchuk: Russian forces coming to Ukraine July 15

Russia is preparing to send its special forces from Rostov Oblast into Ukraine. The news portal Ostrov reports this news from Dmytro Tymchuk, coordinator of the Information Resistance group, who spoke at a press briefing.

“Last weekend we received exhaustive confirmation about this, and we can say this with certainty,” he said. “Special forces groups are arriving in Rostov Oblast. These are regular intelligence and diversionary brigades from Russian Military Intelligence Operations (GRU). According to information we have, the unit commanders anticipate being sent into Ukraine on the fifteenth (of July). This date has flashed on more than once in information we have been receiving.”

Tymchuk claimed that as of today, the Russians are deciding how these units are going to be sent into Ukraine.

“They expect that they will be called peacekeepers and that Russia is getting ready to introduce its own so-called peacekeeping forces into Ukraine,” the expert stressed. “Or they will be ‘green men’ like those in April (in Crimea).”

He saw as motives for this “a feeling that the terrorists in the Donbas are in their last days” and Russia trying to rescue its situation in any way possible.

In Tymchuk’s opinion, Russia is sending forces to Ukraine’s northern border where there are no combat operations taking place in order to divert Ukrainian forces’ attention from the Anti-terrorist Operation (ATO) zone.

He also did not rule out the possibility that Russia is reviewing possibilities of direct intervention in Ukraine by seeking out justifications for it.

He reminded the press that according to news Information Resist has, regular Russian military are already being sent onto Ukrainian territory. At the same time, according to Tymchuk, they are in Ukraine without documents “in the manner of the little green men” to make it impossible to prove their presence in Ukraine.

“We know from two sources on the territory of the Russian Federation that they are anticipating that if they are taken captive, they will be retroactively dismissed from their units,” he said. “And then they will say things like (Igor “Strelkov”) Girkin said, when he claimed he was an FSB officer who had resigned earlier.”

According to Tymchuk, the deployment of regular Russian Federation forces is, among other things, a result of local militants having become demoralized.

Translation by William Risch, Georgia College

Russia vows “tough response” to Ukraine’s military border shelling

MOSCOW, July 13, 2014 /ITAR-TASS/. Russia will give a tough response to the shelling of its territory by the Ukrainian military, in which one person was killed and another was wounded, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said on Sunday.

The incident occurred early on Sunday when a Ukrainian shell hit a private house in the town of Donetsk in the southern Russian Rostov Region.

The incident is evidence of a profound escalation of danger for Russian citizens on the Russian territory, the diplomat said.

“Naturally, this action will not be left without a corresponding reaction,” he said. “The talk with the Ukrainian side on this issue is going to be serious and tough,” Karasin said in an interview with Russia’s Moscow Speaking radio station.

The incident once again confirms the need for the quickest end to bloodshed in east Ukraine and the resumption of talks within the contact group with the participation of all the warring sides in Ukraine, the Russian diplomat said.

Russian investigators have said that a shell fired from the Ukrainian territory fell in the courtyard of a private house in Baltiiskaya Street in the town of Donetsk in the Rostov Region. The shell killed a man born in 1968 and injured an old woman.

The Donetsk central hospital chief told ITAR-TASS that the old lady’s health condition “was assessed as satisfactory.”

Russian investigators have opened a criminal probe into the firing of a shell into a private house in the Rostov Region, Investigation Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said. Investigators are working on the scene to find out all the circumstances of the incident, he added.

Regional government spokesman Alexander Titov said that the Ukrainian shell had damaged two private houses.

The Russian Donetsk automobile border checkpoint had to suspend its work again over the shelling from Ukraine, spokesman for Russia’s Southern Customs Branch Rayan Farukshin said.

“The staff of the customs post was again evacuated today and is staying in the administrative building in the town of Donetsk. The customs post worked for just several hours after the halt of its operations during the night,” the customs spokesman said.

The Russian territory has repeatedly come under fire from Ukraine recently but there have been no victims until now.

On Saturday, July 12, the Ukrainian military fired at a Russian border guard squad in the Kuibyshev district of the Rostov Region on the Russian-Ukrainian border. “The Russian border guards fired with their weapons in response, after which the shelling ceased,” spokesman for the regional border guard branch Vasily Malayev told ITAR-TASS.

The squad comprised three border guards. None of them was hurt,” the spokesman said.

Also on Saturday, four shells fired from Ukraine exploded in the Kuibyshev district of the Rostov Region, 300 meters from the Russia-Ukraine border. There were no victims among local civilians or border guards.

Fierce fighting continues between the pro-Kiev military and self-defense militia in the east Ukrainian Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which proclaimed their independence from Ukraine at their local May 11 referendums.

Kiev’s punitive operation against the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in a bid to bring them back under control has already claimed hundreds of lives, destroyed buildings and forced tens of thousands to flee Ukraine. Moscow has repeatedly called on the Ukrainian authorities to stop the operation and engage in dialogue with the east.

According to Ukraine’s Health Ministry, 478 civilians have been killed and 1,392 wounded during Kiev’s military operation.


Investigators Say 7 Artillery Shells from Ukraine Landed in Russia Sunday

MOSCOW, July 14, 2014 (RIA Novosti) – At least seven artillery shells fired from Ukraine, landed in Russia Sunday, a spokesman for the Russian Investigative Committee said Monday.

“According to updated reports, at least seven artillery shells were fired toward our territory, only one of them did not explode," spokesman Vladimir Markin said.

“We will request satellite data to determine what units of the Ukrainian army, the Right Sector or the National Guard were in the zone from where these artillery shells were fired. It will allow us to determine the names of the commanders, who ordered the shelling of the Russian territory, which left a Russian citizen dead," Markin said.

Investigators have found some 70 shell fragments at the scene.

According to preliminary data, “unidentified servicemen of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, members of the National Guard and Right Sector” are to blame for the attack.

On Sunday, one Russian citizen was killed when a shell exploded in the yard of a house in Donetsk, a town in southern Russia’s Rostov Region. Another shell hit a house, injuring two women — an 82-year-old mother and her daughter. The elderly woman was hospitalized with a concussion and fractures.

Moscow protested the shelling, saying it is a provocation that might have irreversible consequences. Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said Sunday that Russia promises “harsh demarches” against Ukrainian authorities over the incident.

Kiev claims Ukrainian troops did not fire at Russian territory.


Russia warns Ukraine of ‘irreversible consequences’ after cross-border shelling
By Karoun Demirjian and Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post | July 13, 2014

MOSCOW— Russia on Sunday accused Ukraine of lobbing a shell over the border and killing a Russian civilian and warned of “irreversible consequences,” in a sharp escalation of rhetoric that raised fears of a Russian invasion in Ukraine’s east.

The accusation, which Ukrainian officials denied, set off furious denunciations in Russia, with one senior legislator calling for pinpoint airstrikes on Ukrainian soil of the sort he said Israel was making in the Gaza Strip.

Ukrainian security officials, meanwhile, said that about 100 military vehicles driven by “mercenaries” had attempted to cross the border from Russia early Sunday, and that Ukraine’s military had destroyed some of the vehicles.

Russian officials summoned the Ukrainian charge d’affaires to the Foreign Ministry in Moscow to protest the civilian’s death. The Russians say it occurred when the Ukrainian army shelled Russia’s Rostov region, hitting a residential building. Two other people were injured, authorities said.

“We need to use precision weapons, like Israel’s, to destroy those who launched the bomb,” the deputy speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament, Yevgeny Bushmin, told the state-run RIA Novosti news service.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the incident was an “aggressive action” that “highlights the extremely dangerous escalation of tensions on the Russian-Ukrainian border and may have irreversible consequences, the responsibility for which lies on the Ukrainian side.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last week that his nation was prepared to take all necessary steps to defend its territory — a declaration that appeared to keep open the option of outright intervention in Ukraine. Ukrainian and Western officials have accused Russia of offering quiet support to the rebels, a charge that rebels themselves appeared to confirm this past week, although the extent of the aid is unclear.

Ukrainian officials denied that they fired onto Russian soil, saying that the attack may have been the work of provocateurs seeking to draw a Russian reaction.

“Forces of the anti-terrorist mission are not firing on the territory of a neighboring country,” Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told a news conference in Kiev on Sunday.

But he told journalists that there had been shelling in the area early Sunday coming from both rebel and Ukrainian army positions. Pro-Russian separatists made a “massive artillery strike” on Ukrainian military forces in Luhansk, just across the border checkpoint from where the shelling death is alleged to have taken place, he said.

He added that the strike served as cover for “the passage of a major mercenary force into Ukrainian territory” of “around 100 units of armed vehicles and trucks.” Once the column of vehicles was discovered, Ukrainian artillery positions fired on them, he said. Ukrainian officials said they were still working to determine further details about the incident.

It was not immediately possible to confirm either side’s account, and Ukrainian officials did not have an explanation for why, in the fog of war, they could be certain that a stray shell had not hit the Russian side. Russian officials also offered no evidence that the shell was indeed of Ukrainian military provenance.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said Sunday that the country was “ready to cooperate” in any Russian investigation of the incident, and in a statement it “expressed regret at the deaths and injuries” of the Russian citizens.

But the Russian warnings of consequences for the reported shelling raised tensions. Ukrainian television channels, including Channel 5, which is owned by President Petro Poroshenko, repeatedly played videos of tanks flying Russian flags rolling through what they said was easternmost Ukraine early Sunday. Many Ukrainians on social networks noted darkly that when Russian troops rolled into Georgia in August 2008, Vladimir Putin, then Russia’s prime minister, was in Beijing for the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics; Putin, now president, was in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday for the World Cup final.

Poroshenko late Sunday urged the European Union to investigate what he said was a border incursion by “heavy military equipment” and attacks from Russian military positions on Ukrainian troop positions, his office said in a statement.

Flashpoint at the border

Since pro-Russian separatists started seizing territory in April, Ukraine has struggled to maintain control of its porous border, and separatists have taken over several border checkpoints. Ukrainian officials say that the Russian government has tolerated the passage of a steady stream of military equipment and volunteers to assist the separatists’ fight, a charge that Russia has denied.

Russia has been registering increasingly strong complaints that its border crossings and territory are being shelled from the Ukrainian side, although Sunday was the first time that it said that anyone had died as a result.

Putin on Sunday said that “incidents where shells reach Russian territory, leading to today’s tragedy in the Rostov region, are unacceptable,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday after the Russian leader met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Interfax news agency reported.

Putin called for a return to the negotiating table to find a settlement in a format that includes the rebels, Peskov said. Negotiators met twice last month during a cease-fire that later lapsed amid charges of violations on both sides.

The rebels made a significant retreat on July 5, pulling back from the cities of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk and fortifying themselves inside the far larger city of Donetsk. Since then, fierce fighting has taken place in Ukraine’s east.

On Sunday, Ukrainian government forces were engaged in a major assault on the rebel-held eastern city of Luhansk, and separatist officials said that the military appeared to be gaining territory.

“They have lost their limits,” said a Donetsk rebel leader, Igor Girkin, also known as Igor Strelkov, in an interview with the Russian LifeNews television channel. “They are ready to do everything, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they use any available means they have for war.”

Russia has not openly responded to direct appeals for aid from the rebels since the retreat. But Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said Sunday that the shelling incident “will not be left without a reaction.” He called for “an immediate end to the bloodshed” in Ukraine.

Birnbaum reported from Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine.