Ukraine Says New Tapes Prove Russia Finances Rebels Who Shot Down Malaysian Plane

“Sasha, don’t burden me with this crap.”
Max Seddon
BuzzFeed | July 25, 2014

DONETSK, Ukraine — Ukraine says it has unearthed new evidence that the separatist militia in the country’s east shot down a Malaysian airliner last week and is funded from Russia, after releasing recordings of rebels discussing strategy and military movements.

Ukraine’s security service, the SBU, posted three recordings to YouTube on Friday that it said were phone taps of the separatists’ political leader, military commander, and the loose cannon rebel it alleges shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, killing all 298 on board. The new tapes could not be independently verified, though the content of some other conversations previously leaked by the SBU — some of which involve the same men — has been proven genuine.

The first tape purports to be a leaked phone conversation between Alexander Borodai, a Russian citizen and prime minister of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic,” and Alexei Chesnakov, a former senior figure in the Kremlin administration and deputy secretary of President Vladimir Putin’s party, United Russia. During the conversation, which has been edited, the men discuss financing the revolt against Kiev’s government with cash from Moscow and debate how to rein in the militia’s mercurial Russian commander, Igor Strelkov.

“The military situation sucks. You know and understand that,” says the man alleged to be Borodai. “The DNR [Donetsk People’s Republic] looks like a dick with Donetsk as the head and it’s not looking promising.”

The man alleged to be Borodai then discusses difficulties implementing a 5% tax on local business that he says is part of a plan prepared by the Russian presidential administration, and then asks the other man for more money.

“The biggest problem I have now is that I’m running out of dough,” he says. “Out of the 150 I took with me, they’re basically all gone, because I gave 50 to Zakhar, a million hryvnia [$85,000] to Igor [Strelkov], plus all the other expenses.” It is not clear what currency the rest of the money discussed is in.

“The money’s in place, but we’ll actually have it in two weeks,” the man continues. “We’ll have it if this situation holds out for two weeks. You see, if nothing changes militarily, this situation isn’t going to hold out those two weeks.”

“If it doesn’t hold out, it doesn’t hold out,” the other man says. “Sasha, don’t burden me with this crap. We agreed about the 180 — take it. The rest we’re going to have to try and work out. If there’s not going to be a flow, then we’ll organize more through the same channel.”

The man alleged to be Chesnakov then conveys what he says is a request from Archmandrite Tikhon, a senior priest in the Russian Orthodox Church widely rumored to be Putin’s confessor, to help rein in Strelkov, who is lionized in pro-Kremlin quarters but widely seen as a loose cannon after he abandoned his stronghold of Slovyansk for Donetsk, the provincial capital, earlier this month.

The man says that Strelkov should give an interview to make clear that his “commander-in-chief” is Putin to dispel notions of a split between the rebels on the ground and their ostensible patrons in Moscow. “‘At the present time I’m understandably not carrying out his direct orders, because I’m in a different country, but I have the utmost respect for him and believe him to be the most brilliant leader of modern times, thanks to whom Russia rose from its knees, and we all look at him with hope,’” the man says, putting words in Strelkov’s mouth.

“‘But not in the sense of “come on already, how long can this go on,” but in the sense that we love him, believe in him, he is our ideal and whatever decisions he takes, we’ll carry out any decisions he takes. Because we think that he is the wise and experienced leader of the Russian world.’”

Though Ukrainian and European Union officials claim Strelkov is an acting Russian military intelligence officer, he has demonstrated at least a certain degree of autonomy since he appeared to lead the Slovyansk uprising in April. He has shot people for looting in summary military tribunals held under World War II-era decrees issued by Josef Stalin; he is not shy from criticizing Putin publicly, a line no Russian official has dared cross for many years. Some separatist sympathizers in Moscow worry that the public lionization of Strelkov — a wan man with a pencil mustache and an antique wooden revolver holster whose likeness is plastered on billboards throughout separatist territory — may hamper the Kremlin’s goals in eastern Ukraine, where Putin has not taken the direct military action Strelkov calls for.

In a second tape released by the SBU, a man whose voice resembles Strelkov’s is heard directing coordinates for Russian artillery to fire at Ukrainian positions across the border.

In another conversation released on the first tape, a man said to be a senior leader in the Donetsk People’s Republic laments to an ally that Strelkov has lost control.

“He’s Colonel Batshit Crazy, let’s be honest,” says the man, who the SBU claim is rebel deputy prime minister Andrei Purgin. “His concept of war in a city with a million and a half people in the metropolitan area… When he summons the mayor and says, ‘Let’s stop public transport and blow up nine-story buildings on the outskirts of the city,’… what the fuck is up with that?”

“So what if he’s a talented commander? We’re all fucked! He’s going to bury a city of a million people to kill 10,000 Ukies,” the man continues.

The third tape purports to show another militia leader, Igor Bezler, discussing intercepting an aircraft two minutes before the Malaysian plane was shot down.


Separatists weaker after shootdown in Ukraine
The Militant | August 4, 2014

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, was blown out of the sky July 17 over territory controlled by Moscow-backed separatists in the eastern part of Ukraine. Overwhelming evidence points to the paramilitary forces of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic as those responsible for the deaths of the 283 passengers and 15 crew members.

The incident has accelerated the separatists’ growing unpopularity among working people in Ukraine, Russia and beyond. And it has widened fissures among separatists themselves.

Before the shootdown made international headlines, Igor Strelkov, Russian operative and self-proclaimed military commander of the Donetsk People’s Republic, posted a message on Vkontakte, a popular Russian Internet site, bragging that separatists had shot down a Ukrainian government plane. “We warned them not to fly in our skies.”

Surveillance photos released by the Ukrainian government show paramilitary forces driving a Russian BUK surface-to-air missile launcher July 17 into the area where the plane was shot down. Similar photos show it being driven back to Russia the next day, with one less missile.

For the next four days, separatists occupied the crash site, restricting the movements of Ukrainian emergency workers and seizing everything they could, from victims’ bodies to the plane’s black box.

Denis Pushilin, “chairman” of the Donetsk People’s Republic, announced July 18 in Moscow that he was resigning.

The same day Sara Firth, a reporter for the Moscow-controlled Russia Today TV network, quit in protest over the station’s efforts to blame the Ukrainian government for the shootdown. “I couldn’t do it anymore,” she said. “Every day we’re lying.”

Ilya Bogdanov, a senior lieutenant in the Federal Security Service of Russia, announced his defection to Ukraine July 18. “I couldn’t take it anymore, because a decent person’s conscience can’t be silent when lies are being spewed 24/7 from TV, radio, the papers and Internet,” he said in a statement reported by Ukrainian TV’s Channel 5. “I’m ready to fight in the Ukrainian army as a common volunteer because I want this war to end, for our fraternal peoples to stop fighting.”

Putin government backpedals

Russia’s capitalist rulers, concerned about political stability and profits, are pressing for a change of direction. “I think there is a growing feeling that it has gone too far,” Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a Russian sociologist, told the New York Times July 22.

President Barack Obama levied a new round of financial sanctions after the plane was shot down, restricting access to U.S. capital markets of Rosneft oil company and Gazprombank, the international banking company associated with Gazprom, the state-controlled natural gas monopoly, and others.

Meanwhile, President Vladimir Putin is moving to rein in the uncontrollable forces his government set in motion. “We are being urged to use our influence with the militias in southeastern Ukraine,” he told Russia’s Security Council July 22, in a speech broadcast repeatedly on state-run television. “We of course will do everything in our power.”

Armed separatists have recently left Metalist, Oleksandrivsk, Bile and Rozkishne, the Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported July 15. But paramilitaries still control government buildings in Donetsk, Luhansk and some nearby towns.

Paramilitary gangs still make attempts to attack workers and shut down production. They fired missiles July 12 at a working mine near Kurakhovo.

“The council meeting of the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine decided July 3 to organize workers in the Donbass region into labor guards,” Mikhailo Volynets, chair of the union, told the Militant July 22. “The purpose is to protect miners and their families as well as workplaces from pro-Russian separatists’ attacks and aggression.

“In mining areas where the separatists are being driven out, plants are reopening,” Volynets said. “Miners are receiving their wages, pensions and other payments, which were broken off under the control of the paramilitaries. They have resumed trade union activities, organizing themselves to defend the sovereignty and unity of Ukraine.”

Workers are returning to Slovyansk, which was the separatists’ military center until two weeks ago.

Maryna, a 52-year-old mother of two, told the Financial Times July 13 that she had initially supported the separatist forces, but has since changed her mind. “Looking back, it seems Strelkov and the others used us and our city, doing everything possible to ensure maximum destruction, so that Putin would send the Russian army in,” she said.


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