-Kremlin advisor Sergei Glazyev speaks in Yalta, surrounded by separatists and European far right; advocates for “Novorossiya” to join Customs Union.
-There was an anti-war rally in St. Petersburg.
-Lev Shlosberg, Pskov deputy who investigated Pskov paratroopers’ deaths, assaulted, hospitalized; he links his attack to his investigation, and Acting Governor Turchak condemns attack.
-Russians make Facebook groups and web pages to try to find Russian soldiers MIA or KIA. TV Rain starts a list of researched cases of soldiers killed/captured abroad.
-Solidarity activist arrested at lone picket.
-Journalists investigated how Russian POWs ended up in Ukraine.
-Soldiers’ Mothers of St. Petersburg declared “foreign agents” after probe of soldiers’ death.
-Presidential Human Rights Council members probe disturbing reports of wounded soldiers brought to St. Petersburg.
-The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) has announced the capture of 9 Russian POWs whose interrogations they have posted online. They may have been mistreated and their confessions are coerced.
–Relatives of the POWs held in Ukraine gather in Kostroma to demand answers, and further details of their capture emerge; the wife of a Russian officer MIA pleads for information about his whereabouts.
-Veteran rocker Andrei Makarevich, the front man for Mashina Vremeni, appeals to Putin to put a stop to the state TV vilification against him for his criticism of the war in Ukraine.
-Prominent civil rights attorney Genri Reznik pickets NTV for a program denouncing anti-war critics.
-Russian blogger Oleg Kashin asks the Russian Defense Ministry hard questions about news of Russian soldiers fighting and dying in Ukraine; the editors of Vedomosti also recall Soviet history and cover-ups of wars and demand that the government tell the truth about Russian soldiers sent to Ukraine.
-Russian journalists have been tracking down news of mysterious deaths of Russian paratroopers abroad — and finding many obstacles to getting at the truth as they are attacked by thugs.
-Juliya Navalny, wife of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, is summoned to give testimony in a contrived “art theft” case but refuses citing Russian constitutional protection against self-incrimination.
-As pictures of the painted star of the Stalin-era building in Moscow in Ukraine’s colors go vial, a campaign begins to call a dare-devil nicknamed “Mustang Wanted” a “Nazi” and “fascist.” The real story is complicated, but Mustang has sparked controversy again by donating his fee from LifeNews to the Donbass Battalion.
-Leonid Martynyuk, opposition author and video producer, was sentenced to 10 days of jail in an incident believed to have been fabricated for retaliation of his expose of the corrupt Sochi Olympics and the cover-up of the downing of MH17.
For last week’s issue go here.
-Chechen Leader Ramzan Kadyrov joined the “Night Wolves,” a bikers’ gang that Putin has favored.
-Leonid Martynyuk, opposition author and video producer was arrested in Krasnodar in an incident his colleagues fear was trumped up in retaliation for his exposes of corruption in the Sochi Olympics and the cover-up of the shooting-down of MH17.
-Russian press and social media mined the popular social media network VKontakte for information on Russian paratroopers said to be killed or captured in Lugansk Region in Ukraine; oddly, some pictures were removed of armored vehicles and a draft notice, and some accounts were deleted.
-Four Russians were placed under house arrest pending trial for a stunt involving the painting of a Stalin-era building’s star in the colors of the Ukrainian flag; mystery painters then struck again.
-Moscow authorities have closed four McDonald’s restaurants ostensibly for sanitation violations, sparking a lot of social media commentary. -Pro-Kremlin propagandist Konstantin Rykov used a fake photo in Ferguson commentary on Twitter.
-Chechen ruler Ramzan Kadyrov ordered 1,000 guests at a state function interrogated after an entertainer lost her phone.
-While Siberian autonomy demonstrators were banned and arrested, bikers promoting Russian fertility were allowed to ride through Novosibirsk.
-Protesters seeking greater freedom for Siberia were arrested in two cities, and received solidarity from some Ukrainians but hate messages from fellow Russians.
For the previous week’s issue, go here.
-Siberian activists were denied a permit for a rally.
–New reports of a Russian battalion with Chechens and others from the North Caucasus surfaced and videos were found to confirm their involvement.
-The followers of Col. Igor Strelkov, the charismatic separatist leader who resigned from the “Donetsk People’s Republic” were distraught.
-The trial of opposition leader Alexey Navalny in the Yves Rocher East case resumed.
–Prime Minister Medvedev’s Twitter account was hacked with a claim he was resigning in shame and protests against the Crimean annexation and robbing of pensions to pay cost of forcible annexation; a hacker’s group called Shaltai Boltai took credit for the unauthorized access, then claimed to leak his e-mail, which they found “boring.”
-Following confusion and wishful thinking that new regulations regarding Internet access will not be so restrictive, Russia’s Minister of Communications clarifies that ID of some form if not a passport will be required to access wi-fi and will be recorded.
-A pro-government Anti-Fascist Committee was formed to fight Western influence.
–South Stream pushes forward as EU gas dependence makes it hard to take strong action on Ukraine. If Russian “humanitarian convoy” enters Ukrainian territory, this will validate a Russian military presence in Ukraine.
Please help The Interpreter to continue providing this valuable information service by making a donation towards our costsâ.
A few hundred activists in St. Petersburg held a rally today to protest Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Signs: War on War [in Russian and Ukrainian]
“There will be no victors. They are beating their own people.” Head of ER, Donetsk
There were also counter-demonstrators who turned out.
Translation: St. Petersburg fascist. Sign: We will not trade the Donbass for parmesan.
This is a reference to the region in southeastern Ukraine where pro-Russian separatists are fighting with Russian support, and a reference to sanctions against Western food imports Putin imposed after the EU put in place sanctions against Russia for aggression against Ukraine.
Lev Shlosberg, the Pskov legislator from the Yabloko Party who was assaulted yesterday near his home, believes the attack was connected to his efforts to probe the killings of Pskov paratroopers in combat in Ukraine, TV Rain reports.
TV Rain spoke briefly on the telephone to Shlosberg, who is listed in fair condition in a Pskov hospital. He suffered a concussion, nose fracture, and multiple bruises.
They attacked me from behind. They did not ask who I was. They were well prepared. I lost consciousness from the first blow, then they beat me for several minutes…I don’t see any other reasons for the attack except on the part of those forces who want to keep this [investigation] secret…It’s a question only of the level of the making of the decision.
Igor Yakovlev, the press secretary for Yabloko, said on his Facebook page that Yabloko founder Grigory Yavlinsky spoke to Shlosberg this morning and he was feeling better. Yavlinsky said Shlosberg was lucky that the attackers ran away after they saw his friend, a reporter from Pskovskaya Guberniya coming to meet him. Apparently they did not know about the meeting.
Acting Pskov Region Governor Andrei Turchak, made a statement about the attack:
The assault and beating of citizens in a law-based state is not permissible! This cannot be! The police agencies must instill order and secure safety on our streets.
I demand that the police agencies conduct a thorough investigation into what happened with Pskov Regional Assembly Deputy Lev Shlosberg, and I take the course of this investigation under my personal oversight.
I have already appealed to Boris Govorun, head of the region division of the Interior Ministry so that he has a 24-hour guard during the period of the investigation.
I personally wish Lev Shlosberg a speedy recovery.
Turchak, a conservative governor allied with Moscow and the ruling United Russia party frequently the target of Shlosberg’s criticism, accused Shlosberg of being a “fifth columnist” in May of this year when he criticized the deployment of Pskov’s 76th Guards in Crimea. Shlosberg has continued to be an open critic of the war as well as corruption and mismanagement in Pskov Region.
Turchak in meeting with Putin in December 2013.
One commenter noted on Yakovlev’s page that guards have also been posted at the cemetery where the paratroopers are buried. Journalists who have sought to cover recent funerals were chased away by thugs with rocks and screws.
Back in 2010, Oleg Kashin, a former Kommersant journalist and blogger who suffered a serious assault which left him in a coma with multiple broken limbs, theorized that Turchak could have been behind his attack, after he blogged that “he had his position only because of his ties to the Kremlin.”
Kashin also theorized that the attackers could be related to the Kremlin’s youth group Nashi or municipal authorities in Khimki, site of a controversial logging and highway construction project opposed by environmentalists about which Kashin had written.
At that time, then-President Medvedev also said he would “take the investigation under his personal control”; indeed this stock phrase mentioned many times by many officials about attacks on journalists and public figures in Russia has almost become an assurance that such investigations will be buried.
Igor Yakovlev, the press secretary for the Yabloko opposition party, reported today on his Facebook page that Lev Shlosberg, a Pskov legislator from their party, was assaulted this evening, evidently in retaliation for his outspoken criticism of the war in Ukraine and public demands for information about the whereabouts of the Pskov 76th Guards, some of whom were buried in Pskov this week. (The Interpreter has summarized his report.)
Shlosberg was taken to the emergency room of the regional hospital, suffering from skull trauma, concussion, memory loss, a broken nose, and multiple bruises.
According to his aide, he was about 400 meters from his home when three unidentified men attacked and beat him.
Grigory Yavlinsky, founder of the Yabloko Party, and Sergei Mitrokhin, its current leader, believe the attack on Shlosberg is directly connected to his attempt to investigate the whereabouts of Pskov paratroopers, Yakovlev and TV Rain reported.
Early in the Crimean war (see Day 11 of our Ukrainian LiveBlog), Shlosberg was the first to raise the alarm about the Pskov 76th Guards missing from their barracks, who were later admitted to be stationed in Crimea. Then with reports of a captured BMD in Ukraine with documents from Pskov soldiers this week, Shlosberg continued to publicly press officials for answers, and was the first to publish photos of the graves of soldiers in the local press.
Lev Shlosberg, deputy, speaking at Pskov Region legislature 30 May 2014. Photo by sobranie.pskov.ru
Shlosberg has been singled out as a “fifth columnist” by the acting governor of the Pskov Region for his criticism of corruption, poor health care and infrastructure as well as the secret deployment of the armed forces abroad.
Aleksei Semyonov, a journalist from Pskovskaya Guberniya who had made arrangements to meet Shlosberg outside his home today, said he came upon the deputy staggering and clutching his head, his clothing spattered with blood. He managed to say he was set upon by three people who beat him over the head from behind. He was taken to the emergency room with multiple injuries and was unable to open his eyes at first. He is expected to recover from his injuries.
Suspects were detained in the incident, but then released by police, who said they were not involved; Shlosberg’s aide agreed they were not likely the assailants.
Russians have been forming Facebook groups and web sites to try to track the cases of soldiers fighting in Ukraine who are missing in action (MIA) or killed in action (KIA).
It all started on 21 August when a Ukrainian journalist named Roman Bochkala published information about the documents of Russian soldiers found in a BMD seized by Ukrainian forces in Lugansk Region, and LiveJournal bloggers began to match the names to accounts on Russia’s most popular social network, VKontakte (VK).
In the following days, we watched as some of these VK accounts were removed or accessed and pictures deleted from them; most of the soldiers did not log on again.
Since then, the Russian independent press has tried to track down the news of missing, wounded or killing soldiers, facing intense denials from the Russian Defense Ministry, attacks from thugs, and vilification by pro-Kremlin propagandists who claimed they were photoshopping pictures, faking information, or in the pay of Western intelligence agencies.
Then when the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) announced it had 10 POWs in Kiev and their videotaped interrogations were released, activists were emboldened to began to try to find out more about them and other soldiers missing who had supposedly been “sent for training.”
The Soldiers Mothers Committees, a movement formed even before the Chechen wars in the 1990s, originally focusing on rampant abuse, hazing and deaths in the peace-time army, has been particularly active in St. Petersburg, where wounded soldiers were said to be brought to a military hospital, and Kostroma, the base of the POWs now in Kiev. Two human rights advocates, Ella Polyakova and Sergei Krivenko, who are members of the official Presidential Council for Human Rights have come forward to publicize the failure of officials to give them answers to their queries about missing or killed soldiers, said to have died in battle in Ukraine 13 August.
The prosecutor and Ministry of Justice has now registered the St. Petersburg Soldiers’ Mothers as “foreign agents” and they are facing intense backlash from conservative politicians and ultra-nationalists on social media.
Despite such harassment, independent media and non-governmental groups have persisted in trying to find answers as to the whereabouts of hundreds of soldiers. Local officials have privately given to families figures of 250 or 300 wounded soldiers brought back to Russia from Ukraine or from Rostov Region in Russia; Ella Polyakova, who is also the head of the St. Petersburg Soldier’s Mother has also been told as many as 100 could be killed and 300 wounded, and has heard from a dozen of the parents.
In order to try to get to the bottom of conflicting reports and dispel disinformation. TV Rain started a site tvrain.ru/soldat posting the names of only those cases their reporters could verify by directly interviewing families and obtaining confirmation.
Another website which sprang up whose managers are not named, registered in Kiev with privacy protection, is called LostIvan.ru This site already shows 37 cases, but it seems that anyone can submit information, and the site owners don’t vouch for its accuracy, although they will try to check it.
They include as “killed,” for example, the case of Ivan Maksimov, whose driver’s license was one of the items in the photos first publicized by Bochkala, although he has been reported to have contacted his parents now.
According to a report from TV Rain, his father received a phone call from an unknown caller. First a man said that “your son will speak with you now” and then gave the phone to Maksimov. He told his father he was “in training in Rostov.” When his father asked him why his license was found in Ukraine and posted on the Internet, he said that he had his license with him and didn’t know. When his mother tried to call back the number he had called on, she got a recording about an “international satellite call.” Maksimov could be held captive.
A Facebook group called Gruz 200 iz Ukraini v Rossiyu (“Cargo 200 from Ukraine to Russia”), a reference to the military term for dead bodies returned from wars, was formed last week by Yelena Vasilyeva, an anti-nuclear activist and environmentalist from Murmansk, a blogger and opposition member formerly involved in the Solidarity opposition movement and currently on the Opposition Experts’ Council.
The group already has 10,603 members as of this writing — it surged from only 1,700 at the start of this week. Vasilyeva has strictly moderated the group to prevent hate speech and distractive arguments and tried to keep the group to news notices only. Already she has come under vicious attack from pro-Putin commentators on social media who have declared a “hunt” on her. A sister group was formed on Odnoklassniki.
We can get an idea of the daunting task of trying to get information out of a country as large as Russia with tight-lipped officials and Kremlin disinformation agencies working full tilt, trying to sift through the flood of information in this group.
For example, a case that was not on TV Rain’s site or Lost Ivan turned up via the Cargo 200 group from a local newspaper report in the city of Vladimir.
A local news site progorod33.ru published an article today 29 August about an area man, Sergei Seleznyov, saying he had been killed on the Ukrainian border. A contract soldier, he had been sent for “training”. An army officer came to Seleznyov’s home on 28 August and said he was “killed in training in Rostov Region.” He left behind a pregnant fiancee.
As with other soldiers went for “training,” Seleznyov called friends and told them that their phones were being taken away, that they had changed into field uniforms and painted over with green paint all the identifying marks on their military vehicles. And as with other soldiers, he used a phone one of them had managed to hide from confiscation and told his girlfriend that the soldiers were constantly searched with metal detectors to find unauthorized phones because they did not want them to be located through the devices.
His girlfriend said that when she didn’t hear from him after 22 August, she tried calling everywhere and searching the Internet for information. Hospitals in Rostov claimed they had no soldiers, and he wasn’t in lists held by the army there. Finally a local army official in Kostroma said that about 200 wounded soldiers were being brought from Rostov Region, but he wasn’t in that list. Then came the dreaded visit to their home from a local officer with the bad news.
Then today, very swifly, their organization’s name was entered into the registry of the Russian Ministry of Justice of “non-commercial organizations fulfilling the functions of a foreign agent” along with another St. Petersburg group, the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information.
The inclusion in the registry was made “on the basis of submissions by the prosecutor’s office of St. Petersburg.”
According to the Russian state wire agency RIA Novosti, Soldiers’ Mothers had made no comment on the Justice Ministry’s move.
The group was not under investigation currently, but last year Anatoly Artyukh, an aide to the conservative and nationalist St. Petersburg deputy Vitaly Milonov, appealed to the Federal Security Service (FSB) and prosecutor’s office to inspect the Soldiers’ Mother to see if they were obeying the law on foreign agents. Now, due to the concerns the Soldiers’ Mothers have raised about Russian soldiers killed or wounded in Ukraine battling Ukrainian forces, the authorities have definitively moved against them.
The “foreign agents” law went into effect in November 2012, sparking the inspections of hundreds of NGOs resulting in the suspension or closure of some. Eleven Russian groups sent an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights protesting the law as unconstitutional and in violation of international standards on free association. At least 6 groups, including Memorial Society’s Human Rights Center have been targeted and registered under the law, and the St. Petersburg Memorial Society was forced to close.
the enormous amount of official pressure and public harassment of
groups like the Soldiers’ Mothers for raising concerns about Russia’s
aggression in Ukraine, the Russian independent media has been trying to check the
information very carefully and publish all the cases they have
TV Rain, an independent station which has been hounded
by the government for months for its critical reporting and who has lost
its cable operators under pressure from officials, has started a
web page of the cases of Russian soldiers captured, wounded or killed in battle in Ukraine.
Currently the list contains just 24 names from 6 army units, as follows:
1. 98th Svirsk Division of the Airborne Troops — 10 captured (9 POWs in Kiev, 1 in St. Petersburg hospital).
2. 17th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade, Army Unit 65384 – 1 dead.
3. 31st Guard Kutuzov Order II Degree Separate Assault Paratrooper Brigade, Army Unit 73612 – 2 dead, 2 held in Donetsk Region
4. 9th Separate Vislenskaya Motorized Brigade Army Unit 54046 – 2 dead.
5. 76th Assault Guards Chernigov Red Banner Division of Pskov – 4 dead, 1 incommunicado.
6. 18th Separate Guard Motorized Evpatoria Red Banner Brigade – 2 dead.
We will keep checking back to their page to follow their research.
Reuters reported yesterday 28 August that “more than 100 Russian soldiers were killed in eastern Ukraine in a single battle this month” and that “as many as 300 people were wounded in the same incident on 13 August in Snezhnoye (Snizhni) when their convoy was hit by Grad missiles.
The source for the Reuters story are Ella Polyakova and Sergei Krivenko, members of the Presidential Council for Civil Society Development and Human Rights, a body that is widely viewed to be coopted now by the Kremlin and which a number of prominent independent human rights advocates have left.
While some reputable human rights activists remain in it, it has become largely ineffective, as only its leader has been able to meet with Putin once this year, and only to speak in a highly-scripted fashion about topics acceptable to the president like children’s welfare. Indeed, in a recent meeting between Mikhail Fedotov, chair of the group, and Putin, regarding Ukraine, there was only discussion of the need to pressure President Petro Poroshenko to do more for displaced persons and refugees and no criticism of the war itself, much less credible reports that Russian soldiers are participating in it, that Russia is backing the insurgents, and that Russia fires missiles from its territory into Ukraine.
The Soldier’s Mothers leader in Moscow recently denied reports that any soldiers had died in Ukraine; meanwhile, Ella Polyakova, head of the St. Petersburg chapter of the Soldier’s Mothers has differed in that she has pursued the reports for some time, trying to get answers from officials. On 26 August, TV Rain published a report based on an interview with Polyakova (which we translated here) in which she spoke of “100 wounded soldiers” brought to a military hospital in St. Petersburg, and efforts to follow up on several reports of deaths reported from a battle 13 August.
Asked at that time why she had not contacted the press for two weeks, she said she was attempting to verify the reports. It is not known how the numbers went from “100 wounded” to “100 dead and 300 wounded,” but other reports have surfaced, including a statement an army official told wives of “250 wounded,” mentioned in an article by Novaya Gazeta we have covered.
It does not appear as if Polyakova and Krivenko have obtained any more verification, other than to say they had spoken to “about 10 relatives” and soldiers who accompanied bodies of those killed in action back to Russia, but they had no proof they had been in Ukraine, their death certificates were filled out to suggest they had died elsewhere, and they had no list of names.
As Reuters reported:
“When I talk to the guys who accompanied these coffins of these contract soldiers, they tell me that the order was given orally, there were no forms of documents,” said Polyakova.
If confirmed, the deaths would support assertions by Kiev and its Western allies that Russia is fuelling the conflict in eastern Ukraine by supplying the separatists with both weapons and soldiers.
They pose awkward questions for the Kremlin, which has consistently denied involvement in the conflict. A defence ministry official repeated that denial in strong terms on Thursday.
No one answered the phone when Reuters called a ministry spokesman to ask about the Snizhnye incident.
Russian officials have indeed strenuously denied these reports, and admitted only that some “volunteers” may be fighting in the Donbass or that some of the regular army could have “strayed into Ukraine” by accident. In social media, Kremlin propagandists and pro-separatist media are attacking the independent Russian sources, saying they have used photoshopped versions of photos, fake social media accounts, or were in the pay of Western intelligence agencies.
A well-known and controversial video blogger Anatoly Shariy denounced the Soldiers’ Mothers story as fake. To discredit them, he purported to find police records and a criminal history for one, and for the Soldier’s Mothers of St. Petersburg, he said their grant of $84,966 from the National Endowment for Democracy, a US-funded organization, discredited them and associated them with the war in Iraq as “liars” like the Bush Administration.
The grants given to Soldiers’ Mothers groups in St. Petersburg, Kostroma
($26,201) and Pskov ($25,393) in 2011 by NED are for education, training and
legal aid, all legitimate and open civic activities.
in the Russian army are notoriously brutal and one of the major areas
of human rights abuse in Russia is in armed service. Given the profound
difficulties the relatives are facing now in trying to get the most
basic information about what happened to these men, one can see the needs
for civil society development and legal services are great.
Shaliy’s claim is a cheap smear tactic, given that the NED works openly to promote
civil society around the world and does not require grantees to have any
affiliation with the views or policies of the US government, past or
present; President Obama withdrew US troops from Iraq in 2011.
In fact, NED no longer publishes the names of grantees
precisely because they are harassed in this matter, although the
information is available to Congress.
Since the adoption of a draconian
“Foreign Agents” act, groups have ceased to get foreign aid because it
requires them to register as “foreign agents” and face far more intense
scrutiny from the government as well as public vilification. Shaliy is
viewed as a “plague-on-both-your-houses” peace advocate because he has
debunked some wild Russian state and separatist propaganda such as the
story of the “crucifixion of the three-year-old,” but most of his
efforts are anti-Kiev in nature, like this one.
As can be seen
from this tweet from a Wall Street Journal reporter and discussion, the issue of US granting to the critics
of the war will be used to attempt to discredit them.
The independent Russian online newspaper Novaya Gazeta has followed up on the 10 Kostroma POWs captured in Ukraine from the 331st Regiment of the 98th Division of the Russian Airborne Troops. The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) held a press conference with nine of them who are now interned in the Kiev pre-trial detention prison; it turns out the 10th had suffered burns and was transferred to a burn unit in St. Petersburg.
Press conference with Kostroma POWs. Photo by Reuters.
They were given the order to move out to Rostov on 16 August, which was a change in plans — earlier they had been scheduled to go to the town of Luga near St. Petersburg on 20 August, where the regiment travelled every year.
Yelena Racheva, a journalist for Novaya Gazeta got in touch with some of the parents and wives of the soldiers, who did not want to publicize their names for fear of reprisals. The Interpreter has summarized the article and translated some quotations.
Their accounts tally with some of the statements made by the POWs in their coerced confessions. They said the soldiers had been told they were going for training in Rostov for two weeks, but then suddenly were ordere to take their winter kits as well. The wives were forbidden to come to the base to see off their husbands. One of them disobeyed and came anyway to bring her husband some clothes. She said she saw a lot of military vehicles, more than usual, and the entire regiment departed.
The reporters also learned that the men had been asked if they wanted to go to these “exercises” but some refused, and 40 were immediately discharged. The rest were not told where they were going, but that their combat readiness would be tested.
One wife, “Yelena,” said that she believed her husband, “Artyom” (the reporters changed the names) did know the destination, but had told her the soldiers had signed non-disclosure agreements, and their cell phones were taken from them so that they could not be geolocated by their phones. While they were supposed to depart 16 August, they were still loading up vehicles and left only on the 17th. Yelena said she heard from her husband then for the last time from the train on 21 August, where he sent a text message, “Honey, we’re at the Taganrog-1 station, look how far away Ukraine is.”
He then called on 22 August and said the train had stopped and they were setting up camp. “We are not far from the border, about a kilometer, I don’t know,” he said. She recalled that an officer had visited the regiment back on 12 August and told them that Ukrainians were shelling on to Russian territory and they had to be prepared. She asked her husband if he were going to war. “Oh, not, it’s just training,” he said. Yelena then recalled another detail: back in May, the whole regiment had been ordered to get foreign passports or face dismissal. This is an interesting detail, because the pro-Kremlin debunkers who have challenged this story repeatedly reference the fact that normally soldiers wouldn’t take passports into battle with them, they’d have just their military ID.
On 23 August, Artyom called and said the soldiers were told to remove name tags from their clothing and remove their telnyashki, the usual paratroopers’ striped t-shirt, and were given military t-shirts and camouflage. All their ID and draft cards were taken from them. He told his wife not to worry, they would only be gone 2-3 three days, during which he would be unable to call. “Are you going to scare Ukraine?” she asked, and he laughed and said no, but she felt his voice was different than usual, and he asked to say goodbye to their daughter. On 24 August, he called at 3:00 am to say they were 15 km from the border, had been roused for an emergency and were going on a 70-kilometer march. That was the last she heard from him.
One other soldier had kept a phone to use despite instructions and called his wife later to tell her that there had been a great number of soldiers killed and wounded. After the news of the 10 POWs came out, people who had served with Artyom, relatives of the others converged upon the regiment.
There Col. Aleksandr Khotulev read out a list of casualties: 2 contract soldiers had died and 10 were wounded and in Rostov hospitals; 9 were detained by the Ukrainians, and the 10th was in the ER. They said the men had gone into Ukrainian territory “by mistake” while “patrolling the border.” When asked why they had to change into camouflage if they were only patrolling the border, the commander angrily told them “The order came. Ask the Defense Ministry.”
The relatives of the POWs describe how they have been reviled in social media, and were threatened that if they didn’t pick up their relatives they would return home as “Cargo 200,” i.e. dead. The commander explained that they would be exchanged for Ukrainian POWs in due course.
Yelena is still looking for her husband; there were reports of as many as 250 Russian soldiers without documents killed in battle, but others said many wounded were brought to Rostov. Her husband’s mother called the hospitals and didn’t find him in the list.
Then 30 of the wives decided to stage a picket at the base with posters on 28 August, but one of the wives got a phone call 27 August from the prosecutor’s office saying that 300 soldiers were alive, they were all in various cities, that they would return, but it would take awhile. She was ordered not to divulge any information, not to report her husband as a missing person, or go to any rallies. Then the other wives were threatened and warned that they could face fines of 200,000 rubles for unauthorized rallies and their husbands could be jailed for divulging state secrets. When Yelena called the field camp in Rostov again, the officer told her she was only making things worse for her husband, and that he’d be killed just for talking to her.
“What, Putin wanted to withdraw the troops quietly, and now he can’t?” asked Yelena. “Yes,” she was told.
The women decided to come to demonstrate anyway, but without posters and banners. An officer named Albert Akhmerov told them that none of the wounded or bodies of those killed were there, and that there was no mobile connection. He tried to reassure the wives, “Everything is fine with your husbands, as for wounds, they only have blisters.” He clearly had no information, but the wives insisted that he tell them where their husbands where. The official shewed away a journalist from the French AFP who had come to cover the demonstration, saying he was only “smearing Russia.” “They are making PR out of your grief, they are defaming our country, they are non-Russian people!” he cried.
“Your husbands are alive and well! They are honestly fulfilling their military duty. You can be proud of your husbands. They are Russian warriors, I tell you this as an officer of the Russian army. They are Russians, Russians, Russian people!”
Some of the wives then turned on the AFP reporter, urging him to leave.
Then 50 of the relatives gathered at the paratrooper’s staff headquarters, and told journalists that they had last spoken to the men on 23 August. One of them who had purchased an international cell phone and loaded it with minutes; her husband had hidden it in his pocket despite instructions, but was not reachable. Military officials finally agreed to see them, but first carefully checked all their passports. They were not given any lists of dead or wounded; they were told the men were on “planned exercises” and that was it.
Meanwhile, the news got out that two coffins of those killed in action had arrived in Kostroma, but the names were not available.
Last week on 25 August, the independent news site slon.ru reported on the burials of paratroopers said to be from the 76th Assault Guards Pskov Division, using pictures provided by a local newspaper, Pskovskaya Gubernaya. There was so much denial from officials and so much social media chatter that the information was faked or photoshopped, that another independent newspaper, Novaya Gazeta also went to the location and went over the story as well.
When Novaya Gazeta’s Nina Petlyanova tried to research the stories of paratroopers from the 76th Assault Guards Pskov Division, first reported by Ukrainian journalist Roman Bochkala, she, too, first encountered denials. Lt. Gen. Vladimir Shamanov, commander of the Russian Airborne Forces, said that “everyone is alive and well in our assault paratroopers division.” Major General Igor Konashenkov of the Russian Defense Ministry also said such information was “a falsehood” when Ukrainian forces said they had seized a Russian BMD with documents of paratroopers killed or taken capture.
On 25 August, when Petlyanova and another journalist from the St. Petersburg newspaper Fontaka.ru travelled to Pskov Region to find out more about a funeral reported there, there were more obstacles.
First, when she called the number, the wife of Leonid Kichatkin insisted that he was alive, and that his VKontakte page had been hacked. She gave the phone to a man who said he was alive and well, had not gone anywhere because his wife was “pregnant plus there are three children” and that “I can sing a song for you or dance for the video camera” to prove his status.
Baffled, the journalists continued to the graveyard, where they found a grave with the name of Leonid Yuryevich Kichatkin 30.09.1984-19.08.2014″ and wreaths from military units. They found a major standing near the grave who told them two soldiers had just been buried, Kichatkin and another whose grave said “Aleksandr Sergeyevich Osipov 15.12.1993-20.08.2014”. This man turned out to be the father of Osipov, mourning that he had sent his own son off to war.
25 August. Funeral of Leonid Kichatkin. Photo by Nina Petlyanova/Novaya Gazeta.
As is customary at Russian gravesides, the major had a little table with bottles of vodka, bread, and tomatos for the wake. They drank to the memory of the major’s son, and he said “He wanted to be a hero…Soldiers have a job to do. Somebody has to pay their debt to the Motherland.” He said their convoy had been caught between mortar and Grad fire after spending only a week in Ukraine; he also could not say how many had been killed, but that there were more to bury.
A third new grave had the name “Sergei Mikhailovich Volkov, born 30.11.1986 died 11 June 2014.” The cause and place of his death was not clear. Nearby they also discovered a relative of Kichatkin’s who said they had held a brief service for his relative who had “been killed near Lugansk while fulfilling his military duties.” That was all he knew. By now, the telephone number the journalists had been calling where supposedly Kichatov’s wife and husband were alive and well was disconnected.
Novaya Gazeta also followed up with Bochkala and discovered some more oddities. Bochkala said that after a battle in Georgievka in Lutugin District of Lugansk Region, he had obtained the photos of a captured BMD and its contents appearing to belong to the 76th Guards from a source within the 24th brigade of Lvov Region in the Ukrainian Interior Ministry troops. But he had no idea of the fate of the crew.
After Bochkala’s publication, on 21-22 August, a number of bloggers and Facebook users began to publish another list that had 15 names of paratroopers, and still another overlapping list of other soldiers said to be in this division. Bochkala said he had no idea where these lists came from; he had originally published a photo of a log book found in the BMD.
Some of the soldiers on this list had not gotten in touch with anyone since 15-16 August, which caused panic among all their families. While a few eventually appeared to update their status, most have not. The mother of Pavel Semakin told Novaya Gazeta that she had yet to hear from her son and was frantic. Her son’s commander had told his fiancee that “everything was fine,” but they didn’t know where he was.
Another woman, Olga Urazova, the wife of an officer in the 76th Guards said she had been told they were sent to Rostov but had heard nothing since around 16 August. Yet a third relative, Yelena Baranova, the mother of yet another soldier said that her last call from her son was 15 August, and he said, “Mama, we’re going to training, I don’t know where.” Before this, he had called her every day. Now she hadn’t heard from him since. Yekaterina, the wife of Andrei Babin, said her husband, too, had not been in touch since 14 August.
Meanwhile, officers at the 76th Guards refused to provide any comment.
With the information that there might be more funerals, other journalists tried to follow up. They went on a harrowing chase through the cemetery, glimpsing fresh graves, before being chased away by men in track suits who threw rocks at them and punctured their tires with screws. In this video, the journalists repeatedly try to drive away, calling the police all the while.
Then gazeta.ru, another independent publication, followed up with a publication 26 August.
They, too learned from eye-witnesses that a funeral service had taken place without about 100 military and police in attenance, but no one would talk directly to the reporters about what happened. They found the three graves in a cemetery attached to the Church of Ilya the Prophet XV. They also found military wreaths on their graves, but no indication of where they had died.
Photo by gazeta.ru
Yesterday August 27, Dmitry Monakhov, an activist of the Solidarity movement and a blogger and streamer, posted the following tweet:
Translation: I am a Russian Federation citizen. Not a cow. Not a murderer. Not an occupier. I am ashamed that Putin is my president. At 9:00 a.m. I am going to Manezh Square against the war.
He also re-tweeted a poll posted on twitter by journalist Savik Shuster:
Translation: If you are Russian and against the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, re-tweet!
As of this writing, he had 1,736 re-tweets.
Today, Monakhov headed out to Manezh Square in the center of Moscow and not surprisingly, he was arrested. He last tweeted 10 hours ago.
Translation: I have been detained. I don’t know what the charges will be.
Photojournalist Philip Kireev posted photos of the arrest and a report on his LiveJournal blog. The Interpreter has a translation.
Before the police showed up, Monakhov managed to make a short speech, saying that Putin’s actions should be prosecuted under the Russian
criminal code Art. 353, “planning, preparation, instigating or conducting
“Why are things normal now in Kramatorsk and Slavyansk? Because the so-called ‘separatists’ have left there. Murders happen only where ‘separatists’ are. Our president is guilty of instigating war. The bodies of paratroopers don’t come from outer space. We must open a criminal case and drag our president before the court.”
Some people listened quietly. Other people just took pictures of him silently, or jeered and swore at him, telling him to “shut your mouth” or “get out of Russia.”
Within minutes, the police arrived to arrest him. One person urged the police not to use force — he was alone, after all. Another commented that under Stalin, he’d be executed, as if unhappy at the milder results. Although according to Kireev, Monakhov just stood with his hands up, it took about 7 minutes for police to get him into the car.
According to ovdinfo.org, the police monitoring group, Monakhov was sentenced by Judge Aleksei Stekliev at the Tverskoy District Court to 15 days of administrative arrest under Art. 19.3 of the administrative code for “resistance to the lawful demands of a police officer.”
Emil Terekhin, who attempted to register himself as a defender of Monakhov, was himself detained by court bailiffs who charged him with failure to obey a court bailiff.
Six other people who also independently came later this evening to demonstrate on Manezh Square were also arrested, ovdinfo.org reported: Mariya Ryabikova, Yelena Cherepanova-Malko, Olga Mazurova, Yelena Zakharova, Yelena Bukvareva and Andrei Kurgin. They have been taken away in a police van at 19:30. The five women had a poster that said, “I, Citizen of Russia, Am Against the War with Ukraine” and “No to War!”
In a blog post titled “No Anser” on the web site of Ekho Moskvy, Elena, the wife of an officer of the 98th Guards of the Airborne Troops in Kostroma recounts her fears for her husband who has not phoned her in more than a week. He is in the same division as men now shown as POWs at a press conference in Kiev today, who were captured 24 August. The Interpreter has translated her post:
My husband is an officer of the 331st Guard Parachute Paratroopers Regiment located in Kostroma. On the morning of 16 August, the soldiers of that regiment as well as the artillery regiment were roused for an emergency. No one understood what was going on. They were ordered to load up the vehicles on rail cars. Thus they loaded the cars for two days, and on Monday, 18 August, in the evening, the first cars left on the railroad. No one has been able to say where they went. The official version is that they went on a two-week training session in Rostov Region, although few people believe this, because all the soldiers were ordered to bring their winter uniforms with them. Furthermore, everyone stocked up on camouflage uniforms, because they were ordered to go “to the training” not in their uniforms.
My husband called me for the last time from the train on the next day after their departure: he said that they were going someplace but he didn’t know. He also said that their telephones would be taken away from them in a half hour…Ever since, my husband has not gotten in touch.
For all this time, each day I have been phoning the wives of other soldiers to learn at least some kind of news, but nothing concrete. But yesterday I heard the news of the detention of the Kostroma paratroopers, and my worst fears were confirmed: they are in Ukraine. It was fearful, bitter, and hurtful for me: when I married a military man, I was proud of the fact that I would be an officer’s wife, that my husband will defend the Motherland, and in fact it turns out that this “Motherland” has rejected him, removed all identifying emblems from the soldiers and painting over the numbers on the BMDs. For what reason??? Why should they be cannon fodder for the sake of someone’s interests? They didn’t even know where they were being taken…
Today there was a formation at the army base, and a friend of my husband’s reported that there were three people killed in the regiment, and several wounded. But the command is putting forth an absolutely mythical story about how this is all supposedly accidental, that they are all now in Rostov Region, and those who were killed went on to Ukrainian territory by mistake and landed under mortar fire. And at the end of the conversation, the friend added, “Just wait, it will turn out alright.”
Now this is terrible! How can all this turn out alright? Now that I know about the death of Pskov paratroopers, I am terribly afraid…My husband is at war…It’s not clear who he is fighting for…I don’t know anything about him…I don’t have the slightest notion of when he will return…And I don’t want all of this to be covered up, and for the guys to keep dying, secretly brought out of Ukraine. I want to shout about this, to shout about the fact that our husbands and sons are being killed. I don’t want to wait for new lists of killed and wounded, I want for this hell to end, and for the boys to come home.
A group of mothers and wives of other missing soldiers also held a press conference in Kostroma, and some of them gave their names and called on the Russian Defense Ministry to provide news of their relatives.
The editors Pavel Aptekar, Nikolai Epple and Andrei Sinitsyn point out that with a growing number of unanswered questions about Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine, with evidence of paratroopers buried in Pskov and prisoners of war interrogated by the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), it’s time for the Kremlin to provide some answers.
Yesterday, Sergei Krivenko and Ella Polyakov, two members of the presidential Council for Civil Society Development and Human Rights publicly asked questions about the death of nine contract soldiers for the 18th Motorized Rifle Brigade in Rostov Region. (These human rights advocates officially recognized by the Kremlin as consultants explained publicly that they had been quietly seeking answers for weeks.)
Ludmila Bogatenkova, head of the Stavropol Territory Committee for Soldiers’ Mothers, told Gazeta.ru yesterday that 9 soldiers had died in Snezhnoye on the border of Donetsk and Lugansk Regions. The Dagestani journal Chernovik has also asked questions about soldiers from their republic who have apparently been killed in battle, although they were claimed to have died during training.
Vedomosti also asked about reports of the paratroopers of the 76th Assault Guards in Pskov; as we reported, two men, Leonid Kichatkin and Aleksandr Osipov whose documents were found in BMDs seized by Ukrainian army in Lugansk Region were buried in Pskov Region 25 August.
Several dozen paratroopers in a list of men matched to the documents Ukrainian army said were found in the BMDs also have not updated their social media pages since August 16, and have not gotten in touch with relatives and are feared dead or captured.
Finally, today the SBU held a press conference with 9 POWs from the 331st Regiment of the 98th Svirsk Division of the Russian Airborne Troops. The Defense Ministry claims they “lost their way” near the border. The Interpreter has provided a translation of an excerpt of the editorial:
The reports that several dozen paratroopers have ceased contact since mid-August have been appearing in social networks for a week. Russian military spokesmen categorically deny any participation in combat, but don’t tell parents about their missing children — the mother of yet another contractor for the 76th Guards, Ilya Maksimov, yesterday spoke of this at a press conference in Saratov; he was also “in training in Rostov” and his documents were also discovered by Ukrainian military in a seized armored vehicle. His parents have heard nothing from him since 16 August.
The silence or mumbled commentary from official ministries has only increased the atmosphere of suspicion and forces us to recall unpleasant examples from Russian and Soviet history. The country didn’t know about the secret operations of the Red Army in Afghanistan in 1929 and in Xinjiang in the 1930s. Their participants were forbidden to write to relatives about their real location, letters were sent from the place of deployment after review by the censor. In the same way, the Kremlin was silent about the participation of Soviet soldiers in combat in Korea and Vietnam against the USA, and in Egypt and Syria against Israel.
In the first years of the war in Afghanistan, tens of thousands of officers and draftees were sent there. In the early 1980s, the Soviet media spoke only about the soldiers’ aid to civilian Afghans; civilians learned about combat in this mountainous country from the broadcasts of foreign “voices.” The bodies of those who died were brought back and buried in secret; until the mid-1980s, it was forbidden to mention the place and cause of death.
In Russia, this experience was repeated in November 1994, when military aid for the anti-Dudayev opposition in Chechnya was organized. About 80 officers and ensigns from counter-intelligence were recruited into army units “to service military equipment.” After signing a contract, they personally took part in the failed attempt to storm Grozny 26 November 1994. many of them were killed, and more than 20 were captured. Defense Minister Pavel Grachev said that Russian soldiers were not involved in the storming, and that mercenaries were fighting in Chechnya.
Both Afghanistan and Chechnya would seem to provide lessons on transparency. In both cases, the war and the attempts to hide information about losses among the soldiers enabled the escalation of the crisis in society and the fall of political support of the authorities. In fact, from the bureaucratic perspective, it’s a negative experience — after all, many careers collapsed when everything was opened up.
After Chechnya, at least some reforms began in the Russian army — largely fostered by the independent media and civic groups, above all, the committees of soldiers’ mothers. This feedback was not needed by bureaucrats — there are few independent media left now, and independent NGOs have been put in a difficult position; the dependent ones are silent.
Is Russia fighting in Ukraine? This is a serious legal issue creating problems for specific people.
How will the Ukrainian government treat the POWs, which the Russian government does not acknowledge as their soldiers? Formally, as participants in separatist groups.
If soldiers are having their contracts immediately torn up before being sent on assignment — who will be responsible for their health and life? The relatives won’t even have grounds to demand compensation from the government. If we are not at war, and our soldiers ended up in Ukrainian captivity — what is to prevent the Defense Ministry from declaring them deserters and throwing them in prison after they return to the motherland? There is also rich historical experience on that topic.
Perhaps Russian politicians and soldiers are trying to operate “like in Crimea”: the participation of our soldiers was also not admitted there until the right time. “The glorious victory” removed questions of compliance with international and domestic laws from the field of vision of Russians. But in Crimea, they got by without shooting and victims. In the South-East [of Ukraine] it’s completely different, some sort of hypothetical “victory” will not excuse anything. Complete control over information is impossible to achieve. Responsibility for the victims will have to be borne.
The saga continues of “Mustang Wanted,” the “roofer” who painted the star atop the Stalin-era building in Moscow to match the Ukrainian flag’s colors.
After he took credit for the escapade in an attempt to exonerate four others charged with vandalism, the news got out that he had sold the exclusive rights to a video and stills of his prank to LifeNews, a TV station with close ties to Russian intelligence.
But he reneged on the agreement immediately and published the same pictures on his Facebook account.
Now he’s in the news again for announcing that he is donating the fee of $5,000 to the Donbass Battalion in Ukraine — the unit which recently lost one of its prominent members, the Ukrainian-American Mark Paslawsky and and whose leader, Semyon Semyonechenko, was seriously wounded in battle with Russian-backed separatists.
As some people didn’t believe the story of the fee, Aram Ashotovich Gabrelyanov (@AramAshotich), the head of LifeNews, has published the screenshots of the cell phone conversation on Twitter.
Translation: More horse )))
[Cell phone chat]
Grigory Mustang: Ready to look at your proposal.
Aram Ashotovich: Show me a preview or one photo and I’ll tell you. I want to understand what we’re talking about.
Grigory Mustang: I’ll try to cut out a scene.
Aram Ashotovich: Well just make a screenshot and send it.
Grigory Mustang: The picture is very simple.
Translation: And still more )))
Grigory Mustang: I need it now.
Foreigners offered me 4500 euros. If they confirm in an hour or two, the video will go to them.
Aram Ashotovich: Name me a sum in order to send the video right now.
Grigory Mustang: 5000 dollars.
Aram Ashotovich: What guarantees that you will
This prompted a quip from rival Russian blogger Oleg Kashin:
Translation: For buying blue and yellow paint, there’s Mastercard. F***king over Aram Ashotich — priceless!
Translation: @KSHN I liked that. I argued at a round table whether that line was yours. Today’s not my day. Lost a bottle of Dagestani cognac to Tolya Suleymanov )
The Russian blogosphere lit up with reproaches of Mustang for reneging on the exclusive agreement, and calls for him to return the money.
And meanwhile a campaign got started to discredit him with ties to neo-Nazi groups.
As we noted, this involved part disinformation, part truth.
Stanislav Apetyan (@politrash) was among the pro-Kremlin bloggers tweeting links to a blog discrediting Mustang. Apetyan is a consultant for the Fund for Development of Civil Society, an elite NGO founded by former Kremlin official Konstantin Kostin who still advises Vyacheslav Volodin, deputy head of Putin’s administration.
Translation: Roofer Grigory AKA Pasha AKA member of the Nazi WotanJugend and Azov punitive battalion. maximkalinov.livejournal.com/279347.html Full monte.
This tweet got a re-tweet from Maxim Ksenzov, the deputy head of Roskomnadzor, the state censor. (It’s not certain it’s his account, but it appears to be.)
As we noted from the misleading linked and described material, Mustang isn’t a member of WotanJugend, but did spend some time in combat with Azov, or so he implies on his Instagram account.
And now the final twist — to further infuriate LifeNews and the other Kremlin supporters, and confound those trying to tie him to Azov: he announced that he donated his $5,000 to the Donbass Battalion — another fighting unit in Ukraine that is also associated with nationalists, but doesn’t have the Nazi reputation of Azov.
Translation: Roofer Mustang Wanted helped LifeNews transfer $5,000 for the needs of the Donbass Battalion.
Mustang is climbing roofs and not in combat, and his exact views seem to have shifted.
But the association with a group accused of using Nazi symbols and subscribing to Nazi ideology caused Red Bull, which in May had originally featured him in a story about his video with, to pull the article completely from their website.
A commenter on Mustang’s Facebook page applauded the removal of the article by Red Bull.
An earlier story about Mustang is still on the site.
A tweet about the article still exists, but the link goes to a page that has been removed.
There’s also a Reddit debate about the nature of Mustang’s vandalism and its equivalents in the US and other countries, and the nature of his association with Azov.
And there’s sure to be more to come.
Lysenko spoke on ICTV’s program “Freedom of Speech”. The Interpreter has a translation:
The information on the breakthrough of the [Russian] convoy from the direction of Taganrog does not correspond to reality. There is no such column. I talked with border guards literally an hour ago, and with the staff of the ATO [anti-terrorism operation] — this convoy has not been established. No one has seen it.
However, there is information that in the area of Gukovo, which is Rostov Region, there really is a convoy consisting of approximately 100 military vehicles. These are tanks, BMPs and Grad systems, trucks with ammunition and transport of the personnel. This convoy has really been established, but it has not crossed the border into Ukraine. It is being observed.
Earlier we reported a Russian convoy filmed in the Ukrainian town of Sverdlovsk headed toward Lugansk, which we were able to geolocate.
We are also attempting to verify a video of another separatist convoy reported today in Donetsk.
Genri Reznik, a veteran civil rights attorney, picketed the state-run NTV channel studio today in protest against the show “13 Friends of the Junta” broadcast this week, TV Rain reported.
“We will defend the country from the tele-junta,” his protest sign said. The show attacked critics of Putin’s war on Ukraine and depicted them as “fascists” or tools of the US.
“You may not be a lawyer, but you can be a citizen,” Reznik told a reporter from Novaya Gazeta who asked why he had come out to protest.
Reznik remained outside with his picket near a memorial to the poet Joseph Brodsky for one hour.
Reznik was in the news last summer when he came to the airport to meet fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, and said that he believed he should be given the opportunity to seek asylum as a person of conviction.
The NTV show, aired on the regular program “Profession: Reporter”, lambasted musicians such as Andrei Makarevich and other public figures who have criticized Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, starting with the forcible annexation of Crimea. Makarevich protested his harassment by state TV for his peace views in a letter to Putin yesterday.
Others singled out in the NTV program were Ilya Ponomarev, the lone parliamentarian who voted against the annexation of Ukraine; Viktor Shenderovich, a critical independent TV host, poet Dmitry Bykov and political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky.
NTV attacked some of the “13 friends” for attending a conference with Ukrainian counterparts in Kiev earlier this year, sponsored by Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former political prisoner pardoned by President Putin before the Sochi Olympics. [Note: The Interpreter is a project of the Institute for Modern Russia, funded by Khodorkovsky.]
The broadcast ended with a slam of “Mustang,” the “roofer” who painted the star on the top of the Stalin-era building in Moscow to match the colors of the Ukrainian flag.
Venera Galeyeva of Fontanka, another independent publication from St. Petersburg tweeted this morning.
Translation: Please re-post! Two unknown persons have detained Sergei Kovalchenko of
the Telegraf at the cemetery where the paratroopers are buried in Pskov.
Kovalchenko was later able to escape and told BaltInfo:
well-built young men in civilian clothing who did not introduce
themselves, threatening reprisals, demanded that I give up my camera.
They said that their “elders” would arrive soon. They summoned some kind
of people but apparently they had second thoughts about coming when
reports appeared on the Internet.
The assailants erased his memory cards. The journalist called the police and is now trying to file a complaint.
Earlier, rocks were thrown at journalists from TV Rain and Russkaya Planeta as they tried to drive through the cemetery.
The reporters were trying to investigate secret funerals held yesterday of paratroopers from the 76th Guards in Pskov believed to have been killed in action in Ukraine; several sources had told them there would be more funerals.
A member of the Kremlin’s official civil society council has come
forward with further information about a large number of Russian soldiers wounded under
mysterious circumstances, TV Rain reports.
Polyakova, a member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society
Development and Human Rights and the chair of the Committee of Soldiers’
Mothers in St. Petersburg, told TV Rain that a large number of wounded
Russian soldiers were brought to St. Petersburg earlier this month.
transport with a large number of wounded men was brought to the
military medical academy,” she told TV Rain referencing the Kirov
Military Medical Academy of St. Petersburg.
She believes there
were about a hundred wounded soldiers on board, although she did not
know where they had been fighting or what circumstances they were in.
Polyakov and another member of the Council, Sergei Krivenko, had sent
an inquiry to the Russian Investigative Committee with a request to
conduct an investigation into the circumstances of the deaths of nine contract
soldiers from the 18th Motor Rifle Brigade (army unit 27777), mainly natives
of Dagestan. According to the official government story, they died while
training in Rostov Region on 9 and 11 August.
Polyakova said the
two-week delay in publicizing the information was related to an effort
to try to verify it, and it is still being investigated.
Russian journalists investigating the deaths of Russian paratroopers who were at a cemetery in the town of Vybuty near the Pskov Airborne Division base were attacked by unidentified persons, TV Rain reported.
Vladimir Romensky of TV Rain and another journalist, Ilya Vasyunin of Russkaya Planeta, were at a cemetery where yesterday paratroopers reportedly killed in action in Ukraine were buried (see our report).
The journalists were able to escape from the cemetery and are now in safety with other reporters from St. Petersburg’s Fontanka and Novaya Gazeta. They intend to file a complaint at the local police station.
These are among the last independent media in Russia.
Yeterday, other unidentified persons dressed in black warned them they should “go back to Moscow on the first train.”
The commander has promised to meet with the relatives today, August 26. The ten POWs are from the 98th guards, originally based in Kostroma and Ivanovo, and were detained near the village of Zerkalnoye in Donetsk Region, 20 kilometers from the border.
The POWs were interrogated and it was established that they were sent to Rostov-on-Don last week by rail.
The Interpreter reported 23 August that a Russian military convoy was spotted on the railroad 20 August by a citizen who uploaded a video to YouTube.
The original group consisted of 350-400 men, with an artillery division, a scouting regiment, about 30 IVFs, 18 Nona artillery systems and about 60 other vehicles. The detainees were dressed in Russian army uniforms without insignia and wore additional masking. The identifying numbers on the vehicles were painted out green and also white circles were placed over them, according to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry.
One POW, Ivan Romantsev said during an interrogation that they were ordered to depart from Kostroma on August 16, and were told they were going on a mission. They reached Rostov and set up camp outside the city. They were told to paint over the numbers on the military vehicles with white circles, and were told that this would be used in a training exercise to distinguish competing sides.
The Russian soldiers were roused on the night of 23-24 August and sent on a march, and ordered to keep radio silence. They crossed the border at Ilovaysk, but two armored vehicles got separated from the group; one was destroyed according to Ukrainian spokesmen.
Senior Lt. Mikhail Milenko, commander of the platoon, ran away from battle and went into hiding, leaving his subordinates behind. They decided to try to break out on their own but wound up surrounded soon afterward and were forced to surrender to the ATO [anti-terrorist operation] forces.
Ukrainian Defense Ministery Valeriy Heletey, in a post on his Facebook page, urged relatives to find out where their relatives were in reality and to take them away from Ukraine.
The Russian Defense Ministry claimed the soldiers were patrolling the border and got lost, ITAR-TASS reported.
Viktor Murakhovsky, a military expert and colonel in the reserves told RBC that in the psat, Russia has released Ukrainian POWs to Ukraine without any conditions when they had crossed the border into Russian territory, and he believed Ukraine should follow suit. Otherwise, Russia would likely not release Ukrainian soldiers found on Russian territory.
Ukrainska Pravda and other Ukrainian media have reported that 10 Russian soldiers have been taken captive after their convoy invaded Ukrainian territory.
Pictures of the 10 soldiers have been published along with their names, and they look as if they may have been beaten in captivity, as their noses and faces are swollen and they have scratches and cuts on their faces.
The confessions of such soldiers in captivity cannot be taken as reliable and have been coerced.
The following is a transcript of one of the videos uploaded 25 August from the interrogation of a soldier captured near Zerkalny, Amvrosievka District in Donetsk Region by Ukrainian Armed Forces and the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU). It is described as the interrogation of captive Russian paratrooper guard Private 1st Class Ivan Vasilyevich Milchakov, who was taken captive 25.08.2014.
The interrogator asks the soldier about his page in VKontakte, the popular Russian social media network.
The Interpreter has provided a translation.
Interrogator: So this is from your division?
Interrogator: Introduce yourself, please.
Milchakov: I’m from the Russian Federation, my name is Ivan Vasilyevich Milchakov, born 7 June, 1995.
Interrogator: Where did you serve?
Milchakov: I don’t understand.
Interrogator: You’re serving, correct?
Milchakov: I serve in the city of Kostroma, Russian Federation, at army base 71211, 331th Parachute Paratroopers Regime, 98th Airborne Division
Milchakov: Rank [inaudible]
Interrogator: Do you know that you are now illegally on the territory of Ukraine?
Milchakov: I guessed. But I realized it when they already began to bomb us.
Interrogator: Ah-hah. How did you end up on Ukrainian territory?
Milchakov: We went in convoys. Not on the roads but through the fields. I didn’t even see where we crossed the border.
Interrogator: Understood. But you did know were going to Ukraine?
Milchakov: We knew.
Interrogator: And…your purpose?
Milchakov: They didn’t tell us anything. They just said we were going on a march for 70 kilometers, on a 3-day trip.
Interrogator. Ah-hah. Can you take that? It’s your dog-tag?
Milchakov: Yes, it’s my dog-tag.
Interrogator: Read it.
Milchakov: Armed Forces of Russia SU 108012
Interrogator: Can I have that? “VS [Armed Forces] of Russia. SU-108012”
Tell me…your personal opinion…Why did they send you here?
Milchakov: My personal opinion? My personal opinion, if it were up to me, I wouldn’t have stuck my nose in…I think Ukraine is also independent. If there are some kind of problems, then let them resolve them internally….themselves. But for outsiders shouldn’t stick their nose in.
Interrogator: On your page on VKontakte…There’s this phrase…”I’m being sent to Rostov once again. To the war. To wipe out Maidan. I’m leaving Monday.” So here it is. Is there such a phrase? Is that yours?
Milchakov: Yes, it’s mine.
Interrogator: Can you provide some commentary?
Milchakov: Provide commentary? At that moment, they didn’t tell us anything concrete. There were just rumors. But everyone understood…what would happen. We’re going to Rostov. Since there will be training in Rostov.
Interrogator: So then what does “wiping out Maidan” have to do with that.
Milchakov: Well, sort of…it’s embarrassing even to say…I just wanted to show off in front of my friends, I guess. That’s why I wrote that.
At that moment, we didn’t know, we were told, on the television, there were rumors going around… in our country, in Russia, “Bandera,” it will do anything, but the militia, that’s good. But coming here, and winding up in captivity, it was explained to us, and they opened our eyes to the truth, what is really going on. We didn’t even know why we were going here. We went here, and that’s it. We just lost our way. They shot us with mortar shells. Then from the Russian side, they shot with Grads as well.
Interrogator: Your own people?
Milchakov: [Nods head several times.]
They brainwash us Russians, I’ll tell you that. In fact, everything is different. Not the way they say on television. But we simple guys, they tell us what to do, we do it. We’re coming here like cannon fodder. We don’t know why, or for what reason. That’s it.
Interrogator: Thank you.
Milchakov: So I send love to everyone. To Mama, Papa, brother, sister, Grandma, Grandpa. My beloved Grandfather Oleg, it’s so hard for him now, and when he finds out, it will be even harder for him.
To the commanders, I would call on you not to hide from soldiers, what’s going on and where we’re going…and they said…we’re like blind cats, going along.
Russian rock start Andrei Makarevich, frontman of the veteran Russian band Mashina Veremeni (Time Machine) appealed to President Vladimir Putin to stop the hate campaign against him in the state media for his charity concert in Ukraine for refugees:
Dear Mr. President,
For three weeks now, the flood of filth and libels pouring on me from the pages of newspapers and the screens of televisions has not ebbed. I am called “a friend of the junta,” “an enabler of fascists,” a “traitor” and so on. Meanwhile, the only “crime” which I have committed consists of the fact that in the city of Svyatogorsk, in a camp for refugees from Donetsk and Lugansk, at a charity concert I sang three songs for the children of refugees. In that connection I do not feel I have any blame. All the rest that you are being told by the media about my trip is unconscionable lying.
The group Time Machine has existed for 45 years. In these years it has acquired millions of fans in Russia and the world. And there is no way that we can be accused of not loving the Motherland.
Mr. President, I urge you to cease this witch-hunt, defaming my name.
Still a People’s Artist of Russia
The word Makarevich uses in this appeal — and which many are using to describe what is happening to him — is shabash, which means literally “a witches’ sabbath,” so the concept isn’t literally “witch-hunt” (which would be okhota za ved’yami in Russian) but a Satanic gathering, a deliberate celebration of evil and also conveys the sense of persecution of enemies.
Ever since he expressed dissent against the forcible annexation of the Crimea, indeed Markevich has faced a veritable witch-hunt from Kremlin propagandists and state media who have in turn whipped up people on social media. Moscow Times reported on 18 August:
Yevgeny Fyodorov of the ruling United Russia party said that by opposing the takeover of Crimea and criticizing Moscow’s supposed attempts to protect Russian speakers in Ukraine, Makarevich has “taken the side of the enemies of the Russian Federation,” Izvestia report Monday.
He said that the artist should be treated as a traitor and should lose all of his awards — including the order for distinguished service to the fatherland that had been conferred for his contribution to music, the report said.
A member of the State Duma’s Culture Committee Dmitry Litvintsev added that if Makarevich does not like Russia’s policies, perhaps Moscow should boot him from the country, the way the Soviet Union dealt with some of its dissidents, Izvestia reported.
A conservative politician in St. Petersburg, Vitaly Milonov, has wanted to ban his concerts and another lawmaker Vadim Dengin said his past awards should be stripped from him — a move that the human rights ombudsperson, Ella Pamfilova, said would not be done. “State mechanisms should not be used to fight dissent,” Interfax quoted her as saying.
Yet state mechanisms are being used; today Dmitry Peskov, presidential spokesman commented on Makarevich’s letter to Putin, saying he didn’t understand why it was being addressed to the president.
“Here not everything can be agreed with. What he is interpreting as persecution also may be called the reaction of public opinion. It is hardly worth appealing to the president.”
Translation: Peskov: what Makarevich interprets as persecution could be called the reaction of public opinion.
He said he would inform Putin of the letter, but added:
“I don’t know whether the president has seen the Internet, but we haven’t reported it yet because the letter appeared late at night. Naturally, it will be rpeorted to hte president.
Indeed, Peskov is being disingenuous, because Putin does set the overall tone for state media, and since the forcible annexation of the Crimea, the media has become vicious regarding critics.
This round up of clips on YouTube, “Traitors Against the Motherland: Andrei Makarevich” features a number of pro-government politicians and public figures denouncing Makarevich.
Here, the top state channel Rossiay 24 says Makevich “sang under Bandareite banners,” a reference to the historical figure Stepan Bandera, which Russian propagandists constantly accuse the Kiev government of embodying as a “fascist junta.”
After a tendentious round-up of the war’s events, never mentioning the separatists’ atrocities and portraying events like the Odessa trade-union building fire in a one-sided fashion, Rossiya 24 mocks Makarevich for his peace tours and contrasts him with pro-Putin celebrity Steven Seagal.
And Komsomolskaya Pravda radio features National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov in a denunciation of Makarevich.
On social media, pro-Kremlin propagandists like web entrepreneur Konstantin Rykov had added a steady stream of mockery of Makarevich to their invective about Ukraine and the West.
Translation: Makarevich has a red thread on his wrist. Is he a Kabbalist?
Translation: Aha…Putin’s just sitting there and fearing Navalny for whole days and thinking up trollings of the old fool Makarevich.
Then Rykov used Twitter as Russians often do to make a poll about Makarevich:
Translation: Do you believe that the witch-hunt against Makarevich should be ended? If yes, click ‘favorite’, if no, retweet.
As of this writing, Rykov had 601 retweets and 154 favorites.
Meanwhile, Aleksei Venediktov, editor-in-chief of the liberal Ekho Moskvy, who has 299,000 followers, has a similar poll:
Translation: I support Makarevich – retweet — do not support — favorite. Let’s go.
As of this writing, he had 5,184 retweets in support and 606 favorites in non-support.
Last weekend, Makarevich sang at a musical festival in Moscow without incident. So it remains to be seen whether the virtual world that Putin attempts to create with state TV hate campaigns will compete with the free world of fans and people using social media.
In an article on the independent news site colt.ru, Oleg Kashin, the popular blogger Russian blogger, has sifted through all the Russian press and social media reports on the Pskov 76th Guards soldiers said to be killed in Ukraine which we have been covering.
He points out that not only is Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s unexpected visit to Pskov suspicious to hand out awards for “heroism in combat” — it’s supposed to be peace time — but the fact that Shoigu was accompanied by Olga Golodets, the Russian government’s vice premier for social issues.
Why would she be needed, if in fact she wasn’t to take up cases of funerals, medical care, and welfare payments for families? Kashin said that formally, Golodets was taking part in a conference to discuss a federal program to develop provincial tourism, but he thought there could be more to her mission:
Understandably, the arrival of Golodets by itself doesn’t prove anything and it could have been planned long before the situation with the paratroopers, but in combination with all the other circumstances, the appearance in Pskov of Olga Golodets can be interpreted quite unambiguously.
Kashin said that according to people he talked to in Pskov, the paratroopers were not draftees in the regular army — at least, not officially. In fact, they may even have been forced to tear up their contract and be sent off in the same uniform as a “civilian volunteer” to Ukraine. They were based in Rostov Region and would cross undefended sections of the Russian-Ukrainian border, take part in battles, then return across the border.
Kashin tried to get in touch with the wives of some of the soldiers said to be killed, but no one wanted to talk to journalists, citing fear of being called “traitors.” He heard stories of portraits of those just killed hanging on boards in the 76th Guards Division, but without any explanation of how they had died. He also heard that there were funerals in the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. (Journalists from Novaya Gazeta attended one such service.)
But he could not find solid proof that anyone who might actually have died was related to combat in Ukraine. Even so, there were just too many strange rumors and the fact of Shoigu’s trip to deliver the Suvorov awards.
Grave of Leonid Kichatkin.
Photo by Pskovskaya Guberniya
Kashin then had a statement and five questions (The Interpreter has provided a translation):
I have been recounting now what I have heard form the friends and half-acquaintances of people who heard something somewhere. In other words, I am re-telling now rumors — and in war-time, my behavior could be interpreted as a serious criminal act. But this isn’t war time, and the Russian Federation now, as is known, is not waging war, and there is peace time in Russia now as is known. And these rumors, broadcast by me now, in peace time — these are above all questions which I address to the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense:
1. Are the soldiers of the 76th Division of the VDV [Airborne Troops]. really taking part now in operation on the other side of the Russian-Ukrainian border?
2. How many active or former soldiers of the 76th VDV have been killed or died in Rostov Region or nearby in recent weeks?
3. People whose names are cited in collections of screenshots — are people with these names among those active soldiers of the 76th division or among those who served in it or who recently resigned from it?
4. Will the relatives of the soldiers of the 76th VDV division who have been killed or who have died receive material aid from the state in exchange for a promise to keep quiet?
5. Why was the 76th Division awarded the Order of Suvorov?
Today I think these are the most important questions for Russia. If the death of the Pskov paratroopers is not true and a fabrication, then the Russian government should refute this falsehood convincingly. That’s if it’s a falsehood.
But if it is true, it turns out that the Russian Federation, by a decision no one understands, by the will of someone no one understands and for reasons no one understands is waging another “local war.” If these rumors are true even in some way, then Russia is waging a war which renders invalid all the words of Russian officials on the Ukrainian issue and which, like any “local war,” does not foresee even honest commemoration of those who died fulfilling orders in it.
This shameful secrecy makes sense only if it covers up something extremely shameful — this secrecy expresses today the disrespect of the Russian state to the paratroopers themselves and their families, and to all of society, which in any event has the right to know, where, and on what basis, Russian soldiers are fighting and dying. If, of course, they are fighting and dying.
Kashin recounts the story of how the journalist Ilya Vasyunin called the phone number of one of the soldiers on a VKontakte account, and the wife handed the phone to her husband who said he was alive, but his page had been hacked. But that was the same person whose funeral was later held. “We’ve seen the level of Ukrainian war propaganda,” comments Kashin. “They’re capable of writing that Strelkov is wounded, but not something this large-scale.”
Novorossiya conspiracy theorists keep blaming all their troubles on the “party of peace” which is supposedly running things in the Kremlin, says Kashin. “Damn it, it’s the 21st century, the information society, and we still can’t learn if it’s true whether Pskov is burying its paratroopers or not?”
Kashin philosophizes about the lack of war journalists, reporters willing to try to develop sources in the armed forces and get answers — and be brave enough to write them at least on Facebook or colt.ru:
Responsibility for these terrible rumors and the speculation around the Pskov paratroopres lies today not only on the Russian government, but on Russian military journalists who have not coped with their professional duty. The rumors could not get started if in Russia today, even one journalist was capable of determining the reliability of the information about the Pskov paratroopers. We can still doubt about the death of the paratroopers, but what we can’t doubt about is the Soviet level of information vacuum around the Russian Army. Any tragedy may go unnoticed in such a vacuum.
Russian independent media has published a number of reports today of funerals of soldiers that sources have told them are paratroopers who died in combat in Ukraine this month.
Over the weekend, we reported on the effort to match claims of documents found by the Ukrainian army in BMDs that bloggers tied to accounts on VKontakte.
In one case, journalist Ilya Vasyunin from Russkaya Planeta posted a tweet with a screenshot of a post he said he found on the VKontakte account of paratrooper Leonid Kichatkin which appeared to be from his wife about his funeral.
But when he called the number, a man answered, and said he was Leonid, indicating that he was alive. The account was removed so we could not verify it.
Translation: Regarding Leonid, ‘killed paratrooper from Pskov”: Leonid
and Oksana from this announcement claim that he’s alive and asked not to
call. Post: Dear friends!!!! Lyonya [Leonid] was killed funeral Monday
at 10:00 am service in Vybuty. Who wants to pay respects please come
happy to see everyone. My number just in case. Wife Oksana.
But when reporters for the independent online news site slon.ru went to the location in Vybuty, a town outside Pskov near the base of the 76th Guards Air Assault Division of the Russian Airborne Troops, they in fact discovered fresh graves for the soldiers Kichatkin and another one named Aleksandr Osipov, with wreathes from the 76th Guards on them.
Sign for Vybuty. Photo by Novaya Gazeta.
Grave of Leonid Kichatkin, 30.09.1984-19.08.2014
Grave of Aleksandr Osipov.
The Russian Defense Ministry continued to deny that Russian soldiers had been in Ukraine. And persons who answered the phone number that had once appeared on Kurchatkin’s VKontakte page continued to say he was alive.
As we noted, most of the accounts that were tied to the documents in the BMDs remained inactive since August 15-16. A Russian blogger kaod4nikov on LiveJournal has found the same thing, and also that many were located in Pskov. He also found other Pskov paratroopers’ accounts that were inactive since that date.
There have been other reports of soldiers’ funerals discovered by journalists.
Translation: We met a man on the highway who was going to Ulan-Ude to
the funeral of his paratrooper son. He was killed near Donetsk.
A journal in Dagestan called chernovik.net had an article by Ruslan
Magomedov dated 22 August titled “Cargo 200,” which is the Russian
military term for the bodies of those killed in battle. It said that
“dozens” of Dagestanis had died in battle who were on contract with the
RF Defense Ministry.
How did Dagestani soldiers end up in
Ukraine? Their relatives said the officers would make offers to contract
soldiers to go to the front:
The offer would be of the voluntary-coercive kind: they are volunteers, but they go, fearing that the army
will tear up their contract if they don’t. The travel to Ukraine is
offered exclusively to contract soldiers, but according to Chernovik’s
sources, there can also be draftees among them (the latter get
contracts signed after a half year of draft service, thus circumventing
“Those who refuse may, for example, be brought
out on the parade ground and in front of the line-up be accused of
cowardice and so on. That is, they put moral pressure on them,” a
contract soldier who preferred to remain anonymous told Chernovik.
Another source claimed that the contract soldiers who were killed in
Ukraine are listed in documents as having been killed during training or
as having been dismissed, after the fact. So that way it doesn’t show
up as a loss in battle, and the relatives cannot count on payments from
the government or insurance companies.
Sources told Chernovik
that the soldiers are on a kind of “shuttle”. They repeatedly go in and
out of Ukraine. The sources didn’t provide names, but said that contract
soldiers from the following towns had been killed in artillery fire
from the Ukrainian ATO [anti-terrorist operation]: Kazanishche, Atlanaul
(a village in Buynaksk District) and Shagad (Khasavyurt District). One
other contract soldier from Buynaksk is missing. There are also
unconfirmed reports of “Cargo 200” in Kizilyurt, Belidzhi (Derbent
District) and Aksay (Khasavyurt District).
Chernovik says that
two tank regiments have headed to the Russian-Ukrainian border, and
there is also a report of the deployment of Navy contractors from the
Yuliya Navalny, wife of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, has been summoned for interrogation to the Investigation Committee, she reported today on Instagram and Twitter.
Translation: Here, I’ve been summoned for interrogation. Life opens up new horizons. Sign: Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation.
Yuliya, who has been posting on @navalny while her husband has been under house arrest and barred from use of the Internet, tweeted about the interrogation.
Translation: Wow, the IC [Investigation Committee] investigator is threatening me with a criminal case for refusing to provide testimony as a witness.
Translation: The interrogation is finished. Despite the threats of the investigator to open a case for refusal to provide testimony, i didn’t give it, referencing Art. 51.
Art. 51 concerns the right of a defendant not to give incriminating testimony, i.e. like “pleading the fifth.”
Translation: The interrogation was about the “case of the stolen poster from the fence.” Alekseyev, an IC special cases investigation, conducted the interrogation.
This case related to a sketch that a street artist had posted on a fence, which a colleague of Navalny’s had taken down and later given to him. The artist had not at first made any complaints, but then was said to be pressured into cooperating with authorities to make a case against Navalny.
Translation: In short, tomorrow the following will be summoned to the SK: @a_biryukova [Navalny’s former press secretary], @saulino, @naganoff_ru [employees of the Anti-Corruption Foundation] and for some reasons the MOTHER of @Anna_Veduta [Foundation spokesperson].
This means that authorities are now attacking the staff and relatives of the Anti-Corruption Foundation.
Translation: When Navalny was placed under house arrest, the investigator at the hearing said that the Anti-Corruption Fund would be given an assessment. Well, the time has come.
Navalny has a number of court cases he is facing now — regarding the “stolen painting,” the allegations of fraud related to Yves Rocher East — although the French company has dropped claims against him and his brother; the suspended sentence related to charges of embezzlement in a logging company; and a libel suit. Navalny and his lawyers and supporters maintain that these are trumped up in retaliation for his opposition activities and exposure of corruption among high officials.
The whole world was enthralled last week when a daring prankster managed to paint a golden star blue on top of one of Moscow’s Stalin-era buildings — the colors of Ukraine — and plant a Ukrainian flag atop the spire.
In this photo, a workman sent to remove the flag takes a selfie.
At first a group of four people who had jumped with parachutes from the building were arrested for the stunt, and put under house arrest pending trial for “vandalism.”
Then “Mustang,” a well-known “roofer” as Russians call dare-devils who climb to the top of buildings, claimed credit for the paint job, placing a photo on his Facebook page of himself atop the Stalin-era building on Kotelnicheskaya Embankment.
Yesterday August 24 was Ukrainian Independence Day — and
Mustang reported a new action, this time on top of Moscow State
University, in a shirt with the Ukrainian trefoil.
Mustang, who runs a web page called Mustang Wanted as well as an Instagram account, is already pretty famous in Europe for having climbed a top various tall buildings, and even become the subject of a music video.
So now, with his popularity growing and his videos and stunt pictures becoming more viral, it was time for the backlash.
Pro-Russian social media and press began to dig for the back story on Mustang, who is a Ukrainian citizen and Russian speaker.
The charges that Mustang, a Ukrainian national, was a “fascist” were not long in coming.
Actually, when we went to the LiveJournal blog of Maxim Kalinov in Tver, we found that he mischaracterized Mustang’s story, claiming he was an “active member” of a neo-Nazi group with a Russian-language page called Wotan Jugend — although that’s not what was actually said in the article by Wotan Jugend even reproduced on his page.
Kalinov explains that he knows Mustang’s father and therefore knows that his real name isn’t Grigory or Grisha — a name often given as his name — but Pasha or Pavel Ushivets. He makes his case that Pavel performed the stunts by finding some
circumstantial evidence in Pavel’s mother’s Facebook that seems to
indicate she was relieved her son got back home safely. The mother also
published photos of the stunts.
Kalinov writes “Pasha is an active member of this organization, which they write themselves on their page” — but this statement is actually incorrect. Nowhere in the article or anywhere does it say he’s a member of the group Wotan Jugend.
Indeed, Wotan Jugend– which certainly seems reprehensible — did write about Mustang and his stunts, but in the very article that Kalinov quoted and underlined, it says in fact he was an “active member” not of Wotan Jugend but of the Azov Battalion in Ukraine and even said he had fought in battle with Azov.
Mustang has made no secret of this affiliation and has a picture of himself with Azov dated in May on his Instagram.
Azov Battalion –– even more of a scarecrow of Kremlin propaganda these days that the ultranationalist paramilitary group Right Sector — is indeed a battalion made up of ultranationalist groups, the Social-National Assembly and Patriots of Ukraine, which some describe as “neo-Nazi.”
Interestingly, more than half of the battalion’s members are Russian-speaking eastern Ukrainians. Neo-Nazi Swedes have been reported to fight with this group. Oleg Lyashko, the Radical Party Verkhovna Rada who has become infamous for his violent actions, is a supporter of Azov. Azov’s insignia is reminiscent of symbols Nazis wore in their day. Obviously, Russian propagandists have had a field day with all this.
With their use of the Wolfsangel, a Nazi symbol, and extreme rhetoric, Azov has also been a magnet for Western reporters who have written extensively on the Ukrainian ultranationalist fighters in the battalion and the participation of extreme-right foreigners.
What hasn’t been documented by these reporters, however, are any actual accounts of allegations of war crimes by Azov; indeed, their stories mainly tell about how these people are dying in battle. Such atrocities may exist; Western reporters don’t seem to have covered them.
Meanwhile pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, backed by the Russian government clandestinely, and by Russian ultranationalist and neo-Nazi groups themselves, have been documented as committing numerous atrocities, such as the kidnapping of 812 people (including foreign reporters) reported by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Many of them were tortured and some were killed; more and more of these stories are coming out now as some towns are liberated by the Ukrainian army. The question is how Azov compares — whether its Nazi rhetoric is put into Nazi-like actions.
Interestingly, in a note at the end of its article, Wotan Jugend says it took material for its article on Mustang from an interview in June by Dmitry Volchek for Svoboda, the US-funded Russian-language radio station.
When asked if he took part in “the people’s fight with the police, with Berkut,” Mustang replied “It is probably better not to answer that question”; Volchek then prodded him, “Probably it is better to answer, you’re not on the side of Berkut.”
Mustang gave an evasive answer, “Yes but this is a multi-sided situation. At one moment it seemed there was the people, and there was Berkut, good and evil. Now it is no longer like that at all.” He then did talk about how he was lucky that he wasn’t beaten on Maidan Square as many journalists were. (Translation by The Interpreter)
Volchek: What is more terrifying, climbing up on a roof or the shoot-out on Maidan?
It is not scary on a roof, and on Maidan it’s not scary either, it was
just painful to watch people dying. I was there at the moment when the
Heavenly Hundered were being shot, I was with people during that attack.
It was brutal. It was not scary that the bullets were landing although
it was happening rather randomly. I sat near a tree, a man was running,
he was shot in the chest, and he immediately fell over dead. Near me,
several people were killed, I wasn’t hit, someone else was hit. It was a
bulletin — everything happened quickly.
Mustang doesn’t talk about Azov in this interview and Volchek doesn’t ask him about it — but it seems his motivation for joining was his experience of the sniper deaths on Maidan.
Obviously, if he is performing stunts on the top of buildings in Vienna or Moscow, he’s not on the battlefield. Does his past involvement with Azov make this 25-year-old stunt man “a card-carrying fascist”? This will be debated, although it’s not clear if he’s still carrying the “Azov card.” But for his many admirers, this will probably not diminish his popularity.
As we reported over the weekend, opposition writer and video producer Leonid Martynyuk was arrested in an incident in Krasnodar that appears to have been fabricated in retaliation for his critical exposes of the Sochi Olympics and a recent video about the Russian government’s cover-up of the downing of MH17 by Moscow-backed separatists in southeastern Ukraine.
According to a statement from opposition leader Boris Nemtsov on his Facebook page, Martynyuk and his wife, Katerina were traveling on the commuter train from Sochi to Krasnodar when a provocateur attacked Leonid and the police wound up seizing him and accusing him of “hooliganism.”
His wife, who tried to defend him, was also detained but then released. Martynyuk was then held overnight in jail and sentenced to 10 days of administrative arrest for “hooliganism,” Nemtsov said in a subsequent Facebook post.
Nemtsov said police refused to get a copy of the surveillance video
on the square where the incident had occurred which was installed in a
“safe city” program in Krasnodar. The provocateur did not appear in
court nor did his name appear in the court records. Judge Marina Starikova of the Oktyabrsky District Court then sentenced him under Art. 20-1 for “hooliganism.”
Both he and Nemtsov co-authored a critical report of the Sochi Olympics, Winter Olympics in the Sub-Tropics (translated by The Interpreter)
Nemtsov also published a piece on the arrest of his colleague Martynyuk on Ekho Moskvy, although earlier this year, editors dropped Nemtsov’s regular blog, along with those of other opposition leaders, when they were threatened by authorities with blockage of their whole site unless they did.