On Saturday, May 23, as we reported on our Ukraine Live blog, Aleksei Mozgovoy, commander of the Prizrak (Ghost) brigade, a Russian-backed separatist leader was assassinated along with those traveling in three cars with him — his bodyguards, driver, and press secretary, Anna Avseyeva, the mother of three children — were all killed in Mozgovoy’s car, a Toyota Sequoia with a “Novorossiya” license plate.
According to Lenta.ru , the Independent, and other media, in the other cars traveling with Mozgovoy, a Volkswagen Transporter and a VAZ-2101,Â there were civilians; two of these civilians, Yakov Tarakai, 37, and his pregnant wife died at the scene after being shot, and the driver of one of the vehicles died after being brought to the city hospital. Thus there were a total of 7 people killed including Mozgovoy; there have been some reports that one other person survived with wounds. The prosecutor of the self-proclaimed “Lugansk People’s Republic” confirmed the 7 deaths.
Mozgovoy, a colorful maverick figure among the LNR fighters had long been at odds with the LNR leadership, Igor Plotnitsky and his appointees and had only in April reluctantly agreed to incorporate his independent Prizrak (Ghost) Brigade into the LNR’s 4th Territorial Battalion. His supporters immediately speculated that the LNR leadership had ordered the hit on him and a Russian ultranationalist who supported the Russian-backed separatists expressed great fear that the “Novorossiya” movement was being removed in order that a more compliant LNR could agree to concessions for the sake of the Minsk peace agreement.
Mozgovoy and his party were struck at the same place where he had been attacked in March, and had walked away with only shrapnel wounds.
The following is an analysis of possible motivations for his killing and the various perpetrators who might have wished to remove him.
Another very graphic video taken soon after the attack shows the bodies in the car with numerous bullet wounds, still bleeding.
There has been speculation about six possible scenarios for the perpetrators of the attack:
1. The Russian Federation’s GRU, because Mozgovoy was disloyal to the Moscow-installed LNR leadership.
2. LNR forces directed by LNR head Igor Plotnitsky, because Mozgovoy refused to subordinate to his rule.
3. Ukrainian diversionary reconnaisance group, as part of ongoing
effort of the ATO to battle the Russian-backed separatist leaders.
4. The Ukrainian partisan group Ten’ (Shadow).
5. Mafia groups settling scores related to efforts by Mozgovoy to combat organized crime.
6. A “third party” — the version float by blogger Colonel Cassad,
who did not include the Russian GRU in the list of possible
Armored vehicle with the inscription “People’s Militia of Lugansk Region A.Mozgovoy”
Anton Gerashchenko, member of the Ukrainian
parliament and member of the collegium of the Interior Ministry who has
served as an Interior Ministry advisor in the past wrote on his Facebook on May 23 (translation by The Interpreter) a post that supported the theory of a Russian GRU hit:
The fate of a terrorist…
Comrades from Lugansk Region called who monitor radio communications.
say that two hours ago in the area of the village of Mikhailovskoy,
near Alchevsk, GRU spetsnaz liquidated the famous leader of the LNR
territorist organization Aleksei Mozgovoy and six of his bodyguards.
reason is the same as in January with Batman, the other famous leader
of the Lugansk bandiformations — refusal to subordinate to the commands
It is a pity that he will not stand trial before a
tribunal for the hundreds of deaths and torture of civilians in which he
was directly complicit.
A dog’s death for a dog!
Who is next? Pasha [Pavel] Dremov, the head of the Stakhanov terrorists, Givi, Motorolla, Zakharchenko, Plotnitsky?
will remind you that the Mozgovoy gang first became known on May 13 of
last year, when its members shot the car of an entrepreneur from the
city of Antratsit, who had took his savings and tried to break out of
the city, seized by terror.
He didn’t stop at a terrorists’ checkpoint in the area of Sverdlovsk and his car was with bullets.
The entrepreneur himself died along with his wife, and their 10-year-old daughter was wounded.
Aleksei Mozgovoy was also famous for his contacts with Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who at one time was a sponsor of his gang.
Mozgovoy’s car was reported to have been blown up by a remote-control MON-50
at 18:48 near Mikhailovka on the Prevalsk-Lugansk highway, heading
toward Stakhanov. Mozgovoy was instantly killed by the explosive, and
then three others with him in the car were shot with 7.62 mm Kalashnikov
Joininfo.ua reported that Aleksandr Gladky, leader of a pro-Ukrainian partisan group called Ten’ (Shadow), has taken credit for the “liquidation” of Mozgovoy, joinfo.ua reports.
Gladky wrote an initial graphic post about the attack and then the following additional post on his Facebook page (translation from The Interpreter):
Additional information about the last operation:
The Ten’ group went out on a raid in “free hunt” regimen.
the exit of the town of Mikhailovka, two MON-50 mines were placed, near
the fork in the road at the exit of the town. The place was chosen
analogous to the previous work of the group, since the ‘green’ [woods]
hides the turn, on the other side is a slag-heap beyond which the
Russian Federation Armed Forces are based. On the right side was a
broken-down van which provided the opportunity for one fighter from the
group to lay in direct proximity to the road and to be covered by the
bus and not fall under the explosion of his own MONs…
AK rifles with 7.62 bullets, MONs, and grenades were used in the raid.
obtaining information from an ‘eye’ [scout] of movement in our
direction of a vehicle with fighters, as the automobile appeared the
explosion went off. After the explosion of the automobile with Mozgovoy,
together with him were his press secretary, the driver and two
bodyguards, the car was shot up with automatic fire from two sides.
Three rounds of ammunition were released.
A fighter with
the call-sign O… threw a grenade at the VAZ auto and fired on the two
accompanying vehicles from two rounds. A fighter with the call-sign
Z… and I, after working over the automobile with Mozgovoy were
convinced of his liquidation, he was in the car in the second seat on
the left side behind the driver. We joined the firing on the VAZ and
then left the work place. We hid out in the area of the slag-heap and
when the fighters’ psychosis passed, we moved out on to our territory…
The slag-heap borders the base, therefore it was the most safe place, no one thought that we would go to meet the enemy.
RF Armed Forces conducted mortar fire on the perimeter in a circle
except for their base, which gave us the opportunity to flee pursuit.
There were three people in the VAZ auto.
Tacuma was 50 meters from the turn on the shoulder of the road on the
left side…Our damaged BTR has been standing for a long time at 150
meters…We did not work the Chevrolet over, it’s not clear why and who
shot it up…”
Glory to Ukraine.
Ten’ is not a group that has been heard from much, by contrast with the volunteer battalions such as Aidar and Azov. But Novosti Donbassa did write about the group in March who warned of terrorist attacks on Dnepropetrovsk. Colonel Cassad believes Ten’ to be a creation of the SBU.
The account given by Gladky seems to have relevant details although
it could have been written after videos of the murder scene were
distributed. It has a strange ending, where Gladky says he doesn’t know
who shot up the Chevrolet — as if there was another force attacking
Mozgovoy at the same time.
The “Ukrainian” hypothesis is strengthened by the fact that a
diversionary and reconnaissance group has been active in recent days;
they captured the two Russian GRU agents now being held in Kiev and have reported other clashes with Russian-backed separatist fighters, says Lenta.ru.
Yet precisely because Ukrainians have captured rather than killed
high-profile enemy targets, it does not seem likely they were behind
the assassination of Mozgovoy.
Denis Pushilin, spokesman for the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” also implied that Ukrainian forces had killed Mozgovoy and his associates:
“Against the backdrop of the fragile ceasefire,
against the backdrop of the Minsk process which, even with slow steps,
is still advancing ahead, it is not to everyone’s advantage, directly in
Kiev, since there is too diverse a crowd there. And the ‘party of war’
resorts to various methods.”
Kiev rejected the claim that it was their side committing
the assassination. At a briefing in Kiev, Col. Aleksandr Motuzyanik,
spokesman for the ATO, stated “the internecine warfare between the
bandits continues in the occupied territories of Lugansk Region.”
Mozgovoy was known to have clashed with the LNR leadership, as he acknowledged in an interview with Novaya Gazeta last November and other interviews, such as one for Komsomolskaya Pravda after the attack on him in March.
was known for more radical views that the LNR leadership, which he
viewed as compromising under pressure of the Minsk talks. Mozgovoy had
aspirations for “Novorossiya” to include the western regions of Ukraine
as well. But the Prizrak Commander was essentially the last of the
commanders not to subordinate to the center, says Lenta.ru. In
particular, in the run-up to the May 9 Victory Day events, Mozgovoy was
told not to hold a parade in Alchevsk, where the Prizrak Brigade is
quartered. However he went ahead and held one anyway, and organized an international conference with participants from Russia, Greece, Spain and other countries.
The city council of Alchevsk also passed a resolution declaring that it was leaving the LNR.
Colonel Cassad indicated that mafia lords could be behind the hit on Mozgovoy, and Rossiyskaya Gazeta has also indicated that
“criminal elements” could be behind the murder. Mozgovoy had earned the
wrath of local criminal gangs because he was cleaning up crime in
Colonel Cassad says that the attackers of Givi in March
who shot at his moving car were likely from mafias, after he had one of
their own arrested. This weekend’s attack on Mozgovoy’s motorcade
differed from the one on Givi in that it was more professional and
involved tracking him, knowing his movements, and finding a good place
to attack him.
British journalist Ollie Carroll who writes for The Independent found that Mozgovoy’s fellow fighters did not believe it
was a Ukrainian diversionary group that was responsible for the attack.
The Prizrak Brigade made an official statement in which they blamed the “Ukrainian junta” for the assassination, but some of their members felt otherwise.
As Carroll wrote:
Few in Mr Mozgovoi’s battalion seem convinced by the official story
of Ukrainian subversive groups. Kirill Androsov, a deputy commander with
responsibility for humanitarian aid, said he would “never” believe such
a story. “His killers were internal,” Mr Androsov said elliptically,
refusing to elaborate.
Another soldier on the highway, going by
the nom-de-guerre of “Tiny”, said he did not believe Ukrainians had the
capacity to launch such an elaborate attack deep inside rebel-controlled
Colonel Cassad notes seven figures who were known to pose a threat
to Plotnitsky, even to be suspected of a conspiracy against him,
according to a Novaya Gazeta article. They are:
Nikolai Kozitsyn, a Cossack leader who returned to Russia after he was
given an ultimatum to either subordinate to the LNR or leave; a
“significant number of his people went over to the LNR central
2. Pavel Dremov, another Cossack who
attempted to create a “People’s Republic of Stakhanov,” but then
incorporated his forces into the unified LNR armed forces, accepted a
flag from Plotnitsky but “let slip some light criticism of him as
3. Aleksandr Bednov, “Batman,” who was said to be
assassinated by LNR forces, “ours”; Colonel Cassad says the LNR
leadership “took responsibility” for this attack; the LNR said Bednov
and his guards were killed in an “arrest.” (See our coverage here and here.)
A. Fominov, commander of the Odessa Brigade, officially arrested,
whereabouts unknown (likely in the Ministry of Security basement of the
LNR. Sirgis.info reported about
this clash among other internal LNR clashes in February by forces said
to have opposed Plotnitsky’s cross-border contraband activity.
5. Oleg Bugrov, arrested in Russia for contraband involving pipes related to Rotenberg’s company as we reported.
Yevgeniya Ishchenko, mayor of Pervomaysk of Lugansk Region,
assassinated by unknown persons. Three
Russian citizens were also shot in the same attack; a “Ukrainian
diversionary group” was blamed for the attack.
7. Aleksei Mozgovoy, Prizrak Commander assassinated by unknown persons.
An internet meme shows Bednov, Ishchenko and Mozgovoy crossed out and Plotnitsky below.
Colonel Cassad publishes various letters of testimony from Ishchenko and Fominov to deputies in the Russian State Duma about the stealing of humanitarian aid from Russia by the LNR leadership.
Thus, the evidence cited in the first part of his series seems to point to a hit by the
LNR, as it had its own internal scores to settle with those challenging
A meme created in memorial of Mozgovoy that is being disseminated in VKontakte groups, containing a quotation from him:
“War is indeed a very great injustice. We are actually fighting with the wrong people. Those who pay and those who inflame, those who through the media turn people against each other — they are the ones we should fight.”
In his second part,
Colonel Cassad examines the theory that a Ukrainian diversionary group
could have made the attack, but given that the murder site was 50
kilometers deep into LNR territory and away from the front line, this
did not seem likely. He also believed that Ukrainian intelligence would
not likely know the details of Mozgovoy’s movements. If it was the
Ukrainians, it would have to have been a highly-sophisticated operation;
he believes that the SBU could use the Ten’ group as a cover and media
distraction for its own operations.
Unlike Bednov’s vehicle, Mozgovoy’s car was not armored and he was
not wearing a superior bullet-proof vest that might have repelled the
7.62 caliber bullets.
Colonel Cassad then analyzes the “third force” idea which is a
behind-the-scenes agreement between the LNR and Moscow in order to
destabilize the “People’s Republics” to make it easier for them to
surrender to Ukraine in the peace talks. Really, when you clear away the obfuscation here, this is a scenario which involves “the hand of Moscow.”
He recalls that Mozgovoy spoke of people who might kill him although
he did not name names. While on the one hand, he had said on occasion
these people were in the LNR leadership, regarding the March 8 attack,
he had actually not implicated the LNR but said at the time they were
He also indicates that some other forces could be
blaming all murders in the LNR on Plotnitsky since the LNR had seemed to
so obiously implicate itself in Bednov’s murder. He cites a commentator
from ANNA News:
Marat Musin hints that there exists some
official responsible for the LNR (like Mozgovoy he does not give a lst
name) who for the sake of financial interests supposedly acts in the
name of the leadership of the country in collaboration with some
officials of the law-enforcement ministry in the LNR with commercial
Colonel Cassad also invokes a rumored meeting that
took place in Moscow recently between LNR and DNR representatives with
“an influential Kremlin official” for the purpose of covering “his own
criminal schemes in Novorossiya” and was invoking “the highest
leadership of the country” i.e. Russia to promote the idea of a unified
Ukraine with federal structures in Donetsk and Lugansk.
Zakharchenko sent this official packing, who supposedly has Ukrainian
business partners in his criminal scheme — which means his own life is
in danger. He notes that Zakharchenko was already wounded in the leg and
has still not recovered. Colonel Cassad ask, “Who is this [Kremlin]
official? The ubiquitous Surkov? Or one of the direct curators
[managers]? Or one of the people along departmental lines?
Colonel Cassad also fingers Rinat Akhmetov, who he sees behind a number
of incidents, and quotes former DNR prime minister Aleksandr Boroday
that a reason why Mariupol wasn’t taken in September 2014 was because
this would have ruined a commercial scheme in which Akhmetov was
what is important is the fact that besides the war of the DNR and LNR
with Ukraine and the internecine warfare inside the LNR, there existed
as well an enormous illegal business, related to deliveries of coal and
the interests of Ukrainian oligarchs who in the spring and summer of
2014 tried through their connections in Moscow and through dealing with
the real curators of the processes in the Donbass to preserve the power
slipping away from them, so a new “revolutionary elite” did not replace
From here there is such a touching concern on the part of the
curators about the interests of Akhmetov and Co. which could in one way
or another convince the operators of the process that they could “be
useful.” Naturally, people like Dremov and Mozgovoy who proclaimed
social justice were excessive in this holiday of “commercia life”
through which tens of millions of dollars passed. Therefore, after
Dremov incorporated himself into the system and “forgot” about his
memory stick, Mozgovoy with his stories of the “system” and need for
“deoligarchization” seemed to be a certain irritant for the private
business of certain person, but no more than that, because the financial
streams which flowed across the front line calmly got along without
Dremov supposedly had compromising material on his flash drive but destroyed it.
Yes, Mozgovoy was so much for “social justice” that as the New Republic’s Noah Sneider reported he staged “people’s
courts” where the crowd voted to execute people for criminal acts; like
Bednov, Mozgovoy was known for arrests, tortures and executions. Colonel Cassad never mentions this.
Bednov’s case, the LNR could say their “arrest” was justified to “curb
excesses.” Could they make the same rationale for the execution of Mozgovoy? Then why kill as well a pregnant woman and a mother of three? Whoever knew enough to track Mozgovoy’s movements would also know he had civilians in his party. What force would be willing to kill all of them?
Colonel Cassad believes that in fact Mozgovoy had submitted to the
LNR and had already incorporated part of his brigade into the LNR
forces; his voice was not as loud as it was last year, he says, and the commander was not
demanding a post like minister of defense. He “was not a real
political threat” to the leadership at the time of his murder.
Colonel Cassad thinks that after the letters
Mozgovoy sent to Russian officials about problems in the LNR, it would
be “absurd” for Putin to order him killed; Col. Igor Strelkov is an even
more harsh critic of “Novorossiya” today but has not been killed,
reasons Colonel Cassad.
In the end, while he has provided ample information himself to
speculate about forces at some level of the LNR interested in removing
Mozgovoy (maybe not the top leadership), he said that it was likely a Ukrainian “special group” helped
by “traitors in the LNR” who are responsible.
Yet he acknowledges by citing a social media conversation between two pro-separatist commentators that the “lesson learned” has been conveyed:
Translation: Aleksandr Zhigulin: Mozgovoy did not want to join the People’s Militia of the LRN, did not subordinate to the authority of the LNR, he was removed, and today he was eliminated, I think, under the law of war time, this is the norm, he instigated a banal brawl in the republic.
BREAKING! Information from the Prizrak Brigade. Yesterday Brigade Commander A.B. Mozgovoy was officially removed by the leaderhips of the People’s Militia of the LNR from command…We await details.
Sergei Murtazayev: And now it is understandable why he was liquidated, it’s too bad, at all times you have to know how to fit in.
Of course Colonel Cassad would be the last one to point the finger
at Putin or any Russian official. While it is a received wisdom that Russian intelligence kills
off figures no longer needed in an operation like “Novorossiya,” in fact, it has preserved many of these operatives and these figures assassinated almost always turn
out to be in the LNR, not the DNR, and are said to be enemies of Plotnitsky.
Catherine A. Fitzpatrick