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Published in Stream:
Russia This Week: September 1-7
Press by
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
'There's No Such Thing as a Former Paratrooper'
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Graham W. Phillips, a British journalist who was formerly a stringer for the Kremlin propaganda site, and now works as an occasional stringer for Ruptly, another Kremlin propaganda company, has his own YouTube channel where he has been releasing a lot of his pro-Russian videos lately.

Phillips was detained by Ukrainian forces for two days in May, and ultimately deported in July and banned from re-try to Ukraine. Nevertheless, he sneaked back in across the porous border to Lugansk to film scenes of battle there, mainly of the rout of Ukrainian troops and the destruction of their vehicles.

Whatever you want to say about Phillips, he's there. And sometimes, despite himself, you look over his shoulder and see things that contradict the point of his own propaganda shoots.

Today 5 September, he uploaded his video interview of soldiers fresh from fighting at the Lugansk airport.

The label of the video says "Talking with the Novorossiya Militia at the Lugansk Airport."

But it soon becomes clear from watching the video that these are not home-grown militia from Ukraine.

The men have the Russian accents of Russian speakers from Russia, not southeastern Ukraine.

They're wearing the blue berets of Russia's Airborne Troops Division. To be sure, perhaps they bought the caps in an army depot.


But when someone off-camera asks the men at 1:39, "Guys, who's from Russia, exactly?" -- most raise their hands. At 1:46 they say they are "volunteers".


"We bought everything ourselves and came here," says one soldier. "Well, except the machine guns," says another. "They aren't for sale anywhere."

The main speaker, seated left of center, who had raised his hand to indicate he was from Russia, says he ran a company and is a programmer by training.

When asked what their motivation was, this main speaker said he was ethnically Belarusian -- implying that brother Slavs stuck together -- except when they don't. Others said that "a lot of people" were dying. "They propagandized a lot about the Banderaites," said another.

At 2:14, the soldier in the back smoking and holding his gun upright says, "We are fulfilling our oath." what? A soldier in the regular army takes an oath. What is the procedure for volunteers for "Novorossiya"?

"It doesn't matter, wherever they are killing Russian people, here..or in Australia..." says the soldier with the head scarf at 2:19.

The man in the blue beret standing in the back row with the automatic weapon says, "If anyone attacks the Russian people, I have 500 arguments against them," clapping his gun.


Another man at 2:36 also notes in the background that he gave an oath to defend the Russian people.

At 3:30, the soldier shows the chevron of the Ukrainian paratroopers, which he said was given to him as a souvenir by a Ukrainian soldier "who doesn't want to fight."

"They are just like us, we were paratroopers in the past, says the soldier. "There's no such thing as former paratroopers," he adds at 3:35.

"Really, a paratrooper shouldn't fight another paratrooper," says a soldier -- and truly, if they don't come out from under Gogol's overcoat, they come out from under the overcoat of the Soviet Red Army.

When asked what TV channel was filming, a voice says "NTV".

At 4:22 a soldier says,  "Mama, forgive me that I deceived to you, Lil' Sis, too, everything will be fine." Another says, "Grandma, you can understand now, I'm not studying!" as they realize their relatives may see them on TV.

But then at the end, we get a closer look at the flag flying on the armored vehicle, and as in other photographs taken of the same crew, we see it's the VDV flag of the Russian Airborne Troops.


The soldiers are also wearing white arm bands, which is typical of Russian soldiers coming into Ukraine.

Do the Russian Armed Forces really allow irregular soldiers, volunteers in another country's "militia," to use the flags of their regular troops?

It seems much more likely that these are soldiers under the command of the VDV, even if technically they may be contractors.

It also seems misleading to say "NTV" is filming -- when this video hasn't been broadcast on NTV (as far as we know), but is on Phillips' own YouTube channel.

Phillips has indicated that his video may not be used by "the wrong people."