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Published in Stream:
Ukraine Live Day 515
Press by
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Strelkov Reportedly Says that Motorola, Givi Out; Zakharchenko Stripped of Guard; DNR Defense Ministry Dismantled after Moscow VIP Visit
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Col. Igor Strelkov (Girkin), former commander of the forces of the self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic" (DNR), has reportedly posted an announcement on in a forum he moderates under the name "Kotych" regarding important changes in the DNR. This forum is widely accepted as an authentic source for his personal statements.

A number of pro-separatist sources have posted a screen grab of his statement on the forum, but we were unable to find it there (it may be in a section only viewable by invited members) so the information has yet to be confirmed.

The Interpreter has a translation

Sent Today 10:52:49

Briefly on changes in the DNR

1. The Ministry of Defense is dismantled. Pan Kononov is appointed deputy corps commanders with the duties of "give me, get me, and f**k you..."
2. The Somali Battalion is disbanded.
3. The Republican Guard was disbanded and in the near future it will be broken up into units of the People's Militia Corps.
4. I don't know yet what will happen to "Motorola" and "Givi".

Strelkov uses "Pan," the polite term of address in the Ukrainian language, ironically.

Yesterday there were rumors that a Kremlin VIP had arrived in Donetsk, possibly even Vyacheslav Surkov, the "grey cardinal" of the Kremlin who has been involved in "managing" the Russian-backed separatists.

Tatyana Kuznetsova, director of the Judicial Chamber of Permanent Arbitration Courts in St. Petersburg also posted a series of tweets today that quoted Strelkov, likely from the forum.

Translation: The completion of the centralization of the command by all military divisions is in one set of hands -- the hands of the headquarters of the Corps (Strelkov).

For some, the news about Somali, Motorola and Givi will be as startling as the diminishing of Zakharchenko's powers and the dismantling of the carefully-constructed Ministry of Defense and Republican Guard. The Republican Guard was an effort to establish a unified corps of fighters from various battalions that did not always subordinate to the civilian leaders of the DNR.

The Somali Battalion, led by Mikhail Tolstykh, whose call sign is "Givi," a pro-Russian Ukrainian citizen, achieved fame via Russian state media saturation coverage as the unit shelling the Donetsk Airport for months last year until separatist militants with Russian fighters and armor overran the Ukrainian "cyborgs" defending the airport.

"Motorola," head of the Sparta Battalion, also deployed at the Donetsk airport, was another popular Russian media star and the subject of numerous special reports and profiles on both Kremlin media and separatist media sponsored by Moscow.

Givi was notorious for continuing to talk on his cell phone while shells fell around him and for sending defiant messages to the Ukrainian commanders. Motorola, wounded several times in battle, was known as the first groom of the self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic" in a widely covered wedding, where Strelkov and other leaders presided.

The pair were injected into the Russian-language media stream last fall after Strelkov was already removed from his positions in the DNR  in July, and after the battle of Ilovaisk when the Minsk talks were started in September. The Kremlin wanted to make the forces it supported appear as if they were more "indigenous" -- although Motorola (whose real name is Arseny Pavlov) is a Russian citizen.

In recent weeks, they have been eclipsed by another set of fighters who seemed to be groomed as the new "Novorossiya media stars," Aleksey Milchakov, a Russian citizen whose call sign is "Serb" and two fighters known as "Slavyanin" and "Viking," the head of a battalion by the same name, both of whom were said to be citizens of Scandinavian countries. Yet these fighters were barely covered by the Russian state media, and were only popularized by separatist outlets like ANNA and Novorossiya TV, and heavily photographed by Gleb Dubovoy.

Suddenly two weeks ago, they were ordered to retreat from their base in Razdolnoye, which we exposed in a report. No reason was given, and it is not clear whether the move was a feint, as fighting has actually increased in recent weeks.

Strelkov has been known to make dire statements before that didn't always pan out, and more confirmation will be needed on these changes, but it is possible that in the interests of the Minsk peace talks, the Kremlin is shuffling the separatists to impress the west and keep them off balance. Meanwhile, this week we have seen worsening attacks and casualties continue to mount.

- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick