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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Ukraine Live Day 320

Publication: Ukraine Liveblogs
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russian-Backed Militant Leaders Claim His Torture Dungeon Reason for Execution of Batman

A prosecutor of the self-proclaimed "Lugansk People's Republic" says that the reason Russian-backed separatist commander Aleksandr Bednov, known as "Batman"and his men were ordered to be arrested -- and then wound up dead -- was because they were accused of torturing suspects in a cellar they used as a prison, the blogger Colonel Cassad reports today.

According to the official story, they resisted arrest and opened fire on law-enforcers, and died in an ensuing gunfight.

Colonel Cassad (Boris Rozhin, editor-in-chief of Golos Sevastopolya [Voice of Sevastopol] in Russian-occupied Crimea) has assembled the videos from LNR "state TV" and from the distraught remnants of Batman's battalion and other supporters of "Novorossiya," as the fighters call the aspirational republic to be made out of parts of Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus -- or perhaps for now, only parts of Lugansk and Donetsk regions.

Together they tell a tale that has raised more than a few eyebrows at the spectacle of battle-hardened thugs who themselves admit to torturing and killing people suddenly invoking standards of international human rights law regarding their leader, who was summarily and extrajudicially executed, from all accounts.

Yesterday we posted a translation of a videotaped interview with two of the members of Batman Battalion who were not direct eye-witnesses, but who were called to the scene by eye-witnesses because one of those killed was the brother of another man in Batman's personal security detail. They say their armored car was blown to bits by either a remote-controlled mine or shot at from a Tyulpan self-propelled mortar, and the fighters never even had a chance to open fire with their own weapons. The leaders of the self-proclaimed "Lugansk People's Republic" claim they were killed because they resisted arrest, but that's not a story any of the separatists are buying as they don't see any evidence.

Leonid Tkachenko, who has the imposing title of "chief of the investigation department of the directorate for oversight of legal compliance of laws in the military sphere" released a video in which he said an investigation was underway. The Batman Battalion members were arrested due to allegations of torture.

An interview with the "State Television Company of the People's Republic of Lugansk" (GTRK LNR) has appeared with a fighter known by the charming name of Manyak ("Maniac"). Since he is in custody and this is "state television" we should note that the interview may well have been coerced.

Manyak admits that the men of the Batman Battalion were likely arrested "because of our little cellar," using a Russian-language diminuitive podvalchik for podval (cellar).

Another videotaped message from a fighter nick-named "Plastun" which is a Cossack term for a scouting unit (he's the one in the Cossack hat) reiterates the story from Bednov's guards -- they also believe their leader was deliberately assassinated.

This video also appears to include the militant Aleksey Milchakov in the upper far right row ,a figure notorious for sadism who is alleged to have committed atrocities in the war.

Plastun explains that cases for the arrest of Bednov and all the other commanders of this unit has been opened, orders for their arrest had been issued.

But they were not apprehended as suspects could be expected to, apparently even in the LNR, but were executed without a chance even to surrender.

He said he expected that he, and "Knyaz'" ("Prince"), another fighter, would meet the same fate.

In this video, a fighter nick-named "Phobos" (Aleksei Dakhnenko) also made by the LNR "state TV" and therefore made under coercion, describes how he tortured captives of the LNR in the "little cellar." He is a native of Lugansk who took up arms because he believed the Ukrainian army was approaching, he had a relative in the battalion, and decided to join up. First he worked as a driver, but then took over command of the torture dungeon.

Phobos explained that if common criminals were brought to the makeshift prison, such as curfew violators or drunks, they were only given 10 days in jail. But he then admitted he beat all new detainees when they first came in, and others as needed, and some were held longer.

Interviewer: Did they beat them?
Phobos: No, if they behaved quietly and peacefully, they weren't beaten.
Interviewer: And if someone wasn't quiet and not peaceful? How was he treated?
Phobos: It happened that we...pacified him.
Interviewer: How?
Phobos: We had a plastic pipe from the heating system and so we'd hit him a few times and he'd settle down.
Interviewer: Before this you said you had some sort of hammer.
Phobos: Manyak used the hammer, that's right.
Interviewer: He was the only one?
Phobos: Yes. And there was another with the nickname "Manyak," [Maniac] who came in after me, the senior prison warden.
Interviewer: Why was his nickname "Manyak"? Was he noted for particular brutality?
Phobos: Yes.
Interviewer: Can you tell us what he did with people?
Phobos: I...didn't observe it...

Phobos said that Manyak had a set of surgical instruments that he used to intimidate people, but he wasn't sure if he used them. He saw once that he held a man's little finger in some clippers but he didn't know if it was cut off. Asked who was in charge directly of the prison after Bednov, he said the orders for the cellar came from Manyak.

Some commentators have talked about the "warlord" problem that the Kiev government has in dealing with aggressive battalion leaders who are on the battlefield and may not want to come off.

The Russian-backed separatist leaders have the same problem, only far worse given that with Moscow's help, they started the war and have a far greater number of atrocities documented on their side. For some time, the DNR and LNR have been "state-building," making Soviet-like institutions with bureaucratic trappings that they hope will become a permanent government. As they are taking part in the Minsk peace talks, they expect to stop combat at some point and take control over the areas they've seized with Russian help and make something like a "Transnistria" region.

There is a widespread belief among the "Novorossiya" supporters that the LNR leadership has betrayed them, and sold out to the Kiev government to make peace. Ukraine-watchers believe that Moscow is now executing people that "know too much" and aren't needed anymore for this phase of the operation.

However, it's important to note that other "Novorossiya" figures like Col. Igor Strelkov and Vladimir Antyufeyev, both with an admitted security past that included the FSB, and possibly the GRU as well, were extracted and allowed to continue civilian lives in Russia after deployment in Donetsk -- as they had been after they were used in past Russian military expeditions in Chechnya, Abkhazia and Transdnistria.

At this juncture there is not sufficient evidence to tell whether the LNR leadership ordered Batman's execution for their own reasons of faction-fighting, as informed local commentators such as Donetsk-based blogger Denis Kazanskiy believe, or whether Moscow was involved.

Strelkov -- himself accused of summary executions using a Stalin-era law in the cellars of Slavyansk --condemned the execution of his comrade Bednov, writing on his favorite war re-enactors' forum:

I won't write everything that I know, since this will bring no use, but only harm.

I can only say this: no matter what motives concealed this MURDER, even if San Sanych and six of his fighters were demons in the flesh, to annihilate them this way as was done has not the slightest sign of law (even martial) and no elementary human decency. If Batman deserved arrest and even execution, this should have been done not by a BANDIT AMBUSH (even if the organizers of this ambush call it a special operation).

Batman was not an open enemy of Novorossiya and according to the accusations made against him was subject to arrest, and only if under real resistance, should weapons have been used against him and his group (I would have in that case, without doubting, would use anything, including tanks and Howitzers). However his removal was done in the worst traditions of the "settling of scores" of the gangs of the 1990s.

No matter what the motives guiding the organizers of this crime, it will exclusively cause harm to the ause of Novorossiya.

"This is worse than a crime -- it is a mistake." (Talleyrand).

Along with this, I want to express the opinion that the escalation of the situation by any armed resistance against the authorities is impermissible. An "internal" war within Novorossiya will lead to even more severe consequences.

The Batman Battalion members have issued a statement in the battalion's VKontakte group that collects "humanitarian aid", widely covered on Russian-language social media which provides their theory of who executed Bednov and his men.

They claim it was Col. Evgeny Vladimirovich Vagner who is deputy commander of the Russian Unifed Group of Forces conducting the counter-terror operation in the North Caucasus, specifically in Dagestan, who was also a former commander of the Vityaz special forces of the Russian Interior Ministry. They said a spetsnaz unit was formed in 2006 to perform such operations named "Peresvet," which is the last name of one of the heroes of the Battle of Kulikovo. They have not supplied any evidence for this claim, and we have no confirmation of such a unit.

It will be interesting to see if what appears to have been a summary execution of a top LNR commander will lead others now to flee to Russia or occupied Crimea or elsewhere in the region, and freeze the flow of volunteers from the Donbass and Russia.

The person next to watch is Aleksei Mozgovoy, the commander of the Prizrak or "Ghost" Battalion, who has also said to refuse to subordinate to Plotnitsky's command and the effort to create a unified LNR military. This is the problem of "semiboyarschina," or the "seven boyars" problem of warlords establishing their own rule and refusing to obey the tsar (or selecting a tsar willing to serve them), about which DNR leader Aleksandr Boroday spoke of with frustration last summer.

In the larger picture, this means a fear that Donbass warlords won't submit to Putin in the Kremlin and become a threat to his rule, but at a local level it means those not willing to submit to Moscow-installed local leaders who are willing to make compromises.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Map of the Latest Fighting
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
NSDC's Turchynov Calls For Cancelling Inter TV For Being Pro-Russian

The secretary for the Ukrainian National Defense Council has called for the cancellation of the broadcast license for one of Ukraine's TV stations because it showed Russian performers on New Years eve. The Russian state news agency TASS reports:

Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Secretary Alexander Turchinov on Thursday demanded that the Inter TV channel be stripped of its license for showing performances by a number of Russian artists on New Year’s night, the Council’s press service reported.

Turchinov stressed that the National Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting should “immediately consider the issue of revoking the license from the Inter television channel, which became an element of information war being waged against its own country.”

“On New Year’s night, when the entire nation felt unity, the Inter television channel traditionally acted against the Ukrainian state, broadcasting a concert of people who scoffed at our country, supporting terrorists and welcoming the seizure of Crimea and Donbass,” Turchinov’s press service quoted him as saying.

It's not just the Russian news agencies talking about this. Nikolai Holmov uses less-than-pc terms to describe a "retarded/counterproductive" decision by Turchynov:

Would, for example, MTV be forced to remove such artists from their play list?  Will all TV channels be forced to stop showing the continual reruns of Kremlin-friendly “Z-listers”, such as Steven Seagal movies?  (If so, would Van Damme, Lundgren and other god-awful Z list actors forever being broadcast in Ukraine, kindly say or do something to also be removed from our screens.)

Seemingly, the 45 million people of Ukraine are not capable of changing the television channel if there is something or somebody being broadcast they don’t particularly like.  The population are also apparently incapable of separating an artist’s performance from any personal opinions/propaganda that they may spout in the media.  The nation, it appears, need rely on the paternalistic instincts of Olexandr Turchynov and his  National Security and Defence Council when it comes to what they can or cannot, should or should not be allowed to view.

The New Year Inter broadcast was not even close to anything likely to incite or inflame Ukrainian society.  It was just the usual parade of the mostly talentless – and in some cases, intellect-less too.

24 Today reports that other steps may be taken to curb Russian propaganda:

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister and Culture Minister Viacheslav Kyrylenko, in turn, said that the Cabinet of Ministers would propose closing channels that promote Russian propaganda.

This is not the first time that Ukraine's efforts to curb Russian propaganda (a significant problem) have slammed into Western ideals of free speech. But Turchynov is increasingly hawkish, and not just on this issue, so moving forward it is possible that more of these types of issues will pop up as the war in eastern Ukraine nears its first anniversary. 

-- James Miller