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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russia This Week: August 18-24

Publication: Russia This Week
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Chechen Leader Kadyrov Joins the Night Wolves

Chechen Republic President Ramzan Kadyrov has joined President Vladimir Putin's favorite motorcycle gang, the Night Wolves.

The Chechen strongman posted a report on his Instagram account today August 24:


Translation by The Interpreter

Dear Friends! On Sunday evening I gave a festive dinner in honor of dear friends from the bikers' club "Night Wolves." They came at my personal invitaiton. Aleksandr the Surgeon stated that in theory, what he saw in Grozny and other cities couldn't happen, yet it was reality. I was simply amazed, it is a fairy tale, it is a phantasy, he emphasized.

I am grateful to Sasha [Aleksandr] for his warm words about Chechnya, about our First President, Hero of Russia Akhmate-Hadji Kadyrov [Ramzan's father], and our team. Surgeon expressed sincere gratitude for our decisive support of the people of Crimea. Sasha really is a SURGEON. He he is always there with is guy when needed.

Our Motherland is Russia! This is a man with state thinking, a clear and firm position about the most important issues. Speaking on the 100th anniversary of the Dikaya Division, I noted that today the best sons of the Chechen people are ready at any minute to stand in defense of the Motherland!

Russia has never knelt before anyone, but if someone gets that idea into their head, we will place him so that he never stands again! And I want to state that today in Grozny, a chapter of the "Night Wolves" has appeared. And I am made a member of the "Night Wolves" by a unanimous decision of the veterans of the club. As a sign of testimony, I was given the club's bracelet. We took a lot of photos as souvenirs today. #Kaydrov @AkhmatHadji #Surgeon #NightWolves

"Surgeon" is the nick-name of Aleksandr Zaldostanov, who has met with Putin a number of times, notably when the president awarded him with the prestigious "Order of Honor" for his work with youth. He surfaced on 28 February of this year in Simferopol with a motorcycle rally when Russia began its armed takeover of the Crimea, and since then has been part of various pro-separatist Russian Orthodox rallies.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Leonid Martynyuk, Opposition Author and Video Producer, Arrested in Krasnodar

Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov reported in a Facebook post that his colleague and co-author Leonid Martynyuk was arrested in Krasnodar August 23.

He says that when Martynyuk and his wife Katerina were travelling on the commuter train from Sochi to Krasnodar, a provocateur attacked Leonid and the police wound up seizing him and accusing him of "hooliganism" (Art. 20-1). His wife tried to defend her husband and was also detained and at first an attempt was made to charge her as well with "resistance to a police officer" (Art. 19-3). Katerina was ultimately released, but Leonid is now threatened with 15 days in jail.

Nemtsov fears that this incident was staged in retaliation against Martynyuk's opposition activity. Both he and Nemtsov co-authored a critical report of the Sochi Olympics, Winter Olympics in the Sub-Tropics (translated by The Interpreter) and Life of a Galley Slave.

Martynyuk is also author of a viral YouTube channel titled "The Putin Regime's Lie" which has a total of more than 24 million views for all the videos posted.

Notable among these videos is "Who Shot Down the Boeing over Donbass?" which assembles all the evidence for the Russian-backed separatists possessing and using a Buk to shoot down MH17.

Martynyuk has also been active in the opposition Republic Party of Russia/People's Freedom Party.

He is a co-defendment with Nemtsov in a 3 million ruble ($83,000) libel suit brought by Vladimir Yakunin of Russian Railways regarding exposes in the Sochi report.

Martynyuk is currently being held in the Central District police precinct in Krasnodar.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
What's Happening to Social Media Accounts of Russian Paratroopers Reported Captured?

Yesterday August 22 we reported that the Russian media and bloggers were trying to match documents reportedly seized from BMDs on the battlefield in Ukraine to social media accounts of Russian paratroopers reportedly killed or captured. 

Linking names in documents allegedly seized by the Ukrainian army to social media accounts isn't proof of the soldiers' status, because both can be faked.

Social media accounts are notoriously able to be manipulated, because anyone can make or operate them, fill them with pictures, and create any impression they like.

Even so, it's a point of departure to try to investigate the claim that Russian troops have been fighting in Ukraine. Coupled with other disturbing reports of medals for "heroism in combat" handed out by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to the 76th Guards Air Assault Division in Pskov, they may eventually help confirm the story.

Two lists of soldiers from the 76th Guards said to be captured, killed, or in active combat in Lugansk Region in Ukraine have been matched to accounts on VKontakte (VK), Russia's most popular social network.

The first list published by Ukrainian blogger Aleksandr Makarenko on Facebook has 15 soldiers' names.

In this batch of 15 said to be killed or captured, two accounts were accessed 23 August, although no new content was uploaded; one account was entirely removed; and 12 remain untouched.

In the second batch of 27 soldiers found and matched by Russian LiveJournal blogger 67Viktor (re-posted by jinnledinque) using the seized log book of Sr. Lt. I.A. Popov -- which overlaps with Makarenko's list by 5 men -- we found that 10 were only accessed until 15 or 16 August; 14 were accessed today 23 August, although no new content was uploaded, and three were removed.

67Viktor took care to get a screenshot of the header of each soldier's account, and also copied some of their most significant photos -- those showing the men in the light blue berets of the paratroopers or with jump helmets to illustrate their membership in the paratroopers' division, or recent photos with armored vehicles and weapons.

Here's where it gets interesting.

We watched in real time today as some of these photos were removed from these accounts, soon after the blogger Ukraine@War (@djp3tros) published this tweet about a similarity between one of the armored vehicles in a soldier's account and the BMDs reportedly captured by the Ukrainian army.

In several cases, accounts were removed completely.

In the case of  Andrei Lukyanov, who originally had 29 photos, including photos of his draft notice and two photos of  armored vehicles copied by 67Viktor, these were removed and now the account shows only 26 photos.






The significance of the draft notice is that it shows the soldier was drafted into the regular Russian army, and did not join the separatists as a volunteer.

In the case of another soldier (Dima Dolgov), his account showed no new log-on time stamp, but the number of his photos went down from 145 to 96 today.

As we know from Pavel Durov, the founder of VKontakte, who left Russia, the Federal Security Service (FSB) is routinely provided access to users' account on demand without a warrant. Recently, a new law grants even more requirements for cooperation between the FSB and social media platforms.

So Russian authorities could have accessed these accounts and tampered with them to remove anything that might confirm the Ukrainians' claims.

But it's also possible that the soldiers themselves accessed them and removed material that they were concerned could get them into trouble, or their relatives, who might have their passwords, could have logged on to the account and removed pictures or closed the accounts altogether. We just don't know.

One soldier's account in the list shows an update stating, "I'm alive, everything's fine with me, and I wasn't in Ukraine."


There are also Russian bloggers like this one busy debunking the theory that these paratroopers' VK accounts prove the claims of the Ukrainian army, but only by saying that some of the accounts have been accessed since the battle in Lugansk Region on August 15-16.

But they can't explain why so many of the accounts have not been updated since those dates, or why accounts have been closed or tell-tale pictures have been removed.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russian Press and Social Media Mine VKontakte for Information on Russian Paratroopers

Ever since the announcement by Ukrainian journalist Roman Bochkala and Ukrainian national security spokesman that Russian paratroopers had been captured in Lugansk region along with their BMDs and documents, the Russian press and social media networks have been mining the social media pages of soldiers in the 76th Guards for confirmation of the claims.

As we reported, the sudden appearance on of a decree from President Putin honoring the 76th Guards -- five months after the military annexation of Crimea -- as well as a trip to Pskov to hand out the awards yesterday by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu have fueled the rumors that soldiers were killed and/or captured in Lugansk Region, necessitating such a high-level response.

Some of the items said to be found with the BMDs included Russian soldiers' credit cards, passports, military ID, and evening rolls calls.


One name found on a weapon matched the name of a man on VKontakte who had a picture of a soldier with a gun in his profile, but the man was a war gamer, didn't seem to be on active duty, the picture a stock photo, and the weapons didn't match anyway.


Another man, Nikolai Krygin, whose ID was reportedly found in Lugansk Region matched the name and birth date of a man with a VKontakte profile in the Airborne Troops  from Pskov.


His pictures contained a photo of paratroopers after a jump.


Among his friends were many other paratroopers, shown in distinctive light blue berets or in jump helmets, and there was even one man who uploaded a photo with the GRU's slogan on a board:


Translation: Three Laws of the Scout: Intelligence, like iron, rusts without movement. One for all and all for one. Don't retreat, don't surrender.

The GRU reportedly ceased to use the bat symbol in 2002, replacing it with a double-headed eagle on a globe with arrows and a carnation on its talons.

None of the photos showed any scenes in Ukraine, although one soldier had a video of Russians battling Ukrainian nationalists at a demonstration that turned violent in Kharkov, and others had anti-Ukrainian messages. (RosBiznesKonsulting or RBK), a relatively critical Russian business publication, has investigated the claims regarding the documents found in the BMDs in Lugansk Region in several articles.

RBC attempted to get a statement from a man who used a pseudonym who appeared to be in the paratroopers and who had expressed grief about Krygin's alleged death, but he refused to comment.

Several bloggers claimed that there were now messages of condolences for Krygyin, the common Russian saying "We remember. We love. We grieve." But we couldn't see the comments, either because they are on privacy filters, or because they've been removed.

Krygin, age 20, began his service a year ago. A source in the Airborne Troops refused to confirm or deny for RBC the information about the 76th Guards' possible involvement in armed conflict in southeastern Ukraine, saying he had no precise information.

One Ukrainian blogger Aleksandr Makarenko of Kharkiv came up with a list of 15 paratroopers published on his Facebook page that he believed were killed or captured in battle in southeastern Ukraine.

A Russian LiveJournal blogger 67viktor has impressively gathered these all in one place and linked the names from the BMD documents to VK accounts all showing pictures of paratroopers.

We were unable to find the page of condolences he found and wonder why it's showing the Ukrainian language:


All but two of these accounts have not been visited or updated since late August 15 or early August 16, which could confirm the bloggers' claim that they are dead or captured.

While in theory soldiers in training in Russia might not update their social media accounts, for a group of 15 paratroopers not to update pages in the last week when they had in previous weeks seems odd. Here, too, there were condolences on some of the pages, and several of the pages had filled up with anti-Russian hate comments from Ukrainians.

RBC reiterated that an official representative of the Defense Ministry Igor Konashenko discounted the Ukrainian army's claims and said the forms used in the documents were five years out of date. He said that a unit wouldn't drag around such large amounts of documents, including a journal of the unit's dismissals. RBC also cited military expert Col. Viktor Murakhovsky (reserves) who said the supposed findings were "the latest element of the information war."

Murakhovsky believes that if Kiev or its Western allies had proof of the deployment of Russian forces, given US and NATO capacity for intelligence, that they would have brought it forward. "Soldiers don't have passports, a military card takes its place, and the officers have identification," he said.

Valentina Melnikova, the head of the Union of Committees of Soldiers' Mothers also told RBC that she also didn't know of any confirmation that soldiers were fighting in southeastern Ukraine. While some mothers have called and claimed that their sons were serving in Lugansk, this turned out to be only a rumor, she said. She knew of the deaths of only two contracted soldiers from Nizhegorod Region. Vladimir Ruban, head of the Ukrainian Center for POW Release said he did not know of any cases reliably confirmed of Russian soldiers in Ukraine.

Ruban, like other sources, said that a person might have a Russian military background, but not have been formally sent to fight, and instead could be a volunteer. Yet journalists at Novaya Gazeta have confirmed that the Russian draft system has been used to identify and recruit such volunteers.

Mining the social media pages of soldiers every time they seemed to be tied to combat, capture, or deaths in Ukraine has become one of the biggest online sports on both sides of the conflict in Russia's war against Ukraine.

In some cases, the stories just don't pan up and those trying to use this form of evidence are discredited.

But the persistence of clues from soldier's remarks, such as this one who says "our soldiers are dying in Donetsk" have a cumulative effect, especially when matched with persistent citizens' uploads of videos of Russian armored vehicles in southeastern Ukraine which have been verified.

This footage, which was subsequently geolocated, came only days after a large column of VDV (Russian Airborne Forces) BMD-2s was seen near the border on the Russian side: first, at the junction of the road to the border near Kamensk-Shakhtinsky, and then only 10 km from the border on August 15; features of these vehicles match those captured.

Ultimately, the belated Suvorov awards -- five months after the annexation and three months after even journalists were awarded for their service in Crimea -- seems odd, and Shoigu's personal visit to Pskov indeed appears disturbing.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russian Defense Minister Shoigu Travels to Pskov to Give Awards to 76th Guards

The Russian Defense Ministry published a notice on its website yesterday, August 22 regarding a visit to Pskov Region by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Shoigu attended a ceremony to give the Suvorov award for valour in battle to the 76th Guards Air Assault Division of Russian Airborne Troops from Pskov.


The ceremony followed notice on that President Vladimir Putin had issued the Suvorov award on August 18 to the 76th Guards "for successful fulfillment of combat assignments" and "courage and heroism" without specifying where the combat took place. The measure prompted intense speculation as the timing was five months after the forcible annexation of the Crimea, yet the same week as Ukrainians claimed capture of the Russian paratroopers and tanks.

Then came the Defense Ministry notice August 22, amid media reports that Shoigu had made an unplanned and unannounced visit to Pskov.

In a speech at the ceremony, Shoigu said (translation by The Interpreter):

On Russia's State Flag Day, the head of the Defense Ministry issued the Order of Suvorov to the famed division:

"On this solemn day, I would like to note that throughout many years, the soldiers of the division have been a model of service to the Fatherland, demonstrating fidelity to the best traditions of the Russian army."

The Defense Ministry recalled that the personnel of the division have taken part in the deterrence of inter-ethnic conflicts in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ossetia and Kosovo. A notable place in the biography of the division is the participation of the paratroopers in the counter-terrorist operation in the North Caucasus.

"This year you also performed with honor special assignments in returning the Republic of Crimea to Russia," the head of the defense ministry noted.

"I believe that the award to the division of the Order of Suvorov is symbolic. Service in the Airborne Troops inherently implies the highest professionalism and loyalty to Suvorov's science of winning not by numbers but by skill. The training conducted recently visibly demonstrated that Russia can and will count on you in resolving the responsible assignments in defending national interests," the Defense Ministery emphasized, speaking to the paratroopers.

No mention was made of active combat in southeastern Ukraine.

While in Pskov Region, Shoigu laid flowers at a memorial to paratrooper warriors.

As we reported on our Ukraine Liveblog, on August 21, Ukrainian journalist Roman Bochkala reported that the Ukrainian army had captured Russian paratroopers and seized BMDs and documentation in Lutugino District in Lugansk Region.

The Russian Defense Ministry denied the reports, saying that the documents purported to be found in the BMDs did not match the format currently in use in the Russian Armed Forces.