Tag Archives: Moscow

Pavlo Klimkin: The bitter lessons of #MH17

By Pavlo Klimkin.Debris lies at the site of the crash of a Malaysia Airlines plane carrying 298 people in eastern Ukraine.Debris lies at the site of the crash of a Malaysia Airlines plane carrying 298 people in eastern Ukraine.

Editor’s note: Pavlo Klimkin is the Foreign Minister of Ukraine. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) — During the last four months, the people of Ukraine have been fighting for their freedom, independence and European path in a war started by Russia-backed terrorists and their accomplices.

Ukrainian military forces suffer heavy losses in battles against terrorists equipped with the newest Russian weaponry. We’ve seen reports of the pro-Russian thugs shooting women and children, cynically calling it a “protection of the Russian-speaking population.”

The price we are paying to bring peace back to the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine is too high. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has proposed the decentralization of power as part of his peace plan. It means more freedom, more economic autonomy and more opportunities to use languages spoken in a particular community for every region.

Ukraine has also demonstrated its genuine willingness to resolve this crisis through negotiations and compromises. Our armed forces have shown exceptional restraint during their military operations in order to avoid casualties among peaceful civilians and prevent destruction of their towns and villages. Our unilateral cease-fire in the zone of the conflict had lasted from June 20 to June 30, during which 27 Ukrainian servicemen, from all over Ukraine, were killed by the bandits.

On July 17 we believe the terrorists fired at the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, cutting short the lives of almost 300 people. This was a tragic wake-up call to the whole world. From now on Russian exporters of terrorism bring tragedy and tears to people across the planet — from the Netherlands to Australia.

Ukrainians, knowing too well the bitterness of loss, sincerely share grief with the families of the deceased. Our government is conducting, together with a team of international experts, a thorough investigation of the circumstances of this heinous act of terrorism. There is already incontrovertible evidence that the airliner was shot down by an anti-aircraft missile system that had arrived from Russia.

Pro-Russian militants block the way behind Dutch and Australian forensic teams on their way to the crash site of downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on July 28, 2014 in Donetsk. © AFPPro-Russian militants block the way behind Dutch and Australian forensic teams on their way to the crash site of downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on July 28, 2014 in Donetsk. © AFP

For the first time since 1983, when a Soviet jet fighter deliberately shot down a South Korean Boeing 747, Russia stands entangled in such a horrendous tragedy. We remember that an objective investigation of that catastrophe was made possible only 10 years later, after the USSR collapsed. We would not like to have to wait that long to learn the truth about the tragedy of MH17.

Indeed, the guilty must be promptly punished.

We are encouraged with the growing understanding in both the West and the East of the nature of terrorism in eastern Ukraine. While U.S. senators and European Union ministers already consider designating the Donetsk People’s Republic and its Luhansk twin as terrorist organizations, we expect Russia to halt its support to terrorists. Since most of them are Russian citizens and “former” security service officers, we also urge Moscow to take them away from Ukraine. They must go home.

Russian sponsorship of terrorism in Ukraine amply demonstrates that in the 21st century any regional conflict invariably poses a threat to global security.

International and internal terrorism, as well as unbridled export of conventional and high-tech weaponry, have no regard for state borders, national sovereignty or human lives.

Ukraine has been consistently advocating not only international control of nuclear weapons, but today we also stand for the creation of a universal mechanism for international control of conventional arms.

We strive for a world based on the respect for international law and trust between nations.


Special Report: Where pro-Russian separatists get their weapons

By Thomas Grove and Warren Strobel.
Ukrainian servicemen stand near weapons, seized from pro-Russian separatists, near Slaviansk in this July 8, 2014 file photo. Credit: Reuters/Gleb Garanich/FilesUkrainian servicemen stand near weapons, seized from pro-Russian separatists, near Slaviansk in this July 8, 2014 file photo. Credit: Reuters/Gleb Garanich/Files

(Reuters) – On the last day of May, a surface-to-air rocket was signed out of a military base near Moscow where it had been stored for more than 20 years.

According to the ornate Cyrillic handwriting in the weapon’s Russian Defence Ministry logbook, seen by Reuters, the portable rocket, for use with an Igla rocket launcher, was destined for a base in Rostov, some 50 km (31 miles) from the Ukrainian border. In that area, say U.S. officials, lies a camp for training Ukrainian separatist fighters.

Three weeks later the rocket and its logbook turned up in eastern Ukraine, where government troops seized them from pro-Russian separatists.

The logbook, which is more than 20 pages long, records that rocket 03181 entered service on May 21, 1993, and had regular tests as recently as 2005 to make sure it was in fighting form. The seal of the Russian Defence Ministry has been stamped over the signature sending the weapon to Rostov.

A copy of the log was passed to a diplomat in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev. Reuters was unable to verify its authenticity with the Russian military, and Moscow has consistently denied arming the separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The Igla and its logbook are just one indication that weapons are flowing from Russia into Ukraine. Interviews with American officials, diplomats in Kiev, and Russian military analysts paint a picture of a steady and ongoing flow. These people say weapons – from small arms to armored personnel carriers, tanks and sophisticated missile systems – have flooded into the region since May, fueling the violence.

In an interview with Reuters last week, a separatist leader said that Russia may have supplied the separatists with BUK rockets, which were used to shoot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. The destruction of the civilian passenger plane over eastern Ukraine on July 17 killed nearly 300 people.

Alexander Khodakovsky, commander of the Vostok Battalion, told Reuters: “I knew that a BUK came from Luhansk (in east Ukraine) … I heard about it. I think they sent it back. Because I found out about it at exactly the moment that I found out that this tragedy (of MH17) had taken place. They probably sent it back in order to remove proof of its presence.”

Armed pro-Russian separatists stand guard in the eastern Ukrainian town of Torez on July 21, 2014. © AFP.Armed pro-Russian separatists stand guard in the eastern Ukrainian town of Torez on July 21, 2014. © AFP.

Three U.S. government officials said the weapons flow from Russia increased dramatically several weeks ago in response to successes by Ukrainian government forces, including the recapture of Slaviansk, a separatist stronghold in eastern Ukraine. The new shipments included anti-aircraft systems designed to combat Ukraine’s air power, those officials said.

“If you trace the increase in supplies and materials … we’ve seen in the last few weeks culminating in this tragic incident, it’s clearly in the face of successes by the Ukrainian forces,” said a senior U.S. official, who like the others spoke on condition of anonymity.

Moscow, which has said it is willing to cooperate with an international investigation into the loss of MH17, has denied sending any BUK missiles to the rebels. It has said Washington is attempting to destabilize Russia through events in Ukraine.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said this week that Moscow was hopeful that monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe could be deployed along Russia’s border with Ukraine to dispel suspicions that Russia is aiding the rebels.

“We hope that this will dispel suspicions that are regularly being voiced against us, that those (border) checkpoints controlled by the militias from the Ukrainian side are used for massive troops and weaponry deployment from Russia to Ukraine,” he said.

Pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine maintain most of their weapons have come from captured Ukrainian armories or have been seized directly from the Ukrainian military on the battlefield.


In the weeks following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March, tensions grew on the south and east frontiers of Ukraine. Kiev’s border guard agency said it stopped thousands of Russian citizens who tried to enter Ukrainian territory carrying weapons or bags full of camouflage.

Separatists started firing on border guard positions, according to Ukrainian officials. On May 29, the Stanychno-Luhanske border guard division in Ukraine’s Luhansk province was attacked by 300 gunmen with small arms and grenade launchers. Rebels seized control of the facility after five days of fighting. Other border guard divisions and checkpoints along Ukraine’s more than 2,000-km border with Russia also fell.

Separatists were able to ferry in people and equipment almost unhindered.

That led to more ambitious attacks on Ukrainian targets. On June 14, for instance, separatists shot down a Ukrainian IL-76 military transport jet coming in to land near the eastern city of Luhansk. All 49 people on board died; charred pieces of the fuselage and engines littered the rolling wheat fields outside the village of Novohannivka.

The weapon used that day, according to separatists who later spoke about the attack, was an Igla rocket launcher, sometimes known generically as a MANPAD, for man-portable air-defence system.

The origin of the weapon remains unclear: There is no evidence this was connected to the Igla rocket seized by Ukrainian forces a week later along with its log book. Iglas were used extensively in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Bosnia in the 1990s and are easy to transport and common in eastern Ukraine. Videos, posted online after Ukrainian troops drove separatists out of Slaviansk on July 7, show boxes marked 9M39 – the model of missile used with an Igla – stacked in the basement of the mayor’s office.

The day after the IL-76 was shot down, Valery Bolotov, top commander of the Luhansk People’s Republic, claimed responsibility. “I can’t tell you anything more detailed on the IL-76, but I will repeat that the IL-76 was hit by our militia, the air defense forces of the Luhansk People’s Republic,” Bolotov, who wore a camouflage T-shirt, said in a video posted on YouTube.

Pro-Russian separatist commander Igor Strelkov takes part in a news conference in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, in this July 10, 2014 file photo. Credit: Reuters/Maxim Zmeyev/Files.Pro-Russian separatist commander Igor Strelkov takes part in a news conference in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, in this July 10, 2014 file photo. Credit: Reuters/Maxim Zmeyev/Files.

The commander said that separatists in Luhansk controlled nearly 80 km of the border from Dolzhanksy to Izvaryna at that time, but denied getting weapons from Moscow, saying they had been pillaged from Ukrainian army and police store rooms.

A separatist officer in Slaviansk who used the nom de guerre Anton also said the Igla in the IL-76 attack was not Russian but a weapon seized from Ukrainians. He declined to say whether the separatists received other weapons from Russia.

Alexander Gureyev, a Russia supporter from Luhansk, told Reuters last week that all the separatists’ weapons had been found in local arms warehouses.

“We had to boost our arsenal,” he said. “If you have small-caliber weapons and they’re shooting at you with Howitzers – that’s not right. But now they’re getting it from us with Howitzers, mortars, tanks. It’s given them something to think about.”

He declined to detail the origin of heavy weapons, but said separatists were “thrilled” when the IL-76 was shot down. “It was like a holiday in the city. People thought things would change and that with such a success people would stop dying in this conflict.”

He said the Luhansk rebels had decided to station anti-aircraft sharpshooters at the nearby airfield in retribution for the deaths of at least eight people in what he called a Ukrainian airstrike on the rebels’ headquarters in Luhansk.

“They simply flew above us, we were already fed up with it all and decided that we would start shooting at everything,” he said. “We simply took anything out of the sky that flew above us.”


Not everyone believes the separatists’ assertions that their weapons had been seized from Ukrainian troops.

A diplomat said that arms had started to come in from Russia regularly around the time of the independence vote in Crimea in May. In the past couple of weeks an increasing amount of materiel had arrived “in reaction to the collapse of Slaviansk,” he said. That included T64 tanks from stocks of old weapons discarded after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Anton Lavrov, an independent Russian military analyst said: “It would be stupid to deny that Russia supports the separatists. The main question is only the scale of this support.”

He said pro-Russian separatists have been found in possession of a Kamaz Mustang military transport vehicle that is not used in Ukraine and cannot be bought there. Reuters could not independently verify that.

“There was a serious escalation in the middle of June, when heavy weapons began to appear among the separatists, including tanks and artillery in such quantities that it would be hard to attribute it to seizures from Ukrainian stockpiles.”

Another independent Russian military analyst, Alexander Golts, also said the rebels had received arms from Russia. He described it as “all old Soviet weaponry.” He said rocket launchers were spotted in April or the beginning of May very early in the conflict.

Washington is in no doubt Russia is the source of many of the weapons. At least 20 tanks and armored personnel carriers have crossed the border from Russia since the downing of Malaysia Airlines MH17, a senior U.S. intelligence official said.

In a media briefing on July 22, U.S. intelligence officials also released satellite photographs of what they said was a training site for Ukrainian separatists near the Russian city of Rostov. The photographs appear to show increased activity at the site between June 19 and July 21.

A Moscovite volunteer called Valery Kolotsei, 37, said he joined the rebels in Ukraine’s Luhansk region for a few weeks in May and June. He said he had connected with other volunteers over Vkontakte, Russia’s version of Facebook. They had gathered, he said, in the Rostov region, where U.S. officials say a camp for training Ukrainian separatist fighters sits.

Kolotsei said the rebel group he joined used a motley array of weapons, including a mortar produced in 1944.


Before the MH17 incident, U.S. spy agencies issued multiple warnings that Russia was shipping heavy weaponry, including rockets, to Ukrainian separatists, U.S. security officials said.

The officials said that before MH-17 went down, the United States had become aware separatists possessed SA-11 BUK missiles, but believed they were all inoperable. Officials acknowledged, too, that U.S. intelligence agencies do not know who fired the missile or when and how separatists may have obtained it.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has firmly denied his country had any involvement in the fate of MH17. Putin and the separatists blamed Ukraine for the disaster, with some suggesting a Ukrainian missile team brought down the passenger aircraft.

Ukraine rejects such claims. Vladyslav Seleznyov, a spokesman for Ukraine’s military operations in eastern Ukraine, said: “The Ukrainian army has portable missile systems of the Igla and Osa type and the complex BUK. However, they are not used in this campaign because there is no need for them.” The rebels have no aircraft, he said.

Despite the MH17 tragedy, the conflict shows little sign of diminishing. Another U.S. official said: “There are indications that some groups feel betrayed by Moscow not doing enough. Others don’t like the way this is headed.” He said some rebels fear the fighting has “gotten out of control.”

Olexander Motsyk, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, told Reuters in an interview that his country has evidence Russia is preparing to supply separatist rebels with a powerful new multiple-rocket system known as the Tornado. According to military websites, the system first saw service earlier this decade and is an improvement on Russia’s older Grad missile launcher.

The evidence for this, Motsyk said, includes satellite photographs as well as intercepts of telephone conversations. He declined to be more specific.

Referring to the flow of weapons from Russia into eastern Ukraine, he said: “Nothing has changed after the downing of the civilian airliner.”

(Grove reported from Donetsk, Strobel from Washington; Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball, Jason Szep, Matt Spetalnick and Phillip Stewart in Washington, Elizabeth Piper in Kiev, Alissa de Carbonnel in Moscow, and Maria Tsvetkova, Anton Zverev and Peter Graff in Donetsk; Editing by Simon Robinson and Richard Woods)


Hague court orders Russia to pay $50 billion in Yukos case

By Megan Davies and Vladimir Soldatkin.Derricks at Yuganskneftegaz oil processing facility at Mamontovskoye oilfield outside the Siberian town of Nefteyugansk.  CREDIT: REUTERS/SERGEI KARPUKHINDerricks at Yuganskneftegaz oil processing facility at Mamontovskoye oilfield outside the Siberian town of Nefteyugansk. Credit: Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin

(Reuters) – The Hague’s arbitration court ruled on Monday that Russia must pay a group of shareholders in defunct oil giant Yukos around $50 billion (29.45 billion pounds) for expropriating its assets, a big hit for a country teetering on the brink of recession.

The Hague court said it had awarded shareholders in the GML group just under half of their $114 billion claim, going some way to covering the money they lost when the Kremlin seized Yukos, once controlled by Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Tim Osborne, director of GML, welcomed the award, which he said was the largest ever, as “very favourable”.

But Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would most likely appeal the decision, underlining that the shareholders, who have battled through the courts for a decade, will have to fight further to receive the compensation.

“The Russian side, those agencies which represent Russia in this process, will no doubt use all available legal possibilities to defend its position,” he said when news of the award leaked ahead of the official announcement.

The ruling hits Russia at a time when it faces international sanctions about its role in Ukraine and anger over the downing of a Malaysian airliner over eastern Ukraine, where Moscow-backed rebels are fighting a separatist campaign. The country is also grappling with slowing economic growth.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague announced that Russia must pay the compensation to subsidiaries of Gibraltar-based Group Menatep, a company through which Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, controlled Yukos.

Group Menatep now exists as holding company GML, and Khodorkovsky is no longer a shareholder in GML or Yukos.

Khodorkovsky, who is not a party to the action, was arrested at gunpoint in 2003 and convicted of theft and tax evasion in 2005. His company, once worth $40 billion, was broken up and nationalised, with most assets handed to Rosneft, a company run by Igor Sechin, an ally of President Vladimir Putin.

Rosneft was not immediately available for comment.

Its shares were down 0.6 percent at 0830 GMT (9.30 a.m. BST), while the RTS index of Russian shares was down 1.8 percent.

Separately, The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg is expected on Thursday to announce a decision on Yukos’s multi-billion-dollar claim against Russia, ruling on ‘just satisfaction’ or compensation, a Yukos spokeswoman said.

Yukos’s application in the ECHR, which is on behalf of all Yukos shareholders, argued that Yukos was unlawfully deprived of its possessions by the imposition of bogus taxes and a sham auction of its main asset.


In a case that Kremlin critics said offered a stark example of Putin’s increasingly autocratic rule, Khodorkovsky was arrested at gunpoint in 2003 and convicted of theft and tax evasion in 2005. Putin justified the move by saying: “A thief must be in jail,” quoting a popular Soviet blockbuster.

Putin pardoned Khodorkovsky in December after he had spent 10 years in jail. He now lives in Switzerland.

The newspaper Kommersant, which earlier reported the Hague ruling, said the court ruled that Russia had infringed an international energy charter, adopted in 1991, that envisaged legal issues for investments in energy sectors.

The court also ruled, according to the newspaper, that Russia had to start paying the compensation by Jan. 2 next year, or face growing interest on the fine.

It cited GML director Osborne as saying GML will force Russia to pay out the compensation “if it wouldn’t make payments within the court-defined timeframe”.

Any funds won will be shared amongst the shareholders. The biggest ultimate beneficial owner is Russian-born Leonid Nevzlin, a business partner who had fled to Israel to avoid prosecution. He has a stake of around 70 percent.

A spokesperson for Nevzlin declined to comment.

The other four ultimate beneficial owners, each of whom owns an equal stake, are Platon Lebedev, Mikhail Brudno, Vladimir Dubov and Vasilly Shaknovski.

After he was jailed, Khodorkovsky ceded his controlling interest in Menatep, which owned 60 to 70 percent of Yukos, to Nevzlin.

GML shareholders are not expecting to claim twice, so if they receive monies pursuant to one case it would reduce their claim under the other, Osborne has previously told Reuters.

(Reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva, Vladimir Soldatkin and Megan Davies in Moscow, Tova Cohen in Tel Aviv, reporting by Thomas Escritt and Anthony Deutsche in Amsterdam, Editing by Elizabeth Piper and Will Waterman)


Globetrotting U.S. Cyclist Ron McGerity, 61, Killed in Russia

Ron McGerity poses in front of the Lenin Mausoleum on Red Square in Moscow.Ron McGerity poses in front of the Lenin Mausoleum on Red Square in Moscow.

A U.S. cyclist who pedaled across 50-plus countries for peace and charity was run over and killed in Russia by a drunken truck driver, ITAR-Tass news agency said Friday.

Ron McGerity, 61, was the victim of a hit-and-run driver on a federal highway from Kostroma to Ivanovo in central Russia, the agency said, citing Ivanovo police.

The driver, whose name was withheld, was soon apprehended by traffic police, who allege he was drunk.

McGerity arrived in Russia planning to tour all of the Golden Ring — a set of ancient towns surrounding Moscow, all popular tourist destinations full of historical and architectural landmarks — on his custom-made Swiss bike.

The Boston native had been staging cycling expeditions to promote peace and raise money for various charities since 1995.

He had toured four continents in that time, visiting countries as diverse as Canada, Egypt, Israel, France, Japan and Norway.

The most recent photo on his Facebook page, BikerOnTheRoad, is dated Tuesday and shows McGerity kicking back on his bike in front of the Lenin Mausoleum on Moscow’s Red Square.

via Globetrotting U.S. Cyclist Killed in Russia | News | The Moscow Times.

Russians Take Top Rebel Posts in East Ukraine, Pushing Locals Aside

As Ukrainian troops gained ground in the country’s east in early July, separatist leader, Aleksandr Borodai, a Russian national, left for Moscow for political consultations.

After what he described as successful talks with unnamed people there, he returned to the rebel stronghold of Donetsk to introduce a new senior figure in his self-proclaimed republic, a compatriot seasoned in the pro-Russian separatist movement in Moldova and a war between Russia and Georgia.

Vladimir Antyufeyev

Vladimir Antyufeyev was named “deputy prime minister” by Borodai on July 10, one of several native Russians to have taken charge of the separatist rebellion in Ukraine’s eastern regions.

Joining Borodai and rebel commander Igor Strelkov, Antyufeyev’s arrival underlines a change at the top of the separatist movement, highlighting Moscow’s involvement in the conflict, Western officials say. The Kremlin denies any involvement.

“There has been a dramatic change in the leadership of the Donetsk People’s Republic over the past weeks, which certainly gives the impression of a much more hands-on Russian directive role,” said Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. “These individuals are in regular touch with authorities in Russia.”

Ukrainian-born rebel leaders have been eased out, causing rifts among increasingly nervous separatists since a Malaysian airliner was downed over rebel-held territory just over a week ago.

Antyufeyev replaced Donetsk native, Alexander Khodakovsky, as the top security person in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. Denis Pushilin, another local once titled the republic’s president, was dismissed.

Khodakovsky remains a top commander but has taken an increasingly independent line, telling Reuters that separatists had the type of anti-aircraft missile system that Washington says brought the plane down, killing all 298 people on board.

Borodai denied this assertion.

A Ukrainian official in the southern Azov Sea city port of Mariupol, which Kiev reclaimed from rebels last month, said Russians were taking over the entire rebel operation, sidelining or removing locals.

Antyufeyev, also known as Shevtsov

Antyufeyev, also known as Vadim Shevtsov, has a history of supporting pro-Russian separatist movements in the former Soviet Union, and brings a tough discipline and doggedness to the campaign in eastern Ukraine.

The balding, 63-year-old says he “fought national fascism” by supporting separatists in the pro-Russian self-procalimed republic of Transdnestr in neighboring Moldova, and in the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia.

At his new office at the separatists’ Donetsk headquarters, the Siberian-born Antyufeyev said he came to Ukraine because Russians were being killed by forces sent from Kiev.

“I know what it is to fight for the rights of the people … I know what hot spots are,” he said in an interview. A picture of President Vladimir Putin looked down on the table where he sat.

Asked whether there were divisions among the rebels, Antyufeyev said: “I am the authority. I have no problems … If they do not understand that, that is their problem. I am a professional in making [people] understand.”

He earned a fearsome reputation when he served in Transdnestr, which split from Moldova in 1990, as the head of security operations for 20 years.

Dismissed in 2012 when his ally was replaced as leader of the tiny sliver of land, he barricaded himself for three days in his study and refused to leave.

The EU first blacklisted Antyufeyev over his role in Transdnestr in 2004. Though it later suspended that decision, it has now blacklisted him again over Ukraine, imposing assets freezes and a travel ban on him.

One person who had been questioned by Antyufeyev in Transdnestr on suspicion of spying for Moldova said he was a tenacious interrogator. Speaking on condition of anonymity, for fear of reprisal, the person said Antyufeyev was “a professional,” capable of being sociable and polite, always rigidly following the chosen line. With a smile on his face, Antyufeyev would exert moral pressure, the person said.

Oazu Nantoi, a Moldovan political analyst and expert on Transdnestr, predicted Antyufeyev would aim to further destabilize Donetsk and impede Kiev’s efforts to regain control.

“He is no romantic who came to fire a few shots. He knows what his tasks are. Just as he did in Transdnestr,” he said. “Antyufeyev knows how to operate in such situations, how to suppress opposition and dissent … create an atmosphere of fear in which people will support any action by the separatists.”

Borodai’s Friends

Washington says the influx of Russians into the upper ranks of the separatists is matched by an increased number of heavy weaponry coming across the Russian border into Ukraine, a response to advances made by the Ukrainian army on the ground.

Though Borodai insists the separatists’ weaponry comes from depots they overran while seizing territory, he admits “volunteers” from Russia keep on reinforcing the rebels’ ranks.

He calls his Russian trio volunteers and says their presence in the Donetsk region, or Donbass, is proof of the Russian nation’s support for the separatists’ cause.

“The people of Donbass rose on their own. It is normal and natural that we ended up heading this movement because of certain competences, our abilities,” he told a news conference in Donetsk earlier this month.

“There will be more and more people from Moscow in the DNR [Donetsk People's Republic],” said Borodai, flanked by Strelkov and Antyufeyev.

The stout Borodai denies having ever worked for the Russian security services though admits knowing many people there because of his past work as a “professional political expert.”

He and Strelkov say they first met in 1996 in the Russian region of Chechnya, where Moscow has waged two wars against Islamist separatists since 1994. Borodai says Strelkov has long been his “very good acquaintance.”

Both said they served in Transdnestr and, more recently, in Crimea. The West says they were aides to the pro-Russian separatist leader of the Black Sea peninsula who was instrumental in Moscow’s annexation earlier this year.

The two are on both the EU and U.S. sanctions list. Kiev and the EU say Strelkov, whose real name is Igor Girkin, in fact served in Russia’s GRU military intelligence.

Strelkov says he served at the rank of colonel in Russia’s FSB security service until quitting at the end of March, and has had battlefield experience in Transdnestr, in Bosnia’s conflict and in both Chechen wars.

While he commanded rebel forces in Slovyansk, the town became a citadel of fierce resistance where at least two Ukrainian military helicopters and one warplane were brought down, giving him a hero status among separatists.

Abandoning Slovyansk to Kiev’s troops on July 4 to 5 has, however, dented his reputation and upset some rebels.

Strelkov’s acquaintances and former colleagues say he developed a reputation as an uncompromising idealist while with the FSB, though his “difficult” character may have been behind what they say was in fact his dismissal from the service.

They say the ouster of Ukraine’s former, Moscow-allied President Viktor Yanukovych and Kiev’s pivot to the West was a turning point for him.

An acquaintance in Moscow, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic, said Strelkov was outraged by the events in Kiev and believed Russia must not lose Ukraine. The acquaintance added that Strelkov knew Borodai in Moscow and the two helped one another in business. 
Strelkov left his home in a Moscow suburb in February traveling to Crimea where he occupied the regional parliament along with other fighters shortly before Russia annexed the predominantly ethnic Russian region.

He said people he had known from Crimea then asked him to come to eastern Ukraine.

According to his former colleagues at the FSB, successor to the Soviet KGB, one of his favorite books was the Soviet-era science fiction novel “Hard to be God” — a tale of an agent on a mission to a different planet.

The Moscow Times.