Separatists deny that "Vostok" battalion present in Donetsk has any relation to Russian battalion with the same name. Photo made in Donetsk)It’s no longer about amateurs. There is a full-scale war going on, and it’s fought by professionals. The Russians are here – and they’re making a grab for power in eastern
If there was ever any doubt, it was quashed this week when separatist leaders and fighters here opened up to journalists about their Russian roots. In interviews with the Kyiv Post, Vice News, and the Financial Times, fighters in the so-called Vostok Battalion identified themselves as Russian citizens, with several saying they were from the Autonomous Republic of Chechnya.
Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, top Russian officials have repeatedly denied the presence of Russian troops in eastern
Still, Kadyrov did not deny that Chechens are fighting in
It seems improbable, however, that Chechens are fighting in eastern
Mark Galeotti, an expert on
Mercenaries from the north Caucuses were only spotted this week, with reports that coincided with numerous illegal border crossings from the Russian side, according to
The porous Russia-Ukraine border means that stopping the stream of Russian militants to
Despite the guards’ seizure, some vehicles were able to enter Ukrainian territory. The border guard service believes that they are part of a larger group of mercenaries sent to fight the Ukrainian army in Luhansk and
The battalion’s seizure of the
The battalion, a well-organized unit of mercenaries comprised mostly of Russian citizens, according to Varan, one of the unit’s commanders who declined to give his real name, stormed the building and forced the separatists of the DPR out onto the streets.
As a front loader razed barricades of tires and barbed wire that surrounded the building’s perimeter for weeks and dump trucks drove the debris away, it was clear that amateur hour was over.
A Vostok militiaman who goes by the nickname Tikhii told the Kyiv Post that the reason for the takeover was “marauding” near the airport by some members of the Donetsk People’s Republic. Overnight on May
Others voiced similar concerns about the lawlessness that had washed over the city in recent weeks.
Tikhii emphasized that the Vostok Battalion has a greater claim to power because of its military service to the fledgling republic. The purged separatists “haven’t been anywhere, not in (the village of) Karlivka [which saw heavy fighting on May 23], not at the airport.”
By mid-afternoon, Vostok had purged the entire building of its occupants, saying that it would thereafter be a “people’s building.” In some ways, the takeover resembled a coup, though Vostok soldiers didn’t say whether it would entail a change of leadership.
When asked whether Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, and Pavel Gubarev, who calls himself People’s Governor, as well as other separatist leaders would remain in power, Tikhii responded cryptically.
“They will, for now. Probably,” he said.
Whatever the case, it was clear by nightfall on May 29 that the Russians – led by Alexander Borodai, the self-proclaimed prime minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic, a Russian citizen from
As if further evidence of Russians fighting in eastern Ukraine was needed, on May 29, the bodies of 33 rebels killed during the fierce gun battle with Ukrainian forces at Donetsk airport that left as many as 50 dead on May 26 were set to be transported from an ice cream factory in Donetsk and repatriated to their motherland.
“We are taking them home to
Flanked by them on May 28, during an impromptu press conference inside
“This is Novorossiya,” he said, echoing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s czarist-era description of the region.