Wounded Russian soldier confesses to invasion, criticizes ‘rebels’

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A horrifyingly wounded Russian soldier’s interview with Novaya Gazeta is showing an even more in depth look at the role and coordination of Russian soldiers as their units continue the undeclared invasion of eastern Ukraine. The subject, Dhorzhi Batomunkuev (who has already been tracked down on social media), is an ethnic Buryat tank operator from Russia’s far east who recalls his injury, secretive deployment, issues with the so-called rebels his units backed, and why he was fighting in Russia’s ghost army against Ukraine.

The real rebels

In the interview, Batomunkuev describes a Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) special forces company he performed in that is, unsurprisingly, comprised of 90% Russians. Typically these special forces will act as shock troops and after completing their actions, fall back to be replaced by rebel neo-cossacks – units we note to be far less reliable but much more expendable. He also laments that the irregular ‘rebel’ militia Russia’s forces prop up are even far less dependable and less apt to following orders.

“When you have to finish off the enemy, the militia just won’t go. They say “we won’t go there, it’s dangerous.” We’ve got orders to advance further, and even if we wanted, we couldn’t order them […] The militia never tells us where they go.”

When asked if and how Russian units coordinate with the DNR’s militias, he simply describes them as “weird” and erratic:

They shoot and shoot – and then they stop. Like their business hours are over. Completely disorganized. No leaders, no battle commanders, it’s a free for all.

The enemy

I’m not proud of what I did. That I destroyed, killed people. You can’t be proud of that. But then, it comforts me when I think this is all for peace.

Batomunkuev’s understanding of the war, who he is fighting against, and why he is there is both interesting and atypical of the Russian perspective. They believe they are killing for peace, but against whom or why is less coherent. Batomunkuev justifies his actions saying that Ukrainians ‘kill the innocent and children’:

You understand he’s an enemy. He killed the innocent, the civilians…they killed children. This bastard sits there, shaking, praying that we don’t kill him. Starts begging for forgiveness. May god judge you, I think.

His perception that Ukrainians kill civilians is then contradicted by his own account of his unit’s occupation of Makiyivka, where he admits he was told up to 70% of the city’s 365,000 population were against Russia and supported Ukraine. He justifies his actions in a twist of logic: “70% of a village isn’t important. You have to respect the people’s choice. If Donetsk wants independence, you gotta give it.”

Throughout the interview he refers to Ukrainians with the pejorative slur Ukrops – a rough equivalent of calling French people “frogs.”

Batomunkuev’s twists become more elaborate when he talks of fighting Polish mercenaries who “can’t live without war” and “must be destroyed,” but culminate with this final quote about the United Nations’ military plot against Russia:

If Ukraine joins the European Union, the United Nations, then the UN may deploy their rockets here, their weapons, they could do it. And then they will be pointed at us. They will be a lot closer to us, not beyond the oceans. Right at our land border. […] But if they take Donbas and deploy the rockets, then they can reach Russia

For analysis and interpretation of the interview, be sure to read Meduza and The Interpreter.