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Russian Spetsnaz abduct OSCE military monitors in Ukraine

On April 25, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission was abducted on the road between Slovyansk and Kramatorsk in the Donetsk Region. It consisted of eight military inspectors, including four Germans, led by Colonel Axel Schneider, a Dane, a Pole (Krzysztof Kobielski), a Czech (Lieutenant Colonel Josef Prerovsky), and a Swede. Also taken were the five Ukrainian officers accompanying them.

The mission was sent to Eastern Ukraine to review the implementation of the April 17, 2014 Geneva accord between Russia, US, European Union and Ukraine. It went to observe the disarming of armed groups. Instead an armed group kidnapped it.

The armed group turned out to be a Russian Spetsnaz (special forces) unit under the command of Colonel Igor Girkin (pseudonym Strelkov and see his photo alongside this article). The Russian military intelligence officer is a Russian citizen, born on December 17, 1970, Russian passport number 450646061, a resident of Moscow at Shekursky proizd, building 8B, apartment 136.

Two of his deputies, Lieutenant Colonel Igor Bezler and Sergiy Zdrylyuk (pseudonym Abver), are also Russian intelligence officers.

On May 3, under the orders of the Russian government, the Russian Spetsnaz unit released the OSCE hostages. In this way Russia, one of the parties signing the Geneva accord, succeeded in undermining the accord by having the inspectors kidnapped, and then wanted credit for having them released.

The view expressed by the OSCE president and Swiss Foreign Minister, Didier Burkhalter, that the military inspectors were seized by pro-Russian separatists, is misleading to the public. Girkin and his two chief commanders are Russian officers, and the core of the fighters, the professional soldiers, came from Crimea and Russia. The local pro-Russian fighters serve as a cover for the Russian Spetsnatz. By implying that the kidnappers were Ukrainian citizens, Burkhalter covers up a Russian covert operation.

The parallel between Eastern Ukraine and Crimea is striking. In both cases Russia is using professional soldiers without identifying insignias to pretend they are local militias. According to Girkin, his unit came from Crimea. The day after the kidnapping of the EU military monitors, the Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, quoted Colonel Igor Strelkov (he didn’t use his real name Girkin) as saying: “I will not conceal that my unit was formed on the territory of Crimea” (http://m.kp.ru/daily/26225.7/3107725/).

Following a week of angry telephone calls to Putin by Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Russian government directed its unit to free the captured military inspectors. The freeing of the hostages took place on May 3. The Russian government pretended it carried out a peace-keeping mission by perdsuading supposedly pro-Russian Ukrainian militants to release the OSCE hostages.

The intercepted recordings on May 2 show Colonel Girkin as being in charge of the abducted OSCE inspectors. In conversations with President Putin’s representative, Vladimir Lukin, who came to Ukraine to release the OSCE hostages, Girkin said he took his “instructions” from Russia and not from anyone else.

In that day's conversations, Lukin telephoned Girkin in Slovyansk, where the Russian officer and his unit was under siege by Ukrainian troops. Lukin wanted to know when he should come to Slovyansk for the hostages.

Lukin: My greetings, Igor Ivanovich (Girkin), this is Vladimir Petrovich. We have agreed to meet. I’m in Donetsk right at the moment, in good company. And if I may, I would like to ask two questions: How hot is the atmosphere at your place, and can we talk? You do sort of know the task I have been given, don’t you?Girkin: Yes. I know. I have been forewarned.Lukin: And you don’t have objections to this, right? The matter, the plan is to carry out this thing. Today in Donetsk there will be the representatives of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe. We are conducting this operation together.

Girkin: I don’t have any objections. For the simple reason that all this has been already discussed with me.

Lukin: Aha, very well, then the task is how are we going to get there in order to carry out this thing? So let me call you a bit later.

Girkin: Call me, call, but I had instructions to provide assistance to you and not the European partners.

Lukin: Yes, I understand, but the problem is … well, we will keep working on this matter, in order to carry out this thing.Girkin: Keep working, I must lead the defence.

(Later at 17:04, they have another conversation)

Girkin: I’m listening, Vladimir Petrovich.Lukin: Igor Ivanovich, my apologies for interrupting you all the time. So Igor Ivanovich, the problem is the following: when is it convenient for us to arrive? OSCE provides the transport. I will be in the first vehicle. And we will be carrying out all this, if we are allowed to pass into the city. There seems to be an order to let us pass, but it is being verified as we go to the most senior level. What is more convenient for you: whether we arrive now, say we arrive in two hours, or tomorrow morning between five and seven.

Girkin: So, it is more convenient for me that you come tomorrow morning, for one simple reason, because as soon as you leave, the assault will resume.

Lukin: Aha, I see. Then you think that it is better in the morning?

Girkin: Yes, I think it is better in the morning.Lukin: OK agreed. It will be done. So, we will call sometime near seven.

Girkin: So, call me when you approach the town. Yes call me so that I instruct the road block to let you in.

(Recording of conversations with Russian subtitles appears in http://youtu.be/mYKOZ2wrFL0 and with English subtitles in http://youtu.be/fXZuHUyWQuw)

Colonel Girkin and his unit did not only kidnap the inspectors, but many foreign journalists and locals, including the town's mayor. Worst still, they have murdered several Ukrainian citizens for their political beliefs. On April 17, 2014, Girkin’s men kidnapped Volodymyr Rybak, a local councillor for the Donetsk city of Horlivka (Gorlovka). His body along with the corpse of Yuri Popravko, a student at Kyiv Polytechnic, was found dumped in a river. Also they murdered Yuri Dyykovsky from Stryy. Evidence shows that Girkin and his appointed mayor of Slovyansk was directly involved in the killing of Rybak (see my article “Russian officers accused of a war crime in Ukraine). T

he consequence of the abduction of the OSCE inspectors is that Germany will not send any more observers of any kind to Ukraine, including the promised election monitors for the May 26 presidential elections. Most likely the other EU countries will follow Germany. This is a betrayal of historical proportion, similar to allowing Nazi Germany to occupy Czechoslovakia. On the other hand, the EU countries find Ukraine’s government incompetent in confronting Russia whether it is in the information sphere or on the battlefront.

Germany’s decision to stop having monitors in Ukraine will please Russia. The absence of independent monitors will help President Putin to cover up Russia’s covert actions in Eastern Ukraine, whether it be the fixing of referendums or elections. Russia’s banning of OSCE monitors in Crimea allowed Putin to say that the occupying troops were local militia and that 97 percent of the public voted for unity with Russia.

JV Koshiw is author of “Abuse of Power: Corruption in the Office of the President,” published by Artemia Press, 2013 (ISBN 978-09543764-1-3), and a former scholar at IERES and Kennan Institute.See his blog on Russia’s undeclared war on Ukraine, www.jvkoshiw.com

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