Monday, November 25, 2019

Donbass and Syria Veterans Increasingly Used to Repress Russian Population for Nominally Private Groups

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 21 – In the past, most of those who formed the basic cadres of Russia’s groups nominally employed by non-governmental organizations but engaged in suppression of the opposition were former officers of the FSB or the interior ministry, but increasingly, they consist of veterans of Moscow’s military campaigns in the Donbass and Syria.

            Those who employ such groups include businessmen close to the Kremlin, MVD and FSB officers, “and also a large number of smaller players including sportsmen, political technologists and religious organizations, Liliya Yapparova of the Meduza agency reports (

            She says that there are so many groups so willing to engage in repressive action for a price that she herself could have ordered up “a mass street action involving hundreds of men ready to fight,” a possibility that others are making use of and that further embeds violence and repression in the Russian political system. 

            Yapparova describes court cases involving men from the Union of Donbass Volunteers who were paid to beat up officials that someone didn’t like, cases that often ended not with their convictions but rather with exoneration, a likely indication that some well-placed officials approved of what they had done.

            A former FSB officer told her that “the members of these detachments feel ‘absolutely confident they will not be punished’ because ‘the cops are prohibited from touching them and the office [that is, the FSB] can only ask these guys not to touch particular persons’’ but are precluded from disbanding them because of the protection they enjoy from above.

            In her detailed 3600-word article, the Meduza journalist documents case after case in which such groups have used force against one or another group in ways that give the nominal authorities deniability but repress entirely innocent people that the authorities happen not to like or approve of.

            As a result of the influx of veterans from Ukraine and Syria, eight of her sources say, the FSB and MVD are increasingly losing control of the situation, with other more shadowy players moving in, often better financed and with ties to officials in the Kremlin, and FSB groups like SERB are losing out.

  Moreover, some of the FSB and MVD officers say that the situation is growing ever more dangerous because those who come out of the Donbass have accepted the dominant idea of that region, “the ideology of total war,” and thus are less subject to the kind of controls that the organs have over groups like SERB.

The new recruits from that and other conflicts are simply mercenaries, the FSB contacts say. They will do anything and go anywhere if they are paid enough; and at least some of those who hire them appear to have enough funds to get what they want, Yapparova sums up. And they are routinely seeking new clients.

The journalist says she was told by one of them that if she needed “uncontrolled guys, they would be uncontrolled” and would attack anyone she liked.  She was told that the group he controlled could put 100 men in the street for 200,000 rubles (3,000 US dollars); but Yapparova says that if she wanted violence from them, the price would have been higher.

            “The more dangerous the action, the more expensive,” she continues; but there are no geographic “limits.” Such groups have been sent from Moscow to Yaroslavl, Khanty-Mansiisk and to Yekaterinburg where they came out in support of those who wanted to build a cathedral in a central park.

            All this is adding to radicalization and violence in the streets, the journalist continues. And those involved are confident that they are beyond the control of the ordinary force structures. “We are not political technologists who work with the force structures” who began his career in South Ossetia in 2008. “We are the force structures now.”

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