Succor from the (South-)East

Judging by the photographs I have seen on Twitter in the past day, it is no longer a secret that armed servicemen from the so-called Battalion Vostok (“East”) are present on the ground in Donetsk and its environs. Vostok became (in)famous for fighting and looting during the Russo-Georgian war of 2008. It is so named because fighters for the unit have been recruited from the North Caucasus, which is considered culturally “Eastern” in Russia.

Some of the Vostok soldiers have combat experience from the Chechen wars – does not matter which side – which should give a boost to the amateurish forces of LuganDa. Pretty smart and totally brazen, this Kremlin idea, keeping alive the the civil war in Donbass. Technically, the Ukrainian air force (assuming it still exists) could carpet-bomb Donbass into total submission – it should work in the steppe, in contrast to the mountains of Caucasus – but only technically, of course.

In the meantime, the two LifeNews reporters (remember the cynical #SaveOurGuys campaign?) mistaken for insurgents in Donbass have been released. They say they were subjected to rough treatment by the Ukrainian special services and at some point feared for their lives. But the moment one of the newsmen, still blindfolded and bound, heard Chechen spoken, he rejoiced. They were flown to Grozny and, later, to Moscow.

Who would have thought that possible ten years ago?


  1. Perhaps Kadyrov has sent a regiment of goons to help out? If this is true, it is a considerably dangerous thing for Russia to do and incredibly short-sighted. There is no succession plan for Putin whatsoever – like the Thai king, it is impossible to even discuss life after he is gone – but if history is any guide he will depart suddenly one night amid scenes of confusion and chaos followed by a period of instability, yet more chaos and confusion, and likely violence as various factions fight for the reins of power. Come that time, if it comes, Russians might start to regret the day they allowed murky, armed paramilitary groups to arm themselves and operate on Russian soil.

    • Not a regiment but a few soldiers, quite likely. Kadyrov already has his private army. For the time being, he and Putin depend upon each other but if Putin goes, Kadyrov may become a kingmaker.

  2. Yeah, I agree with Tim. There may well be some “blowback” from this a few years down the line. You’d think the Russian authorities would have learned their lesson after sponsoring Shamil Basayev and his Abkhazia Brigade in the early 90s. At the very least, I can see some of the cutting-edge military hardware given to the separatists ending up on the black market. Don’t be surprised if one day the news comes that a civilian airliner has been downed by a MANPAD.

  3. Actually I was just thinking that Russia should be careful that these independence movements don’t quickly turn to organised crime syndicates like what we saw with the original Sicilian mafia, the Corsicans, and the IRA. But then it occurred to me that most of these lot demanding independence are already criminals, and thus perhaps for the first time in history you have what started as criminal gangs turning into separatists instead of the other way around.

  4. There would be some precedent for a fusion of separatism (or anti-separatism) and organised crime in the Yugoslavian wars of the 1990s. A lot of criminals like Arkan (a bank robber wanted by Interpol) suddenly transformed themselves into patriotic paramilitaries. I think his Tigers group had a lot of gangland recruits. Then there was the Zemun Clan, a Belgrade mafia faction which contained a lot of ex-guerrillas and members of special forces from those wars. They were behind a bunch of political assassinations in Serbia 10 or 15 years ago.

    Anyhow, those are the people the Donetsk-Luhansk balaclava boys most remind me of.

    • The Chechen mafia of the 1990s comes to mind, although I’m not sure how exactly it was involved in the two Chechen wars. I’ve read about post-Soviet police and KGB taking the side of “Slavic” mobsters, who pushed Chechens out of Moscow so some may have ended up fighting in the Caucasus. But it’s tabloid-level reporting so I cannot be sure. On the other hand, I believe the late Paul Khlebnikov’s interlocutor in “Conversation with a Barbarian” recalled his progress from a Moscow-based bandit to an independence fighter.

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