May 19, 2014
Russian Separatist Commander Appeals for Volunteers, Says He is Short of Fighters
Colonel Igor Girkin, in Video, Laments Failure of Ukrainians to Rally to His Secessionist Uprising
By Irena Chalupa
In a nearly nine-minute video recorded in a spare office with a paper-strewn desk and a local map hung on the wall, Girkin â using his nom de guerre Igor Strelkov (Igor âthe Shooterâ) â berates the men of Donetsk province for refusing to fight. Because of their cowardice, he says, he has no choice but to humiliate them by publicly inviting the women of Donetsk province to take roles in the liberation of eastern Ukraine that properly belong to real men.
âThis video is one more sign that the Russian effort to destabilize eastern Ukraine is losing steam,â said the director of the Atlantic Councilâs Eurasia Center, former US ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst.
In the video, Girkin, who was announced Friday as the âdefense ministerâ of the âDonetsk Peopleâs Republicâ proclaimed by the separatists, sits at a desk in his camouflage uniform with no insignia other than the pro-Russian ribbon of St. George tied to his left sleeve. Reading from a statement, he is frustrated and even petulant. âI am going to say things you may not like, things that will insult your dignity,â he says to the people of Donetsk, âbut they must be said.â
âWhen I was in Crimea [during Russiaâs invasion in February and March] I was told that the Donetsk miners would rise up, theyâd tear people apart with their bare hands,â Girkin says. âBut now hundreds of thousands are calmly sitting in the comfort of their homes watching events unfold on television while drinking beer, waiting for an army from Russia to come and do your fighting.â
The few local men who have joined his militia are those aged over forty who were raised in Soviet times, and there is a complete absence of youth in his rebel ranks, Girkin says. âWhere are the young people?â he asks, âMaybe in the gangs that are currently robbing, looting and wreaking havoc in the province?â
Girkin contrasts the indolence of Donetsk men with his own force. âA small group of volunteers from Russia and Ukraine answered the call of your leaders for help,â he says. âWe came here more than a month ago and are now resisting the entire Ukrainian army by ourselves. All this time weâve heard calls [from Donetsk residents] â âGive us weapons so we can fight for our right to read and speak in our native Russian, the right to honor our ancestors of the great patriotic war, and not the henchmen of Nazi criminals.ââ
But in a province of 4.5 million people, Girkin laments, he canât find 1,000 volunteers to defend this ânoble mission.â
Evoking Ukraineâs origins in the medieval state, Kyivan Rus, Girkin says Donetskâs men have failed to fulfill the historic Russian tenet that âprotecting your freedom was an honorable endeavor by those who considered themselves honorable men.â Then he completes his scripted humiliation of Donetskâs males by announcing that, as they have failed to step up, he must now invite women as recruits to the cause. âIt is too bad there are no women officers,â he said, but strong, committed women can be trained, âwhile those scared men sitting at home like frightened sparrows will never be officers in our eyes.â
The video (which was recorded by at least two cameras and posted in slightly varied versions on Youtube) is Girkinâs first public statement since he was proclaimed defense minister in the secessionistsâ attempt at forming a government. Girkin began his campaign firmly undercover as Igor Strelkov until late April, when Ukraineâs intelligence agency published his real name, his position as colonel in the Russiaâs Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU by its Russian officials) and his home address in Moscow. Since then, various news organizations, most recently Reuters, have sent reporters to visit his Moscow apartment and confirm with neighbors that the man leading Ukraineâs secessionist guerrilla war is a Russian army officer. Last week, his official spokeswoman at his headquarters in the city of Slaviansk, Stella Khorosheva, confirmed that her boss Strelkov âhas rich military experienceâ in the Soviet and Russian armies âand holds the rank of colonel.â She neither confirmed nor denied that his real name is Girkin, telling Reuters simply that âhis aides do not know if he has any other names.â
In the video, Girkin says his guerrilla forces does not lack for weapons. âWe took them from the Ukrainian police and army, and purchased them from underground arms dealers for huge sums of money,â he says. This arsenal is centered around Slaviansk and the nearby towns of Kramatorsk and Konstantynivka â âliberated cities,â he calls them â in the north of Donetsk province.
The Ukrainian army has deployed its largest force in the conflict to encircle these cities, Girkin says. The enemy is demoralized but still strong, because Ukraineâs government is supported by wealthy business magnates. âThose of you who hear me and want to protect your native land, join us,â he urges. âOur commanders will form units and train you. The units may be small, but we will win because God and truth are with us.â
Irena Chalupa covers Ukraine and Eastern Europe for the Atlantic Council.