May 31, 2015
Translated from Russian by J.Hawk
Interview with the former artillery commanding officer of the 2nd LPR Army Brigade about the strengths and weaknesses of opposing armies on the Donbass, and how the war may resume as early as the summer.
–You are now in St. Petersburg. Are you on leave?
–No, I’m home. My service is over, I returned home.
–How did you, an inhabitant of St. Petersburg, join LPR militia?
–I first arrived on the Donbass in May 2014, though initially in Donetsk. We came as a group which formed in Russia. Only specialists. Small group–only 4 people.
–Were you a Russian officer prior to your arrival?
–No, I was a military mercenary. It was a phase of my life.
–What is your rank?
–In LPR I was a lieutenant colonel. But I was not a mercenary in the Russian Army.
–Which one, then?
–I’d rather not say (laughs).
–The Foreign Legion, perhaps?
–PMC. Started as a sergeant–engineer.
–What academy did you finish?
–The Yuriy Andropov Higher Military-Political School in St. Petersburg. It prepared military advisors.
–You mentioned a group. But as I understand it, you weren’t sent there by the FSB or the GRU?
Of course now, what FSB. We traveled in small groups, but as far as I know guys who went through Rostov were being intercepted by the FSB. Confiscated passports to prevent travel to the Donbass, tried to send them back home.
–So you got to Donetsk, and then what?
–In Donetsk we carried out a military operation on May 28 in Ambrosiyevka. UAF 25th Airmobile Brigade was there, and we tore it up a little.
–What did you use? Mortars?
–No, no, at that time we had nothing. Assault rifle with two magazines, RGD-5 grenade in my pocket. We had 8 local militia from the Russian Orthodox Army (RPA), they gave us a machine-gun and a grenade launcher. That’s all we had. We took over police precincts, military academies, but we had very few weapons.
–How did you carry out your first operation? Ambush?
–No. Nobody was operating like that. It was an all-out war. RPA tried attacking, with no success, on May 19. We weren’t in Ukraine yet.
–I’m guessing you were more successful than the RPA.
–Yes, because our group was professional enough.
–All of its members were PMC veterans?
–No, no. Various people. One was former GRU, he was 51 years old. There was a 47-year-old paratrooper. I was 45. The youngest was 38, he served in UAF spec ops until the civil war broke out.
–Tell us about the battle.
–We divided into two groups, one with 4 and the other with 8 men. We were providing security for the militia, so that they could stand up and shoot. They were not very combat-effective, as a unit. They didn’t have enough experience. Our task was to suppress a checkpoint and give people an opportunity to put down some fire. So we suppressed it.
–And you did that with Kalashnikovs?
–Kalashnikovs and one RPG.
–How did you assess the level of UAF training and experience at that time? Was it high or not? Were they willing to fight?
–Their training was OK. It was a decent brigade. We got a “reply” almost immediately. I got a scratch from that operation. A fragment penetrated my wrist straight through.
The UAF is reforming. But no matter how good the soldiers are, if the commanders are sh!theads, pardon my language, then the army won’t be combat-effective.
–Why do you think they are sh!theads? What’s wrong with them?
–Their command and control is good maybe up to the level of company if they are led by commanders who grew up on that war. But staff work is as bad as it was before. Right now they are getting advisors who tell them how to do things. But when there were no advisors, command and control was very bad.
–What happened after Ambrosiyevka?
–In early July we went over to LPR. There was no war as such in Donetsk then. The war was in Slavyansk which was practically encircled. It made no sense for us to get encircled. It made no sense for our group to conduct defensive ops. Moreover, there was no military structure yet in Donetsk, and we didn’t feel comfortable as part of town militias.
–Am I correct in understanding that at the time DPR was an agglomeration of Makhno-style partisan groups?
–That’s correct. LPR already had a military organization, Zarya. We went there as a military organization, and they found use for us as a reserve at the disposal of LPR Minister of Defense Igor Plotnitskiy. We were plugging gaps.
–So when the militia ran into trouble, you, as professionals, helped them?
–Yes. At that time we were defining our own missions. There were difficult phases when support was really needed–the battles for Metallist as soon as they broke out. We took part in them. Also the Grigoryevka breakthrough. We stopped Ukrainians with ATGMs. There were times when we closed gaps because the militia did not know how to use anti-air missiles, ATGMs, lots of other things. We found our first 82mm mortar in Lugansk in a regional military commissariat, and 25 boxes of expired ammo which we reloaded with gunpowder from shotgun shells. That’s what we used in the battle for the airport.
–You took part in the Lugansk Airport battle? That was already in August, right?
–I was in LPR until August, then left to allow my hand to heal because I had to use my middle finger to shoot for 2.5 months, which was not very comfortable. So I did not participate in the August battles, but my colleagues did.
–Why did LPR take its airport faster than DPR? Because there were no mythical “cyborgs”?
–The Lugansk Airport could have been taken much sooner. Already in June, if it weren’t for the first ceasefire when we were told not to shoot. So we spent a week or 10 days sitting on our hands with full awareness of what was transpiring. And the UAF was in the meantime deploying and occupying key features. Orders are orders, so we just had to sit and watch.
–But it was still taken much faster than the DA. Why?
–First of all, the lay of the land is different, and secondly, the Lugansk Airport is smaller. There are spots from which it can be taken under fire in its entirety. Much harder to defend for the UAF than the DA.
–As I recall, Plotnitskiy commanded Zarya. What do you think of him? Good, brave commander or not?
–Back then he commanded a battalion. We had only a superficial contact with the battalion. We simply lived on its territory. At that time, the city was under fire from all directions. Plotnitskiy sat with everyone else under fire. I saw him every day under fire. He commanded his battalion and never went ran away. It’s difficult for me to command on his skills as a commander because we are from different schools: he has the Soviet Army and a different branch of forces than I have, and I have somewhat different experience.
–Did you participate in the Debaltsevo battles?
–Naturally. I went there with a battalion combat team. I had two batteries of self-propelled howitzers and multiple-rocket launchers.
“I’ve calculated how much I’ve fired…almost 20 tons of ammunition”
“That’s not in the last few days, but in the last 60 hours…and now it’s more than 30 tons…”
–We started with Troitskoye, then moved directly toward Debaltsevo. As far as our command and control…naturally, it’s better than the UAF’s, you can tell from the several tactical victories. But the general level of command is sufficient. It should be better, let’s just say. We could have had fewer losses. It’s a nuanced situation.
–Did the Ukrainians fight well at Debaltsevo?
–The individual soldiers fight well. No complaints about soldiers as such. They are Russians, just as we are. We are all the same. But you understand that on the Donbass Russians are fighting Russians. But their command squanders their soldiers’ efforts.
–What are the UAF command’s mistakes?
–It’s a complicated situation. You could write a book. For example, the speed of reaction to events. LPR command always knew what was going on, but I’m not sure that was the case with the UAF. Otherwise they would have acted differently.
–How’s the LPR army right now?
–Right now it’s worse than before Debaltsevo. The situation in LPR itself is not favorable: many commanders are mixed up in corruption. And the general mood of the militia. It’s all connected.
–The mood is bad because of the corruption?
–Was the Debaltsevo operation a success for Novorossia?
–It was a partial success. The failures included the level of casualties and the quality of leadership.
–What do you think, with the war continue?
–Yes it will. You have to look at troop movements and logistical fuel and ammunition lifelines. An offensive cannot begin without first amassing a certain amount of fuel and ammo. The army can’t attack if it has fuel and ammo for three days. And Ukraine is amassing reserves right now. They are being brought up to the front lines. I think that Ukraine will be ready to conduct a military operation starting in July.
–Where do you think the fighting could start? Which sectors?
–It’s hard to say. There are two sectors, Lugansk and Donetsk. I don’t know the operational situation in Donetsk, but in LPR one could launch an offensive along the border and from the direction of Zheltoye. During the summer the Severskiy Donets river can be assault-crossed.