Following the assassination of “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR) Sparta battalion commander Arseny “Motorola” Pavlov, speculation has been rife that other DNR commanders are under threat. If, as many believe, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) assassinated Motorola as part of a campaign to purge the ranks of the DNR, Mikhail “Givi” Tolstykh may be a likely candidate for assassination. Givi is Lieutenant Colonel of the DNR’s Somali Battalion (one version of the origin of the battalion’s name is that it was intended to “honor the bravery of Somali pirates”), and was involved in the battles in which the Russian army, alongside the DNR, contested Donetsk airport against the Ukrainian army. Like Motorola, who admitted to executing Ukrainian POWs, Givi is infamous for his physical and psychological abuse of prisoners, which constitutes a war crime.

On Monday, October 24th, multiple Ukrainian and Russian papers were reporting that Givi had sold his four apartments in Donetsk, and fled to the Transnistria, a Russia-controlled, unrecognized pseudo-state in Moldova. The rumor seems to have originated with a Facebook posting by Valery Gratov; according to ICTV, Gratov was a Russian armed forces colonel, former Chief of Security Services for the President of Transnistria, and Regional Head of the International Union of Paratroopers of the Russian Federation. It appears that Gratov’s post was removed shortly after publication. Gratov wrote:

My guys in the PMR (Transnistrian Moldavian Republic – Ed.) told me some strange news – “Somali” commander Misha Tolstih (“Givi”) sent his girlfriend to Transnistria, and hastily sold his 4 apartments and garages in Donetsk and Makeyevka. Until this news, I didn’t believe in some “conflict” with Alexander Vladimirovich Zakharchenko, and considered it a fake.

But why did Misha so hastily try to leave the territory of the DNR?! What is this – a battle commander is afraid of some Ukrainian sabotage group, and leaves his boys in difficult times, when the enemy is sharpening his teeth against Novorossiya!

I didn’t expect this turn. I ask the MGB (Ministry of State Security – Ed.) to take measures to detain the deserter. He gives a poor and unworthy example to the other fighters. And most importantly, these acts dishonor the memory of his friend, Arseny Pavlov (Motorola).

Within hours, the DNR propaganda agency, News Front, had published a six minute video, debunking the “Ukrainian fake” (apparently, “Ukrainian fakes” originate from Russian military officers associated with Russia-occupied frozen conflict zones) in which Givi denied the rumors that he had owned multiple apartments or garages, or that he had fled. Givi stated:

(0:00) In fact, I continue to go about my business, and I don’t have any property. In this sense, I am a free person. You see, I have a car, which Zakharchenko gave to me in May of this year, and I don’t have anything else. I have my battalion, and I have my military role, which I pursue, and I’m continuing my service. At the moment, the battalion is carrying out military missions in the zone of contact with the enemy.

(0:31) You understand, this is my homeland, and I don’t intend to leave. I grew up here, I live here, and I will continue to live here. And… I will die in my land, for my land, and I’m not going to run away anywhere.

At (1:05) of the video, Givi presents Motorola’s death as yet another reason that he would not run away, stating, ”in this land, my friend died, who came here to help us, to defend us.” He says that he’s tired of the “attacks” (i.e. the spreading of rumors, such as the rumor that he fled, in the Ukrainian media). Givi then emphasizes once again that he’s got nothing to sell; he adds that he never stole apartments, although he’s heard such rumors. He continues:

(1:59) I wasn’t fighting for this. Not for things, not for apartments, not for cars. I was fighting for something else. I’m fighting for the future of the independent Republic – that is the Donetsk People’s Republic. For the bright future, which I hope will be shared with the Russian Federation.

Givi mentions that he recently met Zakharchenko (2:20), that they spoke about past events, and that he received a mission from the “head of the state.” He once again emphasizes that he has nothing to sell.

Givi also appears to be aware of the rumors that Motorola recently had a blonde mistress, as alleged by Ukrainian hackers who claimed to have hacked the phones of Motorola and his wife, Elena Aleksandrovna (who, along with the children she had with Motorola, retained her Ukrainian citizenship). He states that the things that are written about Motorola’s wife are lies, but that she’s resilient enough to deal with it. Givi states that Motorola loved only Elena, immediately following it up with the recognition of the fact that Motorola still had a wife in Russia: “that he has a family… had a family, in the Russian Federation – he never rejected them, and the wife knew this. He very much loved his son.”

In addition to Motorola and his family, and to himself, there is a third party that Givi suspects will be the subject of what Givi believes to be slander (3:50) – this third person is “Volodya,” who will apparently be taking over for Motorola as the head of the Sparta battalion. Nearing the conclusion of t his statement, Givi implored the press to stop the alleged slanders against Motorola and his family, emphasized that he did not have any major conflicts with Zakharchenko, and stated that he remains loyal to the DNR “leader.”

Vladimir Artemovich Zhoga Appointed as New Sparta Battalion Commander

It has been confirmed that the new commander of Motorola’s Sparta battalion will be 23 year old Vladimir Artemovich Zhoga (Жога Владимир, known as “Voha”), who was previously Motorola’s deputy commander.

According to Zhoga:

“We are going to do what he did, our battalion will be engaged in combat training, to do damage to the enemy. ARSENE ALWAYS REPRESENTED ME AS HIS DEPUTY, THEREFORE, UNANIMOUSLY DECIDED THAT THE CASE WILL BE CONTINUED BY ALL TOGETHER, BUT UNDER MY LEADERSHIP”

Zhoga’s statement can be found here.