On December 8, 2016, Valery Bolotov, former leader of Russia-controlled militant group, the Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR), gave an extensive interview to Rosbalt, in which he made a series of claims that are extremely critical of the LNR’s current leadership, and Igor Plotnitsky in particular. Among Bolotov’s claims are the following:
- LNR militants were shooting at Lugansk in the summer of 2014.
- Former LNR “Prime Minister” and alleged suicide victim, Gennady Tsypalkov had a curator in Moscow.
- Under Plotnitsky’s leadership, the LNR detains Plotnitsky’s political rivals, and may be engaging in the torture and murder of these rivals.
- Plotnitsky’s LNR regime may be engaged in efforts to destroy the reputations of Aleksey Mozgovoy, Pavel Dremov, and Alexandr “Batman” Bednov, due to these figures’ alleged popularity with the public of Donbas.
- Plotnitsky staged his assassination attempt for publicity purposes.
- Alexandr “Batman” Bednov’s battalion may have been engaged in criminality, although Bolotov absolves Bednov of any blame for that.
Although Bolotov is a Ukrainian national, he was born in the Russian city of Taganrog. Bolotov’s family moved to Stakhanov, Lugansk in 1974, and he had a background in the Soviet military. In May 2014, Bolotov was appointed by the “LNR state council” as the leader of the LNR. Igor Plotnitsky took over as the LNR’s “Prime Minister” on August 14, 2014. It is widely believed that Russia replaced its Russian figureheads of the Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics (i.e. Bolotov, Alexander Borodai, Igor “Strelkov” Girkin) with Ukrainians, such as Alexander Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky, in part to promote the semblance of the war in Eastern Ukraine as a local rebellion.
Bolotov has little hope that the Minsk II agreement will lead to a lasting peace in the Donbas.
Bolotov: I think, at the end of negotiations, nothing changes because Ukraine, as always, wants to act only on its own terms. For example, they very much wanted to open the “Zolotoe” (Золотое) checkpoint unilaterally, in spite of everything. Therefore, I doubt that in the near future something will shift for the better. The situation will only be exacerbated.
Rosbalt: In other words, you believe that the armed conflict may resume?
Bolotov: It has not particularly died down. Simply by virtue of the fact that there are more observers from the OSCE, the other side began to quiet down. But we always implemented the [Minsk agreements], and the Ukrainian side as always behaved deceptively: somewhere, there would be a withdrawal of troops, and elsewhere, there would be an increase. And now the shooting continues.
Alexander Khodakovsky, the outspoken former commander of the DNR’s Vostok battalion disputes Bolotov’s one-sided assessment of the reasons for the failure of the Minsk process. Khodakovsky admitted that there are many in the DNR/LNR militant groups who want Minsk to fail, because they believe that the fulfillment of the ceasefire protocol would not be in their interests . In an interview in his capacity as leader of the “Patriotic Forces of Donbas,” Khodakovsky voiced his concern that a fulfillment of the Minsk agreements would curtail the Russian military support on which the DNR and LNR depend – Khodakovsky’s assessment, of course, reinforces the notion that Russian is engaged in a war of aggression against Ukraine. Alexander Hug, Deputy Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, has confirmed that 90% of ceasefire violations occur in the Donbas territory that is outside of the control of the Ukrainian government (Ed: that is, the territory that is effectively under Russian control), and that ceasefire violations tend to correspond to areas where the OSCE is denied access.
Bolotov proceeds to accuse LNR “Prime Minister” Igor Plotnitsky of sabotage and subterfuge.
Rosbalt: It was deliberate sabotage? Commanders disobeyed you?
Bolotov: I would say that it was one commander – one that I appointed. He sabotaged the implementation of major combat missions.
Rosbalt: Can you name him?
Bolotov: At the time, the Defense Minister, Igor Plotnitsky.
Rosbalt: It is known that Igor Plotnitsky commanded the “Zarya” (Заря) battalion. In Lugansk there are rumors that this battalion created provocations and was firing at Lugansk in the summer of 2014. Is that so?
Bolotov: Yes. And not only the “Zarya.” Many people were sent here who were supposed to commit acts of sabotage and degrade discipline. And the largest percentage of these “saboteurs” were in “Zarya.”
I once ordered Plotnitsky to gather the battalion for the protection of law and order in the city, to participate in battles and the protection of the borders of the LNR. However, as it turned out, the battalion “worked” for something else. I tried, but I did not have the time, resources, and opportunities to be around all the time, and to control this set of people. I trusted Plotnitsky, and he formed a battalion “for himself”. These people carried Plotnitsky ‘s orders, not mine.
I do not remember who first brought Plotnitsky to me. And to be honest, the first impression of him was good. He was a “gallant soldier”, inspired confidence, demonstrated himself to be a disciplined person. And then I took this battalion commander, and subsequently appointed him Minister of Defense. I did not expect betrayal from him.
Rosbalt: Earlier, you said that Plotnitsky took your place illegally, because you did not resign, and were only leaving the LNR temporarily. How did this officially transpire?
Bolotov: I just made a public verbal statement that I’m leaving temporarily. But even prior to this, my opponents were doing their work, agreements were made behind my back, and there was a conspiracy, in which, of course, Igor Venediktovich participated. When I left, I appointed him as my deputy. Naturally, I cannot reveal all the circumstances of my departure, but while I was gone, elections were quickly held. And it was clear beforehand that Plotnitsky would be selected.
Rosbalt: Plotnitsky said that there were attempts to sideline him as well. This summer, there was an effort against him…
Bolotov: It’s all nonsense. He created this performance himself. Where he was going so early on Saturday? I know that he doesn’t even go to the toilet without bodyguards, and here, he suddenly goes off somewhere. To the market, for cheap for tomatoes? He just wanted to do public relations. Zakharchenko goes to the frontline, meets people, and Plotnitsky’s afraid to go out openly in public, and indeed, this is why he has no authority. That’s why he needed something loud – explosion, coup. Something that will raise his rating.
Rosbalt asks Bolotov about his former LNR colleagues, many of whom ended up dying in mysterious circumstances. For example, the former LNR “Prime Minister” Gennady Tsypkalov is alleged by the LNR to have committed suicide “following his arrest [in September 2016] on charges of orchestrating a putsch against Igor Plotnitsky.”
Bolotov: I spent some time with Tsypkalov. He was one of my deputies, and I knew him well. And that he committed suicide – this is a lie. It sounds absurd to proclaim that he was frightened and therefore decided on that. I believe that he had been tortured, and that this process may have gone overboard, or possibly killed on purpose. But this was not a suicide.
Rosbalt: Why would they do this to him?
Bolotov: Tsypalkov was inconvenient for Plotnitsky. He was uncontrollable, unyielding – he had another “curator” in Moscow. Tsypalkov, of course, could have said or done the wrong thing, could have known something, or could have said something, which led to his elimination. Furthermore, he had authority, and people could have come after him if he had started to deviate from Plotnitsky’s course. Even Bednov had authority, which Plotnitsky didn’t and doesn’t have. And generally, many objectionable people have disappeared – these have simply been the most vivid examples, those such as Tsypalkov.
There have been numerous rumors that DNR and LNR commanders, such as the aforementioned Batman Battalion commander, Alexandr Bednov, and the Sparta Battalion commander Arsen “Motorola” Pavlov were engaged in large-scale looting and marauding in the Russia-occupied Donbas territories. Responding to the Rosbalt journalist’s question of whether there is substance to such rumors, Bolotov replies:
I will say this: of course, there are commanders, but it’s impossible to control everyone. Our militia was formed not from the professional military, but with different people, from different backgrounds. Bednov had a lot of people, and he physically couldn’t watch over everyone. Perhaps some dishonest people joined him, and committed some crimes. But this isn’t Bednov’s fault.
Bolotov proceeds to state that due to Bednov’s position of authority, there are certain parties who would benefit from sullying his personal reputation with rumors of engaging in criminality and marauding. According to Bolotov, similar negative public relations tactics are being used against Mozgovoy, Dremov, and himself. The current “leadership” of the LNR, in Bolotov’s view, is jealous of the authority that these personalities have with the public of Donbas, because these individuals participated in the “defense of Lugansk,” whereas Plotnitsky’s people did not.
Rosbalt: Do you think that the deaths of these commanders were not accidental?
Bolotov: My personal opinion: they were eliminated. They removed all who started the protest movement. In the LNR army questionnaire, there is now a question: did you participate in the events of 2014? If a person participated, they do not accept him into the LNR army. This indicates that LNR is doing the same thing as Ukraine – the eradication of memory and history. The current leadership does not need ideological people, those who remember how it all began and why. Plotnitsiky usurped power, and will not tolerate any criticism or competition. I even know that it displeases him just to hear my name. It annoys and possibly even frightens him.
Bolotov proceeds to reveal that the economic situation in the LNR is dire, and that an oligarchy is starting to re-establish itself. “Even humanitarian aid doesn’t reach the public.” In a query that reveals Russia’s influence over its proxy “republics,” Rosbalt asks why Russia doesn’t intervene.
Rosbalt: … Russia can probably replace the current [LNR] leadership, to improve the situation in the LNR.
Bolotov: I think that Plotnitsky will be replaced in the next few months. He will leave “for health reasons”, or come up with another reason. Russia understands that if this is not done now, we will lose the LNR completely. Plotnitsky is not engaged in the affairs of the republic. He is busy with his own affairs, business, personal enrichment, and other things. I know for example, that in certain LNR budget organizations, 50% of the salary was paid, while the remaining sum was offered in the form of goods from stores owned by Plotnitsky. It looks as if he urgently needs to “cash out.” Seems that he’s in a hurry to escape.
Correction: this article previously stated that Bolotov is a Russian citizen, and that he served in the Russian military. While he was born in Taganrog, Russia, Bolotov is a Ukrainian national, and served in the Soviet military.