Kiev’s only goal is war——an objective they pursue because their owners demand it of them…”
According to Igor Strelkov, there is no doubt that Ukraine intends to go to war with Russia.
A correspondent of the Eurasian News Fairway interviewed Igor Ivanovich Strelkov (Igor Vsevolodovich Girkin—military leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic [DPR], a former commander of the insurgents in the city of Slavyansk and organizer of the forces of the People’s Militia in Donetsk) in the course of his visit to one of the cities of the Russian Federation. The visit was arranged for the purpose of raising much needed funds for the population of the Donetsk and the Lugansk People’s Republics [LPR] as well as activating the operations of the local chapter of the “Novorossiya” public movement.
The coup in Kiev was paid for with US funds, was directed by the United States,
and the incumbent Ukrainian government is simply a marionette…
Eurasian News Fairway [ENF]: Igor Ivanovich, I will open with the most “terrifying” question. In your interview with the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies you say that war awaits Russia. What scenarios of its inception and development, methods of conducting it and possible consequences do you see?
Igor Strelkov [IS]: Ukraine will make attempts to strike against Novorossiya with a view to eliminating it entirely, and because Russia cannot allow the destruction of Novorossiya—cannot allow the genocide of the Russian people, the Russian population living there—then Moscow could somehow be drawn into a war. It is difficult to tell what the scale of this involvement could be. But the fact that Ukraine clearly intends to make war against Russia is entirely beyond doubt. Even if Novorossiya is surrendered, Ukraine will sooner or later unleash a war for Crimea because it does not recognize its transition into Russia, is not going to recognize it and almost openly declares that it will fight for the peninsula, by military means if necessary.
ENF: Speaking of war, do you mean a war “at the instigation of”?
IS: Naturally. The coup in Kiev was paid for with US funds, was directed by the United States, and the incumbent Ukrainian government is simply a marionette created for a confrontation with Russia, including by military means. It is for this reason that Ukraine makes no concessions—none whatsoever. Even the most minor. They do not observe even the Minsk accords that are, in principle, theoretically advantageous [to them], but instead use them only as a temporary respite for accumulating forces and a means to further wage war.
[The Minsk accords] are not in the least favourable to the People’s Republics
and the Militia because they signify the elimination of both of them.
ENF: What is your opinion of the Minsk accords?
IS: Generally positive, although I do not believe in their implementation because I have information that leads me to believe that even such advantageous agreements—I emphasize this—Ukraine does not intend to respect. Kiev’s only goal is war—an objective they pursue because their owners demand it of them.
ENF: Do these accords benefit primarily Ukraine?
IS: Theoretically, yes. In any event, they are not in the least favourable to the People’s Republics (DPR and LPR ‒ed.) and the Militia because they signify the elimination of both of them.
[T]he rebellion had already started: people were already manning the barricades
armed with weapons, and the Ukrainian security forces were killing them.
ENF: In one of your relatively recent interviews—given after your return from war-torn Novorossiya—you mentioned that you acknowledge a certain degree of responsibility for the outbreak of the “hot” phase of the conflict. Does this mean that, in your estimation, the people of the Donbass would not have offered such resolute resistance without the help of Russian volunteers and, shall we say, “other” support from Russia?
IS: You should understand that responsibility can be felt in different ways. It can be experienced as a sense of guilt. But I have not felt guilt as such, and I hope I never will. I continue to carry responsibility for what is happening there because I actively participated in the events, because many people who now fight at the front, who help the Militia—they joined the army because of my appeals, while I was still there. This is the first point.
The second point is that if our unit, which played an organizing role, which served as a fuse, had not arrived in Slavyansk, the uprisings in Donetsk and Lugansk would have been crushed. An organizing force, a centre of consolidation, is exactly what was needed there. But the rebellion had already started: people were already manning the barricades armed with weapons, and the Ukrainian security forces were killing them. Except that this uprising would have ended the same way that it did in Kharkov and in Odessa. In other words, there would have been several dozen corpses in Donetsk and in Lugansk alike, there would have been punitive operations, there would have been arrests and seizures.
There was a chance that this rebellion would not have transformed itself into a large-scale war of national liberation or would have become one at a later stage. But history does not possess a subjunctive mood. What happened, happened. However, because the war marches on and persists, as someone who fired some of the first shots in this war and led a unit that seized the organs of state power in Slavyansk, I naturally carry responsibility.
[Information warfare] creates among people a completely distorted picture.
Such that, when people come face-to-face with reality, they cannot grasp it correctly.
ENF: You have spoken about the Ukrainian side’s use of neurolinguistic programming, in particular, through Channel Five on Ukrainian TV. You have mentioned that you, yourself, felt its effects. We are talking about a component of information warfare. In your opinion, how important is the role of this factor in information warfare, and, in turn, of information warfare in hot conflicts?
IS: Its role is exceptionally important, because it (information warfare ‒ed.) creates among people a completely distorted picture. Such that, when people come face-to-face with reality, they cannot grasp it correctly. The effect it produces is so serious that it is like drug addiction. Moreover, I came across locals who for hours could not tear themselves away from this news programme (Ukrainian ‒ed.) that played in a loop. In other words, when there is nothing new happening, but the same news reel, the same text, is played over and over again…
People simply stared at the television and could not tear themselves away, they stopped caring about their surroundings. These semi-zombies are the ones who volunteer to go fight in the war, collect food aid (for the Anti-Terrorist Operation [ATO] ‒ed.) and seriously believe that the Russian Army, rather than a local militia, is fighting in Ukraine.
ENF: In other words, we are talking about some sort of brainwashing?
IS: Yes, we are talking about brainwashing, you can say so. It is truly brainwashing. Moreover, it has long-term effects—not merely fleeting. People who receive this information, they react very aggressively to anything that contradicts it.
ENF: In your opinion, when did such influencing of the population begin—with the commencement of the military operations in Novorossiya or even earlier?
IS: Already during Maidan. While I was in Kiev in January 2014, watching Ukrainian TV I could already feel the effects of massive exposure.
A good person in war becomes better, while a wretched one—immeasurably more wretched.
In other words, war is like a litmus test.
ENF: Transnistria, Bosnia, Chechnya, Ukraine… There is a saying that war is a drug. So-called “gunpowder poisoning” syndrome. What are your thoughts?
IS: War can hardly be called a drug. But the man who fights a lot naturally gets heightened doses of adrenaline, and the body gets used to them. Upon return to peaceful life, first of all his body feels the lack of adrenaline, everything seems grey, bland, in the sense that in war all events are highly compressed, and the emotions that one experiences there in a week would, in normal life, last him a year. As a result, the pace of life changes.
A person whose body has adapted to a very high pace of life—even to exhaustion, albeit a rich and colourful one—will find it fairly difficult to fit in during peacetime.
Besides, in war everything reaches extremes. Characters become sharply defined; people reveal themselves clearly; human vices and human virtues are seen as if under a magnifying glass. A good person in war becomes better, while a wretched one—immeasurably more wretched. In other words, war is like a litmus test. Those people who are used to living in wartime conditions, they find themselves bound by a heightened sense of justice, they manifest a heightened sense of camaraderie, they start dividing the world into “us” and “them.”
I, for example, can easily adjust because I am not only used to it, but also have sufficient knowledge and understanding of the situation. I can observe it from the outside. Although even I experience breakdowns and relapses. But, overall, I would not say that the condition of a person at war is abnormal.
There is also a contrary point of view, that it is the condition of a person during peacetime that is unnatural. We are all abnormal—each in his or her own way. War strips the husk from a human being, and what remains is the essence.
They understood in advance that Strelkov was unlikely to agree to these kinds of terms.
Therefore, measures were taken in advance to ensure that I handed over command.
ENF: In November of last year, the head of the DPR, Aleksandr Zakharchenko, awarded you and Borodai with the title of Hero of the Donetsk People’s Republic. Was this some kind of compensation for moral damages? I am talking about Zakharchenko’s motivation.
IS: I do not know Zakharchenko’s motivations. Considering the fact that at that time Borodai and I had abruptly parted ways, I took this as a kind of insult.
ENF: What specifically offended you?
IS: I do not think that Borodai did anything particularly heroic. Even though I am not going to discuss any of his actions. Soldiers have a saying: “A scout and a rearguard nurse got the Medal of Valour for doing the same thing.” This is exactly how I took it. That’s the first point.
Secondly, the current award policies of the DPR are beneath all criticism, and that is why I am not going to accept any awards or titles from Zakharchenko. All the more so now, when he has essentially demoted himself from the position of an elected head of, albeit unrecognized, but nevertheless a Republic, to a manager of some kind of “separate regions”—well, that’s just ridiculous.
“A good person in war becomes better, while a wretched one—immeasurably more wretched. In other words, war is like a litmus test…”
ENF: There are differing opinions about the reasons behind the replacement of Strelkov and Borodai with local cadre. What can you tell us about this?
IS: Negotiations with Ukraine were being prepared, and, naturally, it was appropriate that they be conducted by local people. To this I had no objection. On the other hand, the underlying motive for these negotiations—the future “Minsk-1”—that somehow was developed on our side by that time, demanded unconditional submission by all of the commanders to these terms. Since these conditions, as it turned out, very much resembled a betrayal of Novorossiya, the people [promoting them] understood in advance that Strelkov was unlikely to agree to these kinds of terms. Therefore, measures were taken in advance to ensure that I handed over command.
ENF: In one of your interviews you said that you were strongly advised to promote yourself publicly. What was the purpose of such publicity?
IS: Yes, there was that. It is difficult for me to evaluate what tactical goal this was meant to achieve; nor was it explained to me. In particular, in this case the recommendation was made by Aleksandr Yuryevich (Borodai ‒ed.). He did not explain to me why this was necessary. But the recommendation was made, and I followed it.
“Do what you must, come what may.” Do what you can.
Even of you are able to do the minimum—that’s something.
ENF: Is your recently increased media activity a sign that you have political ambitions, or is it more to do with the operations of “Novorossiya”, a movement headed by you?
IS: I have no political ambitions. But the volumes of fundraising in aid of Novorossiya, its population and the Militia have plummeted. So my media activity is an attempt to somehow raise the level of donations. The fact that people in Russia have begun gradually to tire of the negative news from Ukraine does not decrease the need for medicine, gear and food.
ENF: How did you come to organise the “Novorossiya” movement?
IS: Upon my return, after a certain period of quarantine, which I had to go through following my return, I faced a question: “What am I to do next?” I would have liked again to serve [in the military], but not only was I not offered any opportunities for continuing to serve in Novorossiya or in Russia, none of my requests in this regard received a response. In other words, relatively speaking I found myself in the same situation as I was in before. Even worse, because I was no longer employed, I became simply a military pensioner that no one, frankly, had any need for.
I could have, of course, gone to the country and sat on the beach catching fish with a fishing rod. But since I feel a great deal of responsibility for what is happening in Ukraine, and what is happening in Novorossiya, I found this unacceptable.
Accordingly, after discussing and thinking over all matters relating to how I could help Novorossiya, I decided as follows: if I cannot help her with arms in my hands, then I will take up something else that is truly needed—organizing supplies, though totally out of character for me and not really my thing, as they say.
For me, believe me, this is something that is quite atypical and very uncomfortable. But it must be done. I understand that it is necessary and also understand that we will never be able to solve all the problems associated with logistics and supply. Not even close. This is something that can only be addressed at the level of a state. But… “Do what you must, come what may.” Do what you can. Even if you are able to do the minimum—that’s something.
I never planned on making a name for myself.
ENF: Finally, a couple of personal questions, if you do not mind.
IS: Try it. I cannot promise that I will answer.
ENF: There is not a wealth of information about you in the Internet. Only meagre details. I have read that you have a humanities education, that you are a historian by training. At the same time, your biography suggests that you are a real soldier, as they say, to the bone. Why did you not go through the standard military education?
IS: In the last years of school, the sight in my left eye seriously deteriorated due to excessive reading. I no longer qualified for a regular military academy as a result, and I did not want to attend a military-political one because my grandfather had a serious dislike for military-political officers [zampolit] (both of my grandfathers were career officers, both fought in the War). His—my grandfather’s—opinion was very important to me.
As a result, in this case, having assessed my prospects, I first made a choice to do what I really loved. I loved history from childhood in school, and because of that the choice of a higher education in history was a natural one. All the more so because my cast of mind is suited to the humanities. Once I finished the institute, after the Soviet Union fell and the unrest began, after wars began, it so happened that I went to Transnistria as a volunteer.
Since then, I have, of course, made returns to history, but only as a hobby. Although I did write a number of scientific articles in between my professional activities. But I never returned to it (history ‒ed.) on a professional basis.
ENF: Now for the final question. It has already become a tradition to question you about your name change. The answers are well known. I have read that you were born Vsevolodovich. People change their patronymics far less frequently than their surnames…
IS: Even now my passport says that my name is Igor Vsevolodovich Girkin. I never changed my surname, my given name or my patronymic. I see nothing exceptional about it. However, when I received pseudonymous documents for my first trip to the “second Chechnya” as an officer of special services, I took a patronymic after my grandfather. I took it for simple reasons: first of all, “Vsevolodovich” is a relatively rare patronymic; secondly, it takes some time to pronounce. Some people who took pseudonymous documents, they would even change their names and become some sort of “Ivans Ivanovich Ivanov”. This is quite common and normal.
I have, incidentally, preserved the identity documents with this name that were given to me by the Chechen Office (the Office of the FSB in the Chechen Republic ‒ed.). This was not done to change my surname. This is a common practice to ensure the safety of servicemen who perform special assignments. And, well, “Igor Strelkov”, it is just a literary pseudonym under which I wrote articles.
I considered it appropriate in Crimea and in Ukraine—where what I was doing reminded me of special operations—to use the old pseudonym. I do not see it as something positive or negative.
Moreover, since I never planned on making a name for myself, it felt completely natural. For instance, they asked in Crimea: “Who is this Igor Strelkov?” Well, only Aksenov knew. But he also knew my real identity. A few others also knew about me. The rest had never heard of Igor Strelkov…