Pro-Russian commander in eastern Ukraine sheds light on origin of militants

The Wall Street Journal reports: The elusive commander of the pro-Russia militants who have seized the east Ukrainian city of Slovyansk has revealed himself for the first time since the crisis began, saying in a taped interview that his armed crew arrived in Ukraine’s east from Crimea.

Igor Strelkov, the commander whom officials in Kiev have described as a Russian intelligence officer, gave a picture of the fighters he brought to Slovyansk, who since early April have transformed the city into the epicenter of eastern Ukraine’s pro-Russia unrest. The new government in Kiev has described Slovyansk as the “most dangerous city in Ukraine.”

“The unit that I came to Slovyansk with was put together in Crimea. I’m not going to hide that,” Mr. Strelkov told the Moscow-based Komosomolskaya Pravda tabloid in a video interview released Saturday. “It was formed by volunteers—I would say half or two-thirds of them citizens of Ukraine.”

The unit includes people from western and central Ukraine, as well as local fighters from the region itself, according to the commander. “Strictly speaking, it was by their invitation that the unit arrived in Slovyansk,” he said.

Ukraine’s State Security Agency had earlier described Mr. Strelkov as an active-duty officer of Russia’s elite Main Intelligence Department. Mr. Strelkov didn’t directly address the Russian reporter’s question about possible Russian military-intelligence involvement in his mission. The commander also didn’t speak about himself or his background. Moscow has denied its involvement in the unrest in eastern Ukraine.

Most of the men in the command possess war experience, including former service in the Russian or Ukrainian militaries and tours in Chechnya, Central Asia, the former Yugoslavia and Iraq, according to Mr. Strelkov. He said some “even managed to visit” Syria. [Continue reading…]

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