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Ex-Russian GRU officer Salikov exposes Russia’s proxy Ukraine “republics” (full translation)

Igor Salikov was a Russian GRU officer and former Wagner PMC fighter who defected after witnessing war crimes in Ukraine. Since 2014, he participated in Russia’s covert takeover of eastern Ukraine under the direction of Vladislav Surkov.

In a bombshell interview with Russian human rights activist, Gulagu.net founder Vladimir Osechkin, Salikov described how Surkov carefully crafted the narrative of a separatist uprising led by locals.

Russian proxies like Salikov were restricted to Soviet-era equipment to mask their involvement. Salikov even witnessed how forces under Aleksandr Zakharchenko deliberately shelled Russian-held areas like Donetsk cemetery, blaming Ukraine to manufacture pretexts for escalation.

Salikov realized no true “liberation” was underway – residents were pawns in a larger geopolitical scheme. Through propaganda, isolated incidents were exaggerated into fables of Ukrainian brutality used to justify further bloodshed. But on the ground, most citizens prioritized stability over external manipulation sold as “liberation.”

Salikov’s insider perspectives expose the lies and hybrid warfare tactics that enabled Russia’s long-term campaign. The interview will likely be used within the framework of an international investigation, and in the work of the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, which has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

We found this interview so important that, after writing its short overview, we created the English subtitles for the entire 2 hours of the video. Below is their shortened text version, adapted for clarity.

How Russian army officer Igor Salikov ended up in private military companies

Vladimir Osechkin: I present to you for the first time on our channel Igor Salikov, an officer of the Russian armed forces and Russian special forces. We have been in touch behind the scenes for almost a year. I welcome you and thank you for agreeing to speak on video for the channel. Please tell us about yourself, your service record, your experience.

Igor Salikov: I enrolled in military school, then was expelled and later went to serve in the army. I took part in military operations in the territory of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan and the Turkestan Military District. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, I finished my service already on the territory of the Russian Federation. And then, I went rogue, became a mercenary. I also went through the criminal structures. Because at that time, the beginning of the mid-90s, where could a poor peasant go.

Vladimir Osechkin: When did you take part in military operations in Ukraine, what was your relationship with the so-called Wagner PMC, and when did you personally meet Dmitry Utkin, what brigade did you serve in, what brigade did he serve in, and when did you find out that there is such a person?

Igor Salikov: I met Dmitry Utkin somewhere around in 2010 or 2011. He was interested specifically in working in such private military structures, and we were already doing this, we were working in Iraq at the time. Dmitry Utkin was from the second brigade, and I was from the 15th. After I had already gone on to officer positions, after compulsory service when I served then in an airborne assault brigade, I ended up in the 15th brigade, which was based in the Turkestan Military District, not far from Tashkent.

I met Dmitry Utkin from the second brigade through our mutual acquaintance, with whom they served in Chechnya together. So we started communicating with him, and then we had one joint operation there related to returning property to a businessman… I think he was a foreign citizen, bandits in the Moscow Oblast took away his plane, and some other assets, and the man needed help with this issue. The difference here is working for money, and Utkin was recommended to me. He he conflicted with my colleagues from Alpha, and our mutual work ended.

How Russian special services created PMC Wagner to fight in Ukraine

Vladimir Osechkin: When you mentioned Alpha, are you referring to the Alpha Group, the FSB spetsnaz unit?

Igor Salikov: Yes, that’s how Group A of the FSB of Russia is called now. So that was our first meeting, then our paths diverged. In 2013, Utikin signed up for detachments to guard towers in Syria a project led by Gusev and Evgeny Sidorov from the airborne special designation regiment of the 45th brigade. It was a scandalous project, they were deceived and after two combat encounters were evacuated and flown into St. Petersburg by charter.

Gusev and Sidorov were arrested and the others went through a filtration process, their passports were taken away, the FSB interrogated them, compiled all the data, assigned personal numbers to the cases. Gusev and Sidorov were convicted, initially charged with Article 358, 359 and served three years each, and then everyone went and started fighting in Ukraine.

Vladimir Osechkin: what was the name of this group deployed in Syria and which returned and was arrested?

Igor Salikov: It was the Slavic Corps, it was a legal entity registered in Singapore. They operated, according to our scheme, because Gusev was there, an experienced guy.

The precursor was the Moran group, a structure working for several years before. Moran, then the Slavic Corps, then detention by FSB officers upon returning to Russia, filtration and then formation under control.

In February 2014, the Revolution of Dignity was happening in Kyiv. [Russian media] presented it as a witch’s sabbath. I contacted my long-time friend in the field, a public figure appearing on TV who was invited to give interviews everywhere, because private military companies were discussed in media since 2007 when there was a Kremlin order to study them.

We were still working in Northern Iraq, correspondents came to interview us about private military work. And there was a certain Sladkov who was a pro-government person with his own program on Rossiya-2. He had a list of questions that interested the official structures. This surprised me because we essentially worked for Russia but were at risk of being considered a mercenary. We worked legally under state structures like Northern Iraq government, Kurdistan, in Afghanistan escorting convoys for ISAF. Internationally legal but in Russia we were illegal as mercenaries so people kept away from media.

Wagner defector exposes Russia’s Donbas ruse, false-flag ops in bombshell interview

Prigozhin liked Utkin’s excessive cruelty; Wagner captures Luhansk and Donetsk airports

From him, I learned that a meeting in St. Petersburg addressed forming units according to a similar plan and who would be in charge. I first heard the surname of Prigozhin and his nickname “cook.” I learned that Dmitry Utkin was offered to form a group and show himself in some real action, and then decisions will be made from there.

Based on 50% of my own analytics and 50% of data I have from various sources, meetings took place during April-May when the powers of the future [Wagner] PMC were transferred to a certain person who financed them, then the question arose of who will head it from the military standpoint, and of course, the [FSB] agency reviewed all these lists, called people in and told them that Prigozhin himself will not go to capture the airport in Luhansk.

Utkin was called in given an offer. Knowing him, he didn’t need to be blackmailed, he agreed: this was his line of work. But some were indeed blackmailed and had second thoughts but ended up there in such a spectrum on the edge. A group was formed, there were about 30-40 people who entered Luhansk, and their main task was to crush the units that were defending the airport.

At that time, both in Donetsk and Luhansk, the [Ukrainian] special forces remained in these key [airfields], which provided air logistics. Capturing them was significant in every respect, in military and political terms. And Utkin successfully coped with this, especially while decisions on who would be the military commander of this structure had not been made.

And I have such insider information from a person who communicated with Prigozhin. He said that what Prigozhin especially liked about Dmitry Utkin was excessive cruelty, the execution of all these things without sentimentality. That is, practically no one was taken prisoner, everything was destroyed, and Utkin himself gave the order.

Core of Wagner made from GRU officers; criminals involved

Vladimir Osechkin: Summarizing what you talked about, it turns out that the very creation of this Wagner group, the tactical battalion group, was de facto under the control of the special services, who had dossiers on former GRU officers, and whom the state itself, the FSB, assembled, formed, and connected with the person who was entrusted, through whom the financing of this activity and the execution of such geopolitical and military special tasks, assignments on the territory of Ukraine.

Igor Salikov: In general, as you put it, yes, absolutely correct. The core of the entire unit consisted of GRU officers, but there were also paratrooper guys. The core, which was part of the Slavic corps, fell into this dossier conducted by FSB upon the arrival of the charter flight. Tt was then analyzed, there were special instructions, these people were selected, and everyone was made an offer. Someone accepted with joy, someone, probably, had second thoughts but could no longer refuse.

Vladimir Osechkin: I will just make a small factual insertion here. That is, on the well-known photograph, which can be easily found on the internet, where Vladimir Putin stands with a whole row of people, who have Heroes of Russia on their chests, on the left hand from Vladimir Putin.

Russian president Vladimir Putin pictured with Dmitry Utkin ("Wagner") on the far right and other commanders of the Wagner private military company that fights on orders of the Russian military in Ukraine and Syria, but is not a part of it formally. This image is believed to date from December 2016.Russian president Vladimir Putin (C) pictured with head of PMC “Wagner” Dmitry Utkin (L). This image is believed to date from December 2016.

This is none other than Kuznetsov Alexander Sergeevich, now known under the call sign Rotibor, commander of the first assault unit, respectively, personal number M-0271. In 2008, Alexander Kuznetsov, as a major, served in the special forces, later he was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and robbery. In 2010, he was convicted and served a sentence in the correctional colony in the Nizhny Novgorod Oblast. By the decision of the Borsky City Court, his sentence was reduced, and in April 2013, he was released on parole. Shortly after, he took command of the first reconnaissance-assault company in Dmitry Utkin’s group, known as the Wagner PMC.

This is one of the small sketches to what we talked about. The person was in the special forces, then was arrested and convicted for committed crimes, then the authorities released him in 2013. And already in 2014, we see that this person who should have still been in a penal colony becomes a commander of the Wagner group. I just mention this so that those who will watch and analyze us understand how the military machine, which gained worldwide notoriety as the Wagner PMC, was formed.

Let’s then turn to the question of how you ended up in Ukraine in 2014. Under what circumstances did this happen? Who controlled it? Whose orders or instructions were you following?

Salikov supports Russia’s sham “referendum” as part of Borodai’s group

Igor Salikov: Despite living and working abroad, I belong to the Soviet generation of people. The spirit of passionarity — compassion for your own and others, international assistance, no matter what kind – was instilled in me from family relations and school. While much proved false, it remained with my generation.

Witnessing events unfold in Russia from 2000-2010, over time it became clear the state leaders and authorities had failed and betrayed the people, as too many villains and corrupt figures had risen up the ranks. However, I believed the core institutions that prevent total villainous rule were still intact. I naively hoped that eventually some hero will stand up and say “enough,” call the warriors into his army and say, come on, comrades, let’s bring order, after all, this is our home there. I also fell for this bait.

[So when the Ukrainian crisis first erupted, I will admit I retained some of that inherent sympathetic mindset. During the Euromaidan revolution, the idea spread that] “our Ukrainian brothers are heading the wrong way.” In particular, the city of Donetsk ]holds a personal connection because] a cousin of mine who had fought all the way to Berlin in WW2 is buried there. All the propaganda portrayed the shocking events, such as the 2 May 2014 clashes in Odesa, in a negative light.

Then, the Crimean Spring [occupation of Crimea, 2014] influenced me in a historical sense; my memories of childhood days joyfully spent with grandparents in Crimea by the seaside still lingered.

And so I ended up in a unit that entered [Ukraine] under the leadership of Aleksandr Borodai [Russian national appointed as the first “Prime Minister of the “Donetsk People’s Republic -ed]. We initially went to Sloviansk to assist a friend from Iraq, who ended up surrounded there as part of Strelkov’s unit.

“Donetsk People’s Republic” ex-PM inadvertently admits he carried out Kremlin plans

But after that, I was assigned to lead a reconnaissance squad in a unit under Borodai who had a task from Strelkov and Russian special services.

Throughout this period, the FSB and counterintelligence were managing numerous operational aspects on the Donetsk side, while the GRU conducted similar functions on the Luhansk side. Putin’s aide Surkov supervised through the FSB line, with the orthodox oligarch Malofeev, who funded Borodai.

Our first major operation was providing armed support for the “referendum,” followed by the founding of the so-called DNR.

My first entry into Donetsk was to support the referendum by force. The second time I entered as the commander of a reconnaissance unit to prevent the Ukrainian-Russian border along the Mius river from being cut off.

Vladimir Osechkin: To talk in chronological order, let’s devote time to the “referendum” and this special operation and then move on to the military part, where you were the commander of reconnaissance. You mentioned the word “curator.” Am I right in understanding that for such professional fighters, special forces officers, having experience in the GRU, other special units, participating in many combat operations in many countries of the world, an institution of curatorship existed in Russia, when the FSB controlled, supervised and formed them for some specific state task?

Igor Salikov: Of course. How else could we move armed around Russia, with ammunition, grenade launchers, in combat vehicles, escorted by police?

In Moscow I saw the rotten side of officers, unlike the honorable ones in Soviet movies. Defending someone legally, they framed me with planted bullets and grenades, even tried to pin two corpses on me. The city police ruined my life and career. But for this operation, such charges disappeared and ammunition appeared.

Vladimir Osechkin: Let’s discuss the formation of the initial group in chronological order, starting with the referendum operation. Which service formed this group? How and where did the physical grouping and arming take place? Can you provide dates or timeframes for your first entry into Ukraine?

Igor Salikov: So, a complex composite question.

The FSB’s second counterintelligence service supervised. They operated through the FSB border service’s reconnaissance office. I don’t recall if it was during the border troops or border services. These details aren’t important. Like the GRU, the specifics aren’t significant. It was through the border service’s intelligence and counterintelligence formations, training, and arming. Weapons came from warehouses, the newest models. In the FSB, the storage facilities were more or less from the army. The machine guns were in good condition, greased, boxes and all. The grenade launchers fired properly. Everything was managed well, with documentation and signatures. But still, it was for for free, nobody really cared about the paperwork. So even machine guns disappeared. Nobody really bothered about it.

The military structure handled operations, while the special services remained curators. In training camps, officer groups resolved all issues – equipment, ammunition, supplies, communication procedures, primary and secondary tasks. We had contact agents and avoided others. There was a lepton, a laptop with secret communication, which connected directly to the operational department that supervised our tasks.

Surkov’s role in creating the “DNR” and “LNR”

Vladimir Osechkin: So, in essence, there was direct management of these special operations?

Igor Salikov: Absolutely correct. Surkov supervised all of Borodai’s group.

At that time, he headed the presidential administration and Putin’s personal aide. He decided all issues, who lives, who doesn’t, what to do. Even in these training camps, everything was coordinated with him. Even all the operational officers were coordinated by Surkov.

Vladimir Putin's personal advisor Vladislav Surkov (R) photographed talking to Oleksandr Zakharchenko, the assassinated head of the so-called "DNR" in 2017. Ex-PM of the "DNR" Alexandr Boroday stands to the left of Zakharchenko closer to the camera. (Photo: 161.ru)Vladimir Putin’s personal advisor Vladislav Surkov (R) photographed talking to Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the assassinated head of the so-called “DNR” in 2017. Ex-PM of the “DNR” Aleksandr Borodai stands to the left of Zakharchenko closer to the camera. (Photo: 161.ru)
Vladislav Surkov

Head of the Government Office of the Russian Federation: 2012-2013

First deputy head of the presidential administration of the Russian Federation: 2008-2011.

20 September 2013 – 18 February 2020: assistant to the President of the Russian Federation.

He supervised Russian affairs in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, the “DNR,” “LNR.” Surkov remained Putin’s assistant until February 2020. He had constant contact with Putin, the administration head, FSB Director, overseeing Putin’s geopolitical projects.

Vladimir Osechkin: Please elaborate on the role of Putin’s administration, about Vladislav Surkov, and about the structure they built to control what was happening in the occupied territories that later began to be called the so-called “DNR” and “LNR.” Did you have any official status in those events? If yes, what was your position called and within which structure? And what can you tell about the interrelation of these structures with the administration of the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, who is subject to arrest based on the warrant of the International Criminal Court?

Igor Salikov: Initially I had no official status. Parallel units were being formed from soldiers discharged retroactively from their previous units. This was to avoid directly involving personnel from army or special services at that time.

In April-May 2014, groups were recruited this way. After units were pre-formed, they were then “legitimized” by the May 11 referendum. Structures were then established based on the newly declared republics, including law enforcement agencies modeled after Russia.

I entered the Special Operations Management under the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Donetsk People’s Republic. Previously this unit worked directly with Borodai under Surkov’s direct leadership. Officials who directly entered the territory of Ukraine starting in May were appointed to head these new structures, including the Attorney General, the military prosecutor, and all the authorities. In June, they started creating some additional structures.

Our unit re-entered in early June after these events, when combat participation was needed to prevent border isolation and the “Voentorg” [military trade] from being cut off. At this stage we were directly managed by the Russian FSB. I have described how units were pre-formed under Surkov and the entry process – people appointed to leadership knew their positions in advance.

Read more about Surkov’s role in establishing the Donbas proxy “republics” in a RUSI report coauthored by Euromaidan Press’ editor-in-chief Alya Shandra: The Surkov Leaks: the inner workings of Russia’s hybrid war in UkraineWhat Surkov’s hacked emails tell about Russia’s hybrid war against Ukraine.

How Russia maintained plausible deniability in occupied Donbas

Vladimir Osechkin: What was your role, position, how much was it connected to the presidential administration? What was the relationship, if any, with Surkov, with those who work in the presidential administration, with those who were in the occupied territories?

Igor Salikov: I already told that Donbas was taken into Russian “embraces” directly under the presidential administration, or Surkov. At least I myself heard, it was all secret, but [there were] people who managed the units who already knew they would be appointed to some positions. A unit was formed in Russia’s Rostov Oblast, then it split: a part went to Sloviansk and another to Donetsk.

Some entered Luhansk, others Donetsk. These appointed people received operational commands and clarifications directly from Surkov by phone. Before entering, Surkov worked directly with Borodai and Sergey, a young man with a Georgian surname, to coordinate actions and formations.

Surkov then managed the administration of all appointed officials. For example, he appointed the Attorney General position. Surkov approved the Vostok battalion and communicated directly with [its leader] Khodakovsky in my presence. I heard Khodakovsky speaking to Surkov on the phone.

Borodai as well – he was appointed Prime Minister, holding the role until July/August 2014. This is what I know from personal experience of the structured coordination. Complete consistency was impossible because Donbas was a living organism with many independent currents.

Orders came directly from Moscow to Borodai’s team, who were responsible for coordination. Some like [current “DNR” head] Pushilin got involved, others resisted or served [Ukrainian oligarch] Akhmetov’s interests – many complex dynamics.

Moscow orders to capture Donetsk airport

By 26 May 2014, when the Ukrainian presidential [post-Euromaidan] elections were confirmed, the decision came to capture Donetsk airport, staged for victims and evidence of rebellion.

Then, clashes were taking place on the outskirts, mainly in Sloviansk and Donetsk. The Ukrainian side was building up there, military planes were landing at the airport, it was operational, civilian planes flew from there.

By the end of May, Moscow decided to put an end to all this, signaled to “come on guys, earn your money” as nothing was progressing. It was decided to stage a battle at the Donetsk airport involving Vostok, Oplot and Borodai’s unit and an “Interbrigade number one” created as fodder. Victims were needed, evidence that people were fighting for their freedom, to show that protest sentiments grew to such a degree that fights began. All this was disguised as internal problems of Donbas, with no supposed Russian intervention. Everything was disguised. Weaponry and personnel were meant to appear Ukrainian. The group that entered there should not have been distinguishable from Ukrainians. That was being monitored at the time. Because it was ordered from above.

Everything had to appear organic. Surkov is such a pragmatist, a man of forms. He demanded precision – old Ukrainian weapons and equipment, no visible Russian intervention. The ammunition and rifles had to be from within Ukraine.

Only Ukrainian equipment was used to disguise Russian intervention

Vladimir Osechkin: What kind of equipment was supposed to be used? What kind of ammunition was needed? What was all this for, how was it organized?

Igor Salikov: I don’t know specifics, only that Surkov organized purchases in Russia using financing from Malofeev. They chose groups knowledgeably, as in Chechnya. Surkov still supported Strelkov in Sloviansk then, sending vehicles and ammunition.

When units were being formed at bases in Russia’s Rostov Oblast like at Kazachyi Lageri based on the 22nd brigade, a roster was made and weapons selected. Everything had to be old Soviet models common in Ukraine, like machine guns. Newer weapons unavailable in Ukraine at the time were not used.

Vladimir Osechkin: In your understanding, why was this done? And possibly any instructions that were given from Surkov and subordinates. In what moments did you hear this being discussed?

Igor Salikov: So that this particular regulation was followed – at first, to use a limited amount of weapons that are also available to the Ukrainian side. But I was not privy to insider information during the formation of units that entered. One could only guess and then analyze.

During the “people’s referendum,” last minute issues nearly disrupted the orchestrated plans. Roman Lyalin, the savings bank director, demanded higher pay for his role. Failure loomed without urgent coordination. I witnessed a phone call to the boss while sitting in a car. From the tones and phrases, I realized it was Surkov, though he was not named explicitly. With a good connection and in sufficient silence, you can hear what is being said on the phone.

But nobody introduced me to Surkov, I didn’t have the authority, it’s not done that way there. Everyone was in their place: Borodai received tasks, assigned them to us, if something didn’t work out, reported it below and up.

Credit must be given to Borodai, and his assistants. They adhered to all these laws of theater. Apparently, that was the directive from Surkov, and the presidential administration, to play by the rules, down the smallest details. They really were meticulous in following them.

The initial attempt was to simulate acting forces as supposedly Ukrainian with Ukrainian weapons, without direct Russian invasion from the Russian special services, soldiers, officers, mercenaries. Everything was disguised as rebel patriot self-defense groups opposing Euromaidan who expressed their civil position, took up arms found locally in response to Ukrainian government pressure and the ATO [anti-terrorist operation] declaration. It was like that the people, having the right to revolt, took up arms which they scavenged in warehouses, in mines, etc. But this obscured the real supply line (“Voentorg”) opened from Russia transporting equipment unavailable in Ukraine.

Voentorg: flow of Russian weapons to its proxies over the Ukrainian border

Vladimir Osechkin: What do you mean by the term Voentorg?

Igor Salikov: Briefly, “Voentorg” referred to the covert military assistance in weapons and materiel established between Russia and the groups in southeast Ukraine. It’s slang invented as convenient shorthand in conversations for cross-border arms transfers, like call signs for units. Local people who lived there were used for Voentorg, with FSB and GRU. Some eventually received assignments. Particularly, Bezler [Lieutenant Colonel of the FSB of the Russian Federation who headed a “self defense” group in the “DNR” accused of war crimes]. He was pumped up with weapons. Voentorg went to Girkin and to him, to Horlivka. And they were told to do whatever they want. There was no accountability for them. They were like bandits. The groups were independent. That’s why later there were killings, showdowns. Petty criminal elements.

A new system to pocket Russian money after Minsk-2, “Russian world” enthusiasts discarded

Vladimir Osechkin: Were any special operations carried out under a false flag — terrorist acts, sabotage, attacks while pretending to be representatives of the Ukrainian Armed Forces? Or

Igor Salikov: Yes, but in 2015, not 2014. It was after the battles for Debaltseve ended and the formation of the Debaltseve pocket [of Ukrainian troops surrounded in 2015 during the signing of the Minsk-2 agreement].

An era of economic uncertainty and confusion began at this time. Many volunteers from units that had entered from Russia started being expelled, even those who had endured the entire conflict up to this point and through whose resources much of the campaign was resourced.

After 2012-2013, a large number of former military personnel who were left without purpose or excluded from service made up a sizable part of the fighting forces in Donbas. These included many patriotic individuals who were no longer needed by the Russian armed forces since the conflict in Chechnya ended in an unclear manner under the leadership of Ramzan Kadyrov. Additionally, many were pushed out of the military due to the reforms instituted by Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, which dismantled many existing structures. As a result, a significant population of marginalized and dissatisfied former soldiers remained.

Events like the [2014 Sochi] Olympics also played a role, everyone saw how they were stealing the Olympics. All of these marginalized groups urgently needed direction, which is part of what made the events in Crimea and Donbas so appealing to them. And all this marginal crowd which I belonged to turned out to be in demand. There was a patriotic boom at last. The boss began to put things in order. The cookies that were distributed by America and the West [referring to the alleged American backing of the Euromaidan revolution, epitomized by snacks distributed by Victoria Nuland in Kyiv] played a role. And we finally rose up to recreate [the Russian world] anew.

After the massive “northern wind” Russian troop offensives, when they again led [Russian] troops to break frontline Ukrainian army units during the Debaltseve cauldron [in 2015], downsizing and removal of resistors began. Some committed suicide. Units started being renamed as corps.

Zakharchenko had been appointed prime minister before this, returning as hero of all cauldrons. A combative officer with experience and saber at his side, he began establishing order by dispersing volunteers who led the “revolution.”

Killings, disappearances and departures occurred, leaving those who could serve the formed system. The new system relied on large cash flows from Russia. Zakharchenko in particular was said to pocket $2-3 millions of dollars each week from some undisclosed funding source. This generated conflicts as figures like Khodakovsky challenged how the spoils were divided up locally.

Conflicts arose over dividing it, like Khodakovsky and him. Money goes where there is ongoing low-level war with results, needing victims and shelling. When Minsk-2 was concluded, everyone was withdrawn for some reason, and now they want to use the same scheme. At the time, we were already in Novoazovsk near Mariupol, and at that moment it was possible to reach Odesa. Realistically in Ukrainian cities at the time, no one knew where the situation was heading. In Mariupol, Ukrainian forces were no longer present – we could have entered the city unimpeded and continued on to Kherson. But political and economic motives prevented this.

The authorities thought about their [bank] accounts, they thought [the West’s anger] would pass quickly, the West would wipe itself again and that the frog had to be boiled slowly. Therefore, they decided: now we will not anger the elder brother [the West], look, we’re conceding, so don’t block anything please; they portrayed the separatist movement as a local uprising by residents rebelling against the new Kyiv government. Foreign Minister Lavrov [skillfully framed Russia’s role as non-involvement in the conflict]. And then Minsk-2 appeared, such a harmful thing.

After over a year fighting to purportedly “liberate” the Donbas region, I came to realize that there [is nothing] to liberate and it is unclear who we were liberating. The local population was being used as pawns by outside forces. The situation on the ground grew increasingly tragic, though the crisis had not yet escalated to a global scale.

Russian proxies shelled their own to keep money flowing for a protracted war

Vladimir Osechkin: In your role in 2014-2015, did you directly witness any examples of foreign proxies, sabotage or other covert activities? Because many people write that [the Ukrainians] for 8 years “bombed Donbas,” and when the war started, one of the main slogans of those who justify the full-scale war was that for eight years before that [Ukrainians] allegedly arranged genocide in Donbas and tortured the local population. Russian propaganda then concealed, covered, hid, kept secret the reasons behind Russia’s involvement, Russian special services, Russian soldiers, officers, mercenaries, security forces in what happened there. If you can, at least one, two, three specific examples, about which you are ready to testify.

Igor Salikov: Well, the “foreign flags” are conditional, at the time there was no need to change uniforms, Then I was called to one committee, where they asked whether I know a comrade with the callsign “Spear.” I was reluctant to disclose information as a rule, though in this case I couldn’t deny knowing the person from the photos shown since we served together in 2014.

By this point, I held the position of head of the special operations department. They disclosed that mortars shelling areas of Donetsk like Petrovsky and Kyiv districts were connected to military forces shifting under Zakharchenko’s control through various designations like Guard, Army Corps, and National Guard.

During this time, even our own units found themselves accidentally shelled near the Trudovska mine, believing the fire originated from Ukrainians on the opposite riverbank. However, analysis of munition evidence and blast trajectories indicated the mortars actually emerged from within our territory practically in Donetsk, launched from Petrovsky cemetery and striking buildings housing mine workers – five-story apartments and rooftops.

Vehicles departed openly from the launch site, with an obligatory observation post also stationed near the road as required, though an undetected disguised post in the area covertly monitored and provided my colleagues information that vehicles from the site proceeded to a location housing one battalion under the command of “Spear.” Further intelligence work confirmed these incidents entailed internal affairs conducted according to Zakharchenko’s directives.

Why? I’ll explain. First, it’s money. Maintaining the war generates constant financing flows needed for social welfare and military expenditures. Here, you didn’t need to shoot by yourself. You could just place a mortar, say, in such, in neutral zones and such unclear areas that nobody controlled, or were ostensibly under the control of the “DNR,” but neither Ukrainians nor our people went there.

The text not include the final part where Salikov tells about his thoughts on modern Russia and motivation for leaving the system; you can view this on the video with the subtitles.

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