This interview was originally released by Novaya Gazeta on December 19, 2014. It includes a valuable look at the 2014 events in eastern Ukraine for people interested in the conflict.
Translated exclusively for SouthFront
FSB General: [Igor] Strelkov acted at 90% on his own initiative
A senior intelligence officer once recruited the future commander in chief of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) military in the security services.
They say that there are no wars similar to this one at all. And the prerequisites that pushed them to the escalation are also always different, although the goals can be repeated from time to time, after decades and even centuries. But the motives that force people to take up arms are almost always the same. Some for the sake of attack, some for the sake of defense. Everything else – is nuances. FSB Major General (Ret.) Gennady KAZANTSEV (this is a pseudonym, but we know his real name) is a man with a rich and diverse experience in war. He worked in intelligence and counterintelligence, fought in Afghanistan, made plans for the Chechen campaign, wrote books. Therefore, his assessments and comparisons of past wars and what is happening in eastern Ukraine today are of particular interest. Moreover, it was he who at one time accepted the service of the “office” of Igor Girkin, a graduate of the Historical and Archival Institute, now known to everybody as the ex-commander of the army of the DPR Igor Strelkov.
– Tell us a little about yourself. You were in Afghanistan, right?
– Yes, in 1981 I was in Jalalabad as part of the “Tibet” detachment of the “Cascade” group. Then between 1985-1988 – an adviser in the province of Badakhshan and then an analyst at our representative office (the representative office of the USSR KGB was attached to the security organs of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. – M.M).
“Cascade” was considered an elite unit, it would seem, the guys there were ought to be very well prepared. And you can believe this: we were not prepared, at least not in “Tibet.” Here we just pushed pencils, shot at the shooting range, covered the necessary sport requirements. And suddenly we were sent to war.
We were exactly the same partisans as the current militia in the Donbass. The only difference was that there was a massive, powerful country behind us. And we did strive to conform, to maintain discipline. In New Russia, this is much more difficult. And the guys are the same as we were in our time. No matter how hard we tried to keep “within the rules”, we violated everything that could be broken. People, when in war are almost always the same. Now I can see my young self among the defenders of Donetsk. We were not even soldiers. We learned how to really shoot when we were sent there.
HOW PEOPLE BECOME KGB AGENTS
– What was your activity? Did you participate in the battles?
– I took part in military operations, as well as intelligence, and counterintelligence, and also organization of events, and work with local operatives from the Ministry of State Security (KHAD [State Intelligence Agency in Afghanistan]), they were called “Hadovs.”
– How did you get to that point? In general, to what extent did all this happen voluntarily, or did you simply have to obey the orders?
– You wouldn’t believe it – I sought to join myself. The point is this. Both my grandfathers were repressed under Article 58. One was sent to the Mari camps, the other – in Solovki. When I was taken to the authorities, I agreed only after the third time they asked.
– And what, were you recruited as a result?
– I was not recruited, but immediately assigned to a full-time post. Three times they offered, while I refused twice. They offered twice while I was in the army, and once in civilian life. In the end, I agreed. I didn’t even break – I wanted … to get revenge on the regional Komsomol for not letting me, the best commissioner in the construction team, go abroad.
When you enter the service of the KGB, there is a background check: father, mother, brothers, sisters, etc. If you go into intelligence, they check it out more thoroughly. When I was signing documents in a special department, they asked me: “Have your closest relatives been harassed?” I answered: “Yes. Both grandfathers were in prison because of Article 58.” And then the head of the special department told me: “You are a good guy, we will take you, but you will not mention your grandfathers to anybody anymore.” And then I, similarly to every employee of territorial authorities, wanted to explore. Deep down, every counterintelligence officer wants to be a spy. Everyone wants to be Stirlitz.
Well, imagine this: I worked in counterintelligence in the distant Novosibirsk, my youthful pride demanded more. The directors came to meet me: They said: “Gennady Nikolaevich, we will send you to the institute (the Red Banner named after Yu.V. Andropov Institute of the KGB of the USSR, now the Academy of Foreign Intelligence. – MM), and you will undergo reconnaissance training there. I was simply so happy! And suddenly after a while they said: “Listen, what was it with you, your grandfathers were in prison, right?” – “I’ve never hidden it.” – “Yes, damn. The problem.” Then I said: “Send me to Afghanistan. So that I could redeem myself in blood, so to speak … ” Stupidity, of course. But in intelligence it would be desirable. So I went to Afghanistan as a volunteer. And then, after all, he graduated from the Andropov Institute of Computer Science, he studied there between 1982-1985.
– You say that you had no military training. What, absolutely none at all?
– Of course, we engaged in hand-to-hand combat, fired automatic rifles every six months and pistols – every week. That was all. There was no other preparation. In the army, I served as an air defense officer (a typical “jacket” in the slang of regular officers). Moreover, in our squad “Tibet”, which the “Cascade” group was part of, almost everybody had some dark spots in their biography. Passionate lovers of women and booze, slackers and hooligans. In short, “wise guys.”
– Like a Penal battalion [Shtrafbat]?
– It wasn’t an official Penal battalion. Simply because the territorial administration got rid of the ballast. When we were already knew each other, we used to ask: “What were you sent here for?” – “For the women.” – “And why were you?” When they say that there were some cool guys there – don’t believe any of it. Normal guys, fine smart guys. I believe that most of the major power operations are done with the head, and not with hands and feet. We fought well. Better even in some sense than the troops. Such is the paradox.
– How did this war differ from those that began after the collapse of the Union on its territory?
– Compared to the Chechen and Ukrainian operations, our war was children’s game in a sandbox. The Ukrainian war was bloodier. The Chechen war was bloodier. And it was much easier to fight under the shadow of such a big strong state as the USSR, in its adjacent territory, when the population treats us, at least in principle, quite well.
– So the population treated you well?
– Yes. Just, every Afghan wanted to make some money. The Americans gave them money and said: you shoot there and there. Of course, they were insane. But in reality it was a business. Normal peasant’s business. In the day, he squeezed his hoe in the field, in the evening he put on some equipment and went to shoot Russians. Then he returned, hid the weapon – and in the morning again – worked in the field. American funding was comparable to ours.
And another aspect: drugs. When I arrived there, there were no drugs. They gradually appeared. We noticed this pattern: as soon as the Americans appear, drugs immediately appear. Here we were with our troops In Afghanistan, the new government hanged Najibullah. No drugs. Americans come. And the drugs come. As fighters, the Americans at that time, by the way, according to us weren’t good. Look: they walked like aliens wearing helmets. We went to the operation almost in shorts and T-shirts. Ordinary blue satin briefs, on top of a large, baggy mesh pants, sneakers. No berets. I ran in Polish autumn boots. I burned them at a downed helicopter. But we fought well, and we were respected for it.
THE MAN FROM THE MONKHARIST CIRCLES
– You were, for a while, Igor Strelkov’s superior. And how did he even get into the service?
– Igor entered the service by accident. The Moscow department of the FSB had some business for a group of monarchists, it seems. When monarchists sit somewhere in their kitchen and discuss the topic: “We will crown the king, we will take up arms”, then, naturally, the special services would have some questions about how likely they are to take up arms. Therefore, they were watched. But all of it was to no avail. They were just talking: “For the faith, the king and the fatherland”, “I have the honor”, “Your Honor” – and that was it. They didn’t reach any real actions. And Igor among them stood out with intelligence and wit. Plus, he had already gone through two wars, and there was a certain reverence surrounding him. Exactly the same piety originated in my subordinates. They honored him, listened, apparently, and finally met him, and then came to me and said: “Gennady Nikolaevich, there is one good candidate for a job. Let us take him, especially since we are now sending young employees to Chechnya. And he already has military experience. ” When I learned that he was the person involved in the case of the operative, and group case, I, of course, had doubts. But it was in the 90s, it was a reckless time. And these two colonels persuaded me.
– You were their immediate superior?
– I was not their direct superior, but we were service friends in another department. They had a wonderful general in charge, a wonderful Russian man, I don’t want to advertise him here. Together we helped him close the case of this group. The guys pulled Igor and after a while brought him to me: “Gennady Nikolaevich, here is our new employee.” I liked him. We talked with him: his intellect is in place, his head works well, he removed his historical reminiscences from his memory without issue. I asked him to show me his notes and documents. I look: he writes like a god. And in any office, especially such as ours, if the reports are written in the correct language, with commas, with dots – this was considered “aerobatics.” And he began working quite successfully.
– And how did Strelkov get recruited? Did he easily agree? After all, he was non-formal, and in his environment cooperation with the FSB is considered “shameful.”
– He wasn’t recruited. They recruit agents, and this was an invitation to work. At the service. After all, I was not directly negotiating with him. I know those guys who took him to the authorities. I liked them. Very decent men. Igor apparently agreed immediately. Basically, he himself knocked on the door and said: “I want to work.” But we have always had a wary attitude towards such initiative.
– What year was it?
– Let’s say, 1995. I had already managed to become General by that time.
– So it turns out that in the mid-90s (already after the collapse of the USSR), did the FSB continue to work on dissidents? The case was started…
– What does “dissident” mean? There was a suspicion that monarchists have unrecorded weapons. At least these informal groups had to be vetted. And what does it mean to have a case? It means nothing. It is simply that forces and means are allocated to sort out the phenomenon. The entire case was developed. We looked: empty, zero. We closed the case, put it in the archive. That was all. Of the subjects, nobody knew anything. When I told Igor all this, he was very surprised. He did not know that he was a subject. He thought that he was just noticed, because he was so brave, the guys from the office came and said: “Igor Vsevolodovich, would you like to serve?” And why not serve the homeland? And in theory, we should not have taken him under such circumstances.
– And then you became friends?
– We communicated occasionally. He has two small stars, I have one big, naturally, I have enough worries, even without him there. But I sympathized with him in a human way, but with a certain amount of good humor. He, with his sense of purpose, seriousness, amused the entire staff. And he had a joking nickname – Sam. Like: “Attention! Sam is coming!”
– I see there were great jokers among you …
– The best agents, by the way, are guys who have a sense of humor, hooligans, often – drinkers and womanizers. If you weren’t a “wise guy,” you weren’t an agent. If you are an exemplary family man, an athlete, positive in everything – you cannot become a real agent, one that digs like a beast, works from dawn to dawn, one that can plan and carry out a graceful operation. The police have a similar situation. Thin long skeleton – with sunken eyes, always smoking, nervous – this is what agents are.
I kept Igor in sight. It cannot be said that friendship had arisen: what kind of friendship between a general and a lieutenant? But there was a good human relationship. What was it to be a general at that time? So, I was a colonel, appropriated as a general. Wife asks: “Why do you have less money?” I answer: “Because now I can’t drink vodka, I ought to drink whiskey. And I shouldn’t smoke Chesterfield, but rather Marlboro. From colonel to general, the difference was – two Marlboro stacks and one bottle of whiskey.
Due to the lack of money, I decided to do a renovation with my own hands, using my vacation for this. The vacation flew past, but I didn’t have time. And I couldn’t even bring my family into the apartment. Then I asked the young officers: guys, help. And among these officers was Igor. He plowed like Carlo’s dad, and then stayed overnight. We chatted with him. And then off-duty relationships that allow you to speak like human beings arose. I did not notice anything particularly “heroic” in him. There are people who love to brag about their military experience. Let them just talk about what heroes they were. But Igor never talked about the war. That’s what amazed me in him, because he went through two wars, and I went through a third. I could not even imagine that he would become a hero. And what he did in Ukraine, I think, is heroism.
MISSION IN UKRAINE
– And in Ukraine, was Strelkov there on a service mission?
– In a way, together with his functional responsibilities, he was related to the Ukrainian topic. He tracked what was happening there. And gradually started being horrified. He said that the real Bandera ideology supporters were diggin themselves in in Moscow, in particular, in libraries of Ukrainian literature, and in other places. Real Bandera ideology supporters who fiercely hate Russians, hold meetings, and recruit new followers. All this is completely in the open.
I have a question: What did we do at this time? Why is this nonsense happening? Why send failed Ambassadors to Ukraine such as Chernomyrdin? I talked to a diplomat the other day. The Sarafan radio of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs informs of interesting things. What Chernomyrdin drank – sadly, was not the same that Russians drink. But he could have vanished for two days, and nobody at the embassy knew where to look for him. Chernomyrdin was gone. But how was Zurabova put there? Sits by himself, he was not heard and he was not seen. When all of this happened, I hoped that he would be removed at least. They removed, how … But where was our office? And where was the SVR? How didn’t they see what was happening? My personal opinion: we and the Ukrainians are guilty of the Ukrainian events! Even America’s fault is less than ours. They even defended and promoted their interests.
– How long have you been retired?
– I resigned in 2000. I think it’s okay that I left.. Much has changed. Even Yeltsin was, as they say, a kind of change. Something roared, the first oligarchs appeared, they shot at someone. We had to improvise in our work, worked out new techniques. And then came an era when only one thing was needed: to be very loyal and devoted. But devotion and faithfulness don’t replace creative work. Wme changed the director. Until that point, there were no portraits of the director at the tables at the heads of departments, at the directorates. And then they instantly appeared. I felt that my time had passed. My time is when it was possible to generate some ideas, to build combinations. And now it was necessary to just serve and listen to the bosses. It did not work for me. I was sent to the Security Council. At that time it was a place where they gathered all the losers – generals and politicians. I worked in the Security Council for two years and I also feel that something was wrong. I don’t hide it, and I’m grateful for it, I was honorably discharged.
– And your relations with Strelkov continued?
– Igor came to me when I left the office and was engaged in political consulting. We talked a lot. We developed a friendly relationship. Friendly attitudes are when people talk “about livelihood” and about women, and when you talk about a business, about politics, it is still a comradeship. Igor brought interesting people to me. We talked about how to improve the situation in Russia. I will not provide details, but obscene vocabulary was present. Igor was a military man, and he really was preparing for the war. Preparing well, thoroughly. But I, for example, did not even know that he was involved in the movement of the reconstructors. I knew that he was walking with a mine detector and looking for some artifacts on the battlefields. Apparently, somewhere inside, he was waiting for some of his war.
Igor is a wonderful man. It is possible that he has some secrets. I do not know if he was personally cruel in the war. I, for example, was. I had to shoot a man. Two years later I did not feel very well. It was an Afghan insurgent, an accomplice to the enemy. But it is one thing to shoot from the trenches, from afar. But to shoot someone standing in front of you at the distance of an extended hand, just as you’re sitting there, it’s completely different. It is very unpleasant. It happened to me once. And I paid for it – my soul was dying for a long time. In general, this is not my business.
– Did you know that he was going to Ukraine?
– No, of course not. When he left with businessman Konstantin Malofeeev, he was very busy and we rarely met. We could say that he was politely asked from our organization, and it was for that. Igor was not a thoughtless performer and did not hide his doubts about the political realities before his colleagues. There were organizational changes. In this case, everybody was released and reinstated to work. He was not given a position for a long time. Then they suggested, it seems, a position somewhere in the Krasnoyarsk Territory, and even with a demotion. Igor did not agree, although he wanted to serve. We spoke over the phone in November or December of 2013, I knew nothing about his plans. I recognized his voice when the Ukrainians posted the first SBU radio intercepts on the Internet.
– And after his departure from Ukraine did you meet?
– On the second day after his return to Moscow, we met at some apartment. There were a few more people there. An old “two-room”, which had not seen repair for a long time, a shabby sofa, chopped sausage on the table. He said that no one met him in Moscow. I asked: “Have you met someone from the leadership?” – “What do you mean.” Only his colleague in the FSB, who was assigned to him as a handler, spoke with him. And it was ridiculous. Igor told him: “Do you understand that they can just kill me now? Can I at least carry a gun?” – “Carry a weapon, Igor Ivanovich, but very carefully. Don’t shoot at anybody.”
– So, his own “office” assigned him a handler?
– He is a reserve of the FSB. This organization can not discard an asset just like that. At least you need to contact your former colleague. Naturally, you contact them. And at a good level.
– And there were rumors that he was received by the president …
– Bullshit. Immediately upon his return, he sought to legitimize his position here: “Guys, how do you perceive me? What do you want to do with me?” – “Igor Ivanovich, go to the north, have a rest, catch some fish. There are monasteries there. Go to a monastery.” Well, he went, went to the monastery, caught a fish, had some rest. Trying to somehow establish dialogue with the authorities. After all, he was not exactly the oppositionist, but he did not hide his disagreement with certain trends in thedirection of the country. From Ukraine, he came with the following thought: “Everything can fall apart soon, and the only thing holding it is the current president.” From an insurgent, he almost turned into a pillar of power. The logic is there.
– Of course, everyone is interested in the question of who sent him to Ukraine.
– I think by 90% everything that he and his “riflemen” did, was on his own initiative. He was apparently helped by his employer Malofeev This does not mean that there were millions allocated. When Fidel’s group landed in Cuba, they had much more money than Igor. I am sure that going to Donbass was his personal decision, coordinated, perhaps, with the leadership of Crimea, perhaps with some specialists who are not in the highest position. Igor did not meet with our top management or with any of the presidential administration.
– With whom from Donetsk was Strelkov’s review coordinated?
– I think they agreed at the highest level. Because he still became a significant figure. As they say – they let the situation take its course. There was a situation in which some people’s aspirations were focused around him. He came to Slavyansk with several dozen fighters. Then thousands gathered around him. They went to him by their own accord. Why did they all reach to Igor? Because they felt sincerity. He behaved like a true devotee. He slept in the office, no cool cars, no money, nothing. And others? Banquets, oysters, prestigious cars, houses. Not all, but many commanders indulge in this.
An example is the Kazakh General Kozitsin. I know him personally. We met before the war. Such a typical chieftain. How much has he squeezed from their weapons? He just sat on the supply roads, and just scrubbed it in his favor. Another example is General Antyufeev. On the Internet, reading about him is like a spy novel. It amazes me: he was introduced as an FSB general in reserve. Strangely, in my time, the transition into adulthood from the police to the security services was impossible. Yes, he helped Igor at a difficult time, and that is true, but as a whole he carried out instructions from above about eliminating Strelkov from a command post and returning him to Russia.
– In “your time,” did you approach the chase more strictly?
– During the KGB period, if you worked there, then none of your relatives had the right to go there. There was no nepotism. And now, they enter the service together with their families. First, in high school, then in the Red Banner Institute. And the entire family sits there. I sometimes ask: men, what do you have to say to your children? After all, all this intelligence and counterintelligence education is a profanation of higher education. You went out the gate – and you are nobody. Though, you once again took a textbook in your hands.
– So, Strelkov became a symbol, a brand …
– Yes, many people believed in him. Why did you need to remove him? The only explanation: he began to stand out very much. Even his stupid decree banning cursing turned out to be a plus. Everybody was dying of laughter, but they also respected him. And the people believed in him.
For this reason or some other reason, he was categorically ordered to return to Moscow. And already near the very border, he and his group fell into serious trouble. They had already decided that everything was over. They blocked the road. And they were surrounded: they couldn’t move forward or backwards. There were about 10 people. The guys prepared for the worst. They had already decided to go for a breakthrough. But at this time the first wave of “vacationers” arrived. And they were saved.
– Ukrainian security officials, it turns out, knew where Strelkov was going?
– Apparently they knew. But this is just my guess.
– Tell me, and Boroday, a fellow soldier of Strelkov and the former prime minister of the DPR, is he also connected to the special services?
– I have no such information. But I think he contacted some of our people. Moreover, I can say that all more or less interesting personalities are in contact with the FSB. During Soviet times, we always tracked smart, talented people and always made contact with them in one way or another. Without fail. And we almost didn’t recruit using dirt or money. 98% were recruited, as they used to say, on a “moral-patriotic” basis. When I left Novosibirsk, I had almost 30 agents, and these were very significant and worthy people. I had to say goodbye to them all. I was drunk for 30 days in a row. Then many of them came to Moscow with their families.
I’ll tell you more. The democratic revolution of 1991, all these demo unions and so on. They comprised 50% of the current agency of the 5th Directorate of the KGB, Directorate “Z” (Protection of the constitutional order – «НВО»). They were told: “Guys, democracy has come. “Now we need to release you.” And we took the most intelligent, courageous, beautiful, interesting. Naturally, they also led the process. But not under our leadership.
CRIMEA SHOWS THE FUTURE OF NOVOROSSIA
– In your opinion, how will the situation develop in Ukraine?
– Nothing good will come out of it. Take Crimea for example. It connects with a small piece of land to a large territory, which is called Ukraine. There is no connection with Russia. They decided to build a bridge. It would be cheaper to “buy” all the officials in the areas of historical Novorossia and calmly enter there than build this damn bridge. If there is no Novorossia, what will we do with Crimea?
– What kind of Novorossia would it be separated into two areas? It was presumed, it seems, that there will be more …
– I think Igor went to Donbass because he was absolutely sure of the reality of such a plan and hoped that he would be supported.
– Was he given any guarantees?
– I think Strelkov received no guarantees, but something like a blessing. Like “I bless you, son of God, go, fight, we will help you if necessary.” But what level of support is this? There is the Kremlin, the towers of the Kremlin, and there are the basements. That’s the level. We, perhaps, caused the Maidan? When were we planning to impose ourselves? It was already clear that the situation is going towards a civil war. But I will never believe that all this was prepared in six months. And that in three months – I also refuse to believe it. For a month – maybe. For two weeks – I can believe that.
Well, I don’t believe that we planned the seizure of the Crimea. Have you ever seen a good Russian study of some operation after 1991? I participated in the development of the Chechen war. “Bath, women, vodka” – that was the arsenal and tools for making decisions. The army reflected the president back then. The strange Russian soul lies in the fact that our situation is such a messy brothel that you can’t oppose any cunning plan to it. So we win against all odds.
– So what will happen to Crimea in the future?
– I know for sure that they are waiting in Crimea for a normal land transfer to Russia instead of a bridge. Leaving Crimea alone is complete nonsense. I think that some kind of dreadful situation will develop in the territories adjacent to Kiev – the guerrillas will be outraged, the “vacationers” will arrive, the Voentorg will work – God knows what will happen. But Crimea needs a land connection to Russia. And it, of course, will appear. At least to me it seems like it. It seemed to Igor that he would be helped. And I also think that it will happen. However, how it will actually turn out – who knows, really.
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