Video: Interview with Igor Strelkov, July 8, 2014
NOTE: Translated in a Hurry; Subject to Change
Translated from Russian by Gleb Bazov
Edited by S. Naylor
Host: Good day. Today, in the studio of our First Republican television channel, we welcome, for the purpose of making an address to the citizens of DPR [Donetsk People’s Republic], the Minister of Defence and the Chairman of the Security Council, Igor Ivanovich Strelkov …
Igor Strelkov: Good day.
Host: And the head of the People’s Militia of DPR, Pavel Gubarev.
Pavel Gubarev: Good evening.
Strelkov’s Address to DPR Citizens
Host: Igor Ivanovich, please go on.
Igor Strelkov: I would like to welcome all the viewers that are now watching and listening to me, and to say that, in this very difficult moment for the people of the Donetsk Republic, I am very glad that I am here with you, and that I can together with you defend your and our common Motherland, Russia, which, as I believe, stretches from the borders of the state formation called Ukraine and to the Far East.
It is precisely Russia that we are, here, fighting for, and, in conjunction, fighting for the rights of the Donetsk and the Lugansk Republics. We are fighting for your right to self-determination of your language, your culture, your way of life, and your right to be free from being forced into those imposed on you by people for whom your land and your society are merely the objects of political machinations and various financial speculation. People who are subject to external control and do not bother to hide it. That is what we have been fighting and will continue to fight. And I hope that we will continue to enjoy your support.
I did not prepare specifically to make an address; I spent the entire day involved in strategic planning. Accordingly, I will not be reading a text or making a speech prepared in advance. The staff of the television channel prepared a serious of questions for me. In answering these questions I expect to be able to satisfy your concerns with respect to what is happening, how the hostilities are proceeding, and how we plan to continue defending the Republic. So, I think we should now give our host the opportunity to proceed.
Time Had Come to Leave Slavyansk
Host: Igor Ivanovich, here is a key question that we always hear: why was Slavyansk surrendered and why did the forces re-deploy to Donetsk and to the nearby cities?
Igor Strelkov: From the very inception of the hostilities, Slavyansk served as a shield for Donetsk. In taking our positions in Slavyansk, we set up a shield to protect the entire territory of DPR [Donetsk People’s Republic] and LPR [Lugansk People’s Republic]. We bore the main brunt of the enemy offensive and diverted its forces, thereby giving the political leadership and the social leadership of the Republics an opportunity to organize and, in acting in accordance with our example, to take the reigns of [local] power from the Junta, to a certain degree preventing it from establishing itself.
That is why, when we ascertained that this task had been completed – this task specifically – that in both Donetsk and in Lugansk, governments had been established that conformed with the will of the people in terms of implementing state sovereignty and conducting the referendum and were capable of creating their own armed forces, [we understood] that our own task had been substantially fulfilled.
It is natural that Slavyansk has become, and remains, for me personally and for all of us a very important city, a city to which we are deeply connected. Undoubtedly, if we had the opportunity to retain it, we would have continued to defend it for as long as we could. However, the military situation that developed meant that continuing to hold Slavyansk would have led to impermissible losses on the part of the Militia, and the continuing retention of the city no longer carried any strategic or tactical purpose.
The enemy had amassed an enormous artillery and armoured group near the city. We could not continue to withstand it for much longer without sufficient quantities of heavy weaponry, artillery and, most importantly, ammunition. Step by step restraining the enemy, winning day after day, we continued to retreat to the boundaries of the city. And, finally, a day came when the situation developed to the point where we understood that the circle around the city had closed, and that the tactical plan of the enemy is not to attack us, but to simply level the city, destroy it with artillery and then run down our infantry with tanks.
We understood that we lacked sufficient weaponry to defend against such tactics. Seriously lacked. We also understood that the enemy would simply exterminate us over the course of several days, without us being able to inflict corresponding losses.
In this situation, a decision was made. I made that decision personally. I did not share this responsibility with anyone else. Although I made it known only to the Military Council that acted there. [The decision] was to withdraw, save the garrison and to save the city from meaningless destruction. It was, in fact, meaningless, because we would have been shelled to dust from a distance at which we had no ability to respond. [The decision made was also] to redeploy the battle-forged, experienced detachments to new positions where they could continued to defend the Republic.
Moreover, as we found out following our breakout from the encirclement, that same day the enemy took over Artyomovsk, expelling the fairly small Militia unit that was garrisoned there. This created a real danger that not only Slavyansk, but also the entire Kramatorsk-Druzhkovka-Konstantinovka region would be encircled and sieged. In fact, this is precisely why, because the enemy was about to cut off our lines of communication, a decision was made to withdraw also from all the other cities, since to defend them while encircled had practically no purpose. It would have resulted only in more unnecessary victims and unnecessary destruction.
Heroes of the Breakout from Slavyansk
Host: Thank you. I believe that the men who stayed behind to cover your withdrawal are heroes. Can you tell us more about them?
Igor Strelkov: It was no more then several dozen men who stayed behind to cover our retreat. In fact, they performed their task admirably well. As far as I am aware, at this point, the majority of them have broken out of the encirclement. Moreover, I was just informed that even the group that protected our retreat from Nikolayevka, that 13 fighters of that group made it out successfully and redeployed to Seversk, sustaining minimal casualties.
The Readiness of Donetsk to Withstand a Siege
Host: Good. Here is another question. Is the city of Donetsk ready, at this time, to defend against a prolonged siege, and, in time, for an offensive?
Igor Strelkov: Well, certainly, I cannot say that the city is ready for defence, if only because the city as a whole is still operating as if it were at peacetime. Virtually no defensive measures have been taken. The state of the city’s defensive preparations up until this time is at the level that Slavyansk was two months ago. In other words, the existing fortifications are sufficient to stop APCs [Armoured Personnel Carriers] and something like the National Guard or detachments of the Ministry of Interior.
As for the armoured columns of the enemy, which is now massively employing tanks and artillery, at this time, the city can defend against them only with great difficulty and at the cost of significant casualties among the Militia. However, we are taking urgent measures, on a daily basis, so as to ensure that the city is ready for battle. This is from the standpoint of erecting fortifications.
With respect to the mood of the population, it is certainly apparent that the residents of Donetsk continue to lead entirely peaceful lives. They are still having difficulty understanding – or they refuse to believe that it can happen – where the enemy, the Ukrainian punitive units, will unleash a massive artillery barrage and conduct massive airstrikes against residential areas. Well, we also did not believe it for a along time.
However, over the course of one month, or, more precisely, three months of being sieged, but one month of an active siege, we became convinced that the enemy has chosen the tactic not of acting against our armed units, the self-defence units of the Militia, but a terrorist tactic of destruction – the destruction of infrastructure, the destruction of industrial enterprises. However strange it may seem, and I do not find it strange at all, though some may, the primary targets subjected to strikes in Slavyansk and Kramatorsk were not the positions of the Militia, though they were perfectly well known, and not even the city districts, but factories and industrial enterprises.
In Nikolayevka, in particular, the enemy continued to shell the Thermal Power Plant for three days straight, despite the fact that there was not a single militiaman there. What is more, the shelling continued for one whole day after the Militia left the city. In other words, there was no [military] purpose to the shelling. In the same manner, shelling was conducted against the territory of a number of factories in Slavyansk where no militiaman had ever set foot. There were no checkpoints and not even outposts there. Nonetheless, they were regularly and meticulously blasted with artillery.
In other words, the purpose we are talking about here was not to clear the Militia from the city. That was not the intention. Their goal was to cause maximum possible destruction to the infrastructure while clearing the Militia out, thereby leaving people without jobs, without housing, without necessities of life. In effect, to fulfill the task of forcing the people into an exodus, by leaving them without the means to survive even following the cessation of hostilities.
I am firmly of the opinion that the current Ukrainian leadership and the leadership of the Ukrainian army will not shy away from doing the same to Donetsk. No one should have any illusions – even if we were to withdraw from here, they will not allow the residents of Donetsk to continue living here. The so-called United Europe does not want any competition from the Donetsk industry. They do not wish any competition from [our] scientists. All they want to remain here is a territory where they can source several hundred thousand or maybe even a few million units of cheap workforce, so as to put them to use in Europe. This is all that they want.
Pavel Gubarev: And the shale gas, of course.
Igor Strelkov: I will say nothing with respect to shale gas because I am not a specialist [in the area]. However, what is certain is that they are seeking to destroy the industrial core of Donbass, which, first of all, represents serious competition to the European industry and, second, works almost entirely, or at least to a significant degree, for the Russian military-industrial complex.
Sufficiency of the Militia Forces
Host: Judging by their declarations, they have no desire to see Russian people on our territory. However, we understand that this is our land – the Donetsk People’s Republic, the Lugansk People’s Republic. We will not leave our land. And now I would like to focus specifically on the Militia. Do we have enough militiamen? Counting the ones that Pavel Gubarev drafted for you?
Igor Strelkov: No, of course not. Certainly not. Even for a huge city of one million people, without counting the rest of the Republic, there are too few militiamen. The territory of the city is huge. The territory of the Republic that is controlled by the [DPR] government is also sufficiently large; it is very large.
To establish secure control over it and to defend it with the forces that we currently possess is not, per se, impossible; however, when faced with the enemy’s colossal superiority, I would even call it absolute domination in terms of armoured vehicles and artillery, without even taking into account its dominance in the air, it is exceedingly difficult to defend this territory with our existing forces.
I would also like to add to my earlier comments that it is impossible to make war halfway. It is a mistake to expect that someone somewhere somehow will be able to defend this Republic with small forces on a shoestring budget. We require a serious mobilization of resources. Unfortunately, the required resources, first and foremost in terms of armaments and ammunition, have not been prepared; they do not exist at the moment.
If such resources were available, we would have without hesitation implemented general mobilization. It does not matter if three quarters of military-age men would have run from it; the remaining quarter would have sufficed. Unfortunately, we have no such ability to mobilize. Nevertheless, we are in a position to arm, equip and train, even if in a cursory fashion, several thousand volunteers in a very short period of time.
I believe that approximately eight to ten thousand men would be sufficient to finally and irrevocably stop the Ukrainian army, which has been victorious first and foremost because we have very significant gaps in our defence and because of its mobility and its existing rear. Our operational rear remains in a very poor shape. Our supply lines are not too weak. But we will continue to fight and will keep stopping them.
Yet, without more active participation of the Donbass population in the defence, it will be very difficult to withstand them. We need people. I repeat to you, that we need to call up eight to ten thousand men into the ranks of the Militia to ensure our defence. Whether they volunteer or are conscripted makes no difference.
Military Professionals as well as Volunteers Required
Host: Is there a lack of volunteers with specific qualifications or professional knowledge?
Igor Strelkov: First of all, we need everyone. We need professionals with all types of military qualifications, as well as people without any specific knowledge. At war, people can be taught in the course of several days, particularly during active hostilities. And, conversely, super-qualified professional that never take part in wars, when they are deployed to the front and have to face real fire, often turn out to be simply unsuitable. That is how it works in the military.
The Threat to Donetsk and Building a Contract Army
Host: We have a somewhat difficult question for you from our viewers. What should civilians do; what can they expect? How serious is the danger? You have outlined some of the issues already, but can you spell out the danger that we are facing?
Igor Strelkov: I do not wish to scare anyone, but I believe that, without real assistance from Russia, if Russia does not provide direct military aid, then the out-of-control Junta will certainly employ the full arsenal of forces and means at its disposal, especially because decisions are not made by them, but primarily across the ocean. And there they have resolved to destroy Donbass to the core. Either they will force Russia into a global war here, on the territory of Ukraine, or they will take everything they require without war. And that is why they will continue to advance, to bomb, to shell.
And I will repeat again: every man must make a choice for himself. If he is a man, he must be prepared to defend his Motherland. Well, of course, not everyone is capable of doing so on the basis of his moral and volitional characteristics. Far from everyone. Frankly speaking, however, the number of volunteers generated over the course of three month by the multimillion population of Donbass, the land of miners, where people are used to heavy and dangerous labour, has been too small. I would like to share an observation that many would have likely joined the Militia if there were [financial] guarantees for their families.
Host: Yes, that is true.
Igor Strelkov: Now there will be such [financial] guarantees. Starting this month, we are planning to pay members of the Militia sums that are fairly significant by local standards. Specifically, five to eight thousand hryvnia. We are planning to start making these payments in July. So, it may be that this will help those who are vacillating to finally find the strength to join our ranks. In other words, we will be establishing a contract army.
Negotiations with South Ossetia
Host: Ok, understood. Are there negotiations being conducted … well, you spoke about Russia … but what about South Ossetia, which has recognized our independence?
Igor Strelkov: In this case, I am not prepared to answer this question.
The Airstrikes Against Coal Mine No. 21 (Pokrovka)
Host: Understood. What happened to day at the Coal Mine No. 21 at Pokrovka?
Igor Strelkov: A Su-25 aircraft attacked and fired eight rockets at what they thought to be the positions of one of our detachments. But it missed.
Host: Are there wounded, killed?
Igor Strelkov: No, there were no casualties. I told you, it missed.
The Situation in Snezhnoye and at Saur-Mogila
Host: Ok, good. This is encouraging. And can you comment on the military situation at the city of Snezhnoye and at Saur-Mogila? How are our militiamen holding up there?
Igor Strelkov: They are holding well. A joint detachment is stationed there. First, I would like to mention that Battalion Vostok is stationed there, headed up by a sufficiently competent commander. He competently arranged his fighters, enabling them to continue to hold this key position with minimal casualties.
I believe that we will continue to hold Snezhnoye and areas in the vicinity. Substantial reinforcements have been directed there. We will not allow the enemy to achieve a breakthrough in the direction of the Don River, cutting off the corridor that now connects us to the Lugansk region.
Coordination with Lugansk
Host: Ok, so we have coordination with Lugansk at the moment?
Igor Strelkov: There is nothing to brag about at the moment. Our coordination is weak, but it is progressively getting better.
Unified Command and Armed Forces Recruitment
Host: And let us add here from the viewers and from myself, personally, there is a need for a unified coordination centre or for an army commandant’s office where volunteers could turn to enroll in the Militia, and from there be directed into various battalions in accordance with their preference. It is simply that we have several phone numbers that we have been providing during broadcasts. It would be helpful if there were a unified coordinator’s office.
Igor Strelkov: This, unfortunately, is the law of human psychology; history has shown this to be true on many occasions. The process of transforming guerrilla units into a regular army or even into regular armed formations is a very difficult one. It is very complex; it takes a long time. Characters clash and people’s ambitions get in the way. There are many objective and subjective factors involved. Unfortunately, there is no magic wand that could make it all come together quickly. Nevertheless, this task is a priority for us because, naturally, the continued existence of several different groups with separate command is impermissible. It is unacceptable both from the standpoint of conducting military operations and from the standpoint of keeping order in the army’s rearguard.
Today we finally convened a joint meeting that was attended by commanders of the Militia units as well as those who came from other regions, such as Battalion Vostok and Battalion Oplot. We reached an important agreement with respect to delimitation of our spheres of responsibility, with respect to creation of regional commandants’ offices and the joint office of the city commandant, and with respect to introduction of martial law in the areas adjacent to the positions of the enemy. So far we are not planning to institute either martial law or a curfew in the entire city. We will wait until the enemy applies force directly; we have decided not to complicate our citizens’ lives prematurely.
Negotiations with the Russian Federation
Host: Our government – Pushilin, Borodai as I understand it – they are right now in Moscow. Andrei Purgin is here. Negotiations are being conducted with Moscow?
Igor Strelkov: I cannot comment on that because I am involved in purely military-related issues right now.
Host: Ok, fine. Thank you. We will then ask Katya Mikhailova to invite representatives of the Republic that have the requisite knowledge and are able to respond to these questions.
Incidents with Militiamen in Donetsk
Igor Strelkov: I would like to add one more thing, a few words. Unfortunately, and I will not hide it, the arrival to Donetsk of a fairly substantial number of militiamen, many of whom did not make it out of the trenches for weeks, led to several incidents. Thankfully, no one was harmed in the process.
I ask the residents of Donetsk to please be understanding of the fact that the people who just arrived here were subjected not just to severe stress but to mortal danger for weeks and even months.
For example, the Semyonovka battalion would sometimes lose up to 20 men killed and wounded in one day. They were primarily wounded, of course, but still. The Militia was subjected to massive shelling using also chemical weapons, incendiary charges, cluster munitions, as well as artillery units of the heaviest calibre.
Not all of the fighters turned out to be sufficiently well prepared to arrive in an absolutely peaceful city after the hardships of trenches and the demolished and continuously shelled Slavyansk and Kramatorsk.
Not all of them reacted adequately to this sharp change in circumstances. And there were cases when the fighters engaged in improper behavior toward the residents of the city. Or some of them may have imagined that everything is now permitted, since they are heroes. Well it is true; they are heroes for holding their positions under such fire.
Some were affronted. But, I repeat, that there were no victims and no one suffered serious harm as a result of these actions. I once again apologize for these incidents and wish to reassure you that the command of the Militia treats matters like these very harshly. [Incidents like these] demonstrate lack of discipline.
Besides, alcohol is prohibited in the Militia. This regulation existed in Slavyansk, and we will continue upholding it here in the most active manner. We will fight any signs of slovenliness in the harshest possible manner.
I must further add that, in the circumstances of wartime, we will punish most severely any infringements that are criminal in nature. Only grievous infringements, of course. Anything else is not within our scope of responsibilities.
Persons that are found to commit grievous criminal acts in our operational rear will be submitted to military field courts. Moreover, as I understand it, there are many morally unstable people here who try to take advantage of the temporary interregnum. The army, of course, will take all the necessary measures to instill order. There will be those who do not like it, but there is no other way.
Host: I think we have clarified the key questions. We should not hold Igor Ivanovich any longer. He has a lot of work to do. Thank you very much.