Alchevsk, 9th April, 2015
An interview with the well-known Donbass Militia field commander, Aleksey Mozgovoy, commander of the Prizrak Brigade, now part of the People’s Militia of the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Lugansk. Notwithstanding his official position, today he is, probably, one of the leading critics of the LPR leadership.
Orhan Dzhemal: I am very interested in the political situation in the LPR, because the war continues, but there is much talk of the post-war reconstruction of the state. As far as I understand, it is in the Lugansk Republic that the complexity of this process is demonstrated most clearly.
Aleksey Mozgovoy: It’s too early yet to talk of post-war reconstruction. The fact that there is a cease-fire does not mean that there is peace. Almost all our attention is still focused on the front line.
OD: It seems that many of the recent heroes of the LPR, well-known field commanders, have had difficulties with the authorities of the Republic.
AM: They do not have difficulties with the leadership itself, but with the policy pursued by the leadership.
OD: And what is that policy?
AM: Well, let’s say that it does not answer to the demands that the people put forward in March and April of last year. Everybody then declared loud and clear that the most important thing was the welfare of the people. But what do we see in fact? All that remains of the people is the ‘P’ in the title LPR.
In my opinion, if we are to build something new, and even more so if we are to build, let us say, a part of new Russia, of New Rus, of Novorossiya, then we simply must get away from all previous methods of government, all previous ways of relating to the people, and create something new. First of all, in my view, there should be total transparency in all matters from the start. Transparency and clarity for every citizen. If an official takes a step, it should be clear why he took it. If a decision is made, even if it is not discussed with the people, at least it should be arrived at in a transparent manner. To be clear—does it serve the interests of the people or just the interests of the bureaucrats?
OD: What is happening in fact?
AM: In fact, we have reverted to our old ways. Corruption is rampant. The use of administrative resources by the head of the Republic is the same as it was with the governor of the previous Lugansk region. The television and the press operate only to display how much we love our leader. Just like before.
OD: Are there problems between your military unit and the command?
AM: At the beginning they tried to disband us. Here is what they told us: “We will integrate you into the LPR Army, but only as an addition to units already formed.” That is, their object was to disperse us, and merge us into existing units so that we ceased to exist.
OD: But will you now be integrated in the emerging structure?
AM: We are integrated. We exist as a brigade. We obey the supreme commander of the LPR troops. But I want to say something about the total blockade of the humanitarian aid which our subdivision was receiving. With this, we provided food for the local population; we had four canteens, where people came to eat: from mines, from factories, from small villages, kindergartens, schools. We shared all this aid with the civilian population. All this is also blocked.
OD: What do you mean “blocked”?
AM: It is now impossible to bring in humanitarian aid.
OD: But the aid was collected in Russia, loaded up, and delivered to you. Where have obstacles arisen?
AM: Everywhere. Including with the Russian Federation customs. You probably heard about the last load. In Yekaterinburg, a complete unit of volunteers collected and brought with them a cargo of humanitarian aid, including for the civilian population. They brought with them their belongings, brought food, medicines and equipment for hospitals. The cargo was turned back at customs because it exceeded the maximum permitted tonnage. Five tons were stopped at the border. How can you impose a weight restriction on humanitarian aid, if it is humanitarian? Basically, cutting us off from supplies makes us dependent. This is one of the control mechanisms.
OD: Is there a central supply of humanitarian aid? Does anything get to you from that?
AM: Each time that we see in the media how pompously the convoys arrive, but not once have I seen how this aid is distributed. Why are the same cameras not recording the distribution of this aid in remote villages?
OD: And does it ever reach these remote villages?
AM: I do not know. I am not going to speculate. We were recently in the town of Frunze talking with this grandfather who had worked for forty years on the railway. He has received nothing for nine months.
OD: Do you attribute this to bureaucratic disorganization or simply to corruption?
AM: War is such an interesting thing: some die, others reap huge profits. Humanitarian aid—this is one of the sources of such income. The more there is, the more there is to steal.
OD: Do you know who has harnessed these streams and who is profiteering from them?
AM: There has been no investigation, therefore there is nothing I can prove. Without being able to prove who is guilty, my accusations would be just rumours and gossip. But, even though I cannot name specific names, the responsibility must be borne by the administration of our leader and the government.
OD: What formula would you propose for the distribution of humanitarian aid?
AM: The way we did it from the beginning—targeting the aid. A children’s hospital or some other institution would provide us with a list of what they needed. We passed on the list to the humanitarian organisations, they sent what was on the list, and we delivered the cargo—it was filmed—to those who needed it.
OD: Do you want private organisations to work directly with you?
AM: I do not want anything, and I am certainly making no demands. I simply see the difference between the deliveries made by the state, which in fact no one controls, and those made by private providers, who do not allow their cargo to vanish into thin air .
OD: There are many large enterprises in this territory. Are you a supporter of nationalisation?
AM: Nationalisation should not be undertaken lightly. Look, most of the shares in the Alchevsk metallurgical plant are currently owned by one of the Moscow banks, the rest by people from Dnepropetrovsk, not just Kolomoisky. But now you cannot touch the factory now, because it is linked to Europe. If we act hastily, the factory will be left without a market for its products. To regain the same position in the market would be very difficult. And 15,000 people work there. Some people wanted to proceed [with nationalization ‒ed.], but we explained to them that it was not possible to do so. You can nationalize, but who is going to need it if there is no external market? We need to tread very carefully.
OD: The Verkhovna Rada has adopted a law on the occupied territories. Your attitude to this law?
AM: To be honest, I have not even examined it. I can not take seriously any documents adopted by the Rada and the government in Kiev.
OD: Can you avoid a situation whereby elections here will be held according to Ukrainian laws?
AM: At the moment we live under the old Ukrainian laws. Nothing has changed, therefore nothing would surprise me. Many former employees and police officers have returned to their positions without any verification. I understand that we need experts, but accepting thus everyone who yesterday served in Severodonetsk (where the regional administration is now based ‒auth.) and today works for us…
OD: Do you accept such people with you in Alchevsk?
AM: Yes, we do not interfere in this matter, we are a military unit. I have always said that civilian life should be managed by someone in civilian clothes.
OD: Do they get into senior positions?
AM: Well, if you are talking of military posts, many who once wore a sergeant’s uniform are now colonels.
OD: Are elections going to be held in Alchevsk?
AM: They are planned. This is the position taken by our government. At this point everything is in deadlock. It turns out that the date of elections can be declared by the head of the Republic at short notice, even a few hours before the election. Who has time to prepare?
OD: Are you going to stay in the military, or do you intend take part in politics?
AM: Of course I will.
AM: That is a secret. You will have to wait and see!
OD: What would be for you a victory in this civil war?
AM: In this war there will be no victory.
OD: When will it end?
AM: It will end when the majority of the people will understand that they are being exploited for the benefit of others. On both sides. Nothing new. War has always been, and always will be, a business. The greatest victory will be if we create a government that thinks of the people. Not victory in the war, but victory over ourselves, over our own minds.
OD: Are the people already realising that something is amiss?
AM: That something is not right, yes. Not as much as we would wish. But sooner or later the two opposing sides will find a common language, and only then will they talk a little bit differently with each other. Only then can we create something that is truly popular. So long as people are distracted with “suicide”, we can build nothing here. Those who were conducting black affairs behind our backs will continue to do so.