Motorola’s Assassination: This Means War – Part I

Dear Readers:

The breaking news in the Russian press today is the assassination of Russian soldier Arsen Pavlov, aka “Motorola”.  Ukrainian nationalists are rejoicing, whereas pro-Russians are in mourning.

Initial reports indicate that somebody planted a bomb in the elevator in the apartment building in which Motorola lived.  The “how-dunnit” is not really important.  The “who-dunnit” is obvious, although pro-Ukrainian conspirary theorists will attempt slyly to disseminate rumors that it was an internecine Rebel thing.  Like Zakharchenko or Plotnitsky attempting to remove an annoyance.  Unless there is solid proof, these theories should be dismissed as attempts at deflection and/or stirring the pot.

More importantly, Motorola’s assassination will (probably) spark a new round of fighting in the Ukrainian Civil War.  Which has been building up in recent months, as the Minsk Truce breaks down.  In truth, the war never stopped.  The Ukrainian army continues to shell Donetsk and other Separatist cities on a daily basis.  The Rebs, on Moscow’s orders, have been holding back and mostly observing the truce.  But Motorola’s assassination changes this equation, as the Donbass (Separatist) side has declared they will avenge his death.

There is much material in the Russian press; for my piece I picked this one from Komsomolka.  The author is Alexander Kots who has covered the Donbass war extensively as a military correspondent and knew Motorola personally.  What follows is a summary of his article:


Arsen Pavlov picked the call sign “Motorola” while fighting for Russia in the Chechnya war as a signals specialist in the 77th Brigade of the Russian Marines.  Where he used equipment made by the American Telecommunications Company Motorola.  Hence the nickname.  After his first term of service, Motorola voluntarily re-enlisted and spent a total of three years in Chechnya.  Which was a good military training for him.

A younger Motorola in Chechnya

Kots first became acquainted with Motorola in the spring of 2014, when the battle was raging for the strategic town of Slavyansk.  Kots and his team of journalists and cameramen were driving along the highway one darkening evening, headed for the town of Andreevka.  Not far from a checkpoint called “Karandashi”, they noticed a minibus on fire.  Extinguishing their headlights, they crept along in the direction of the burning van.  Suddenly, out of the darkness there emerged the strange figure of a gnome of a man, very short in stature, decked out in a harness, on which hung every type of weapon.

“Where you going?” he called out to them in a friendly tone.  He was smiling, but with a smile that did not necessarily presage social conversation.  “Who are you?”

“Russian journalists.”

“Russians…  That’s good.  But it’s not a good idea to drive with your headlights off.”

Motorola in uniform at the 2015 Victory Day parade

“Is it possible for us to get closer to the minibus and take some pictures?”

Motorola chuckled respectfully.  “You’re … what?  Extreme journalists?”

Motorola’s friends called him “Motik” for short.  He was a private, guarded individual, and did not like to talk about himself, or his past.  He was born in the Komi Republic of Russia.  Orphaned at the age of 15, he was raised by his grandmother.  He mastered a couple of civilian professions, such as rescue/recovery and stonecutter, but always his heart was in the military.

When the Ukrainian “Maidan” happened, Motorola at first watched it on TV.  He wasn’t necessarily opposed, at first.  Out of curiosity, he went to Kiev to see for himself.  During one the rallies he heard an orator declare:  “For one of ours we will kill 10 Russians.”  At that moment Motorola made up his mind, what was the essence of this movement.  He began to take part in the anti-Maidan protest movements in the Southeast Ukraine.  He travelled to Kharkov, Odessa, and finally to Crimea, where he participated in the “Russian Spring” movement.  From there, having joined up with Igor Strelkov’s small brigade, he found himself in Slavyansk.

Motorola Becomes A Media Star

During the Slavyansk campaign, Motorola quickly became a star of the media and internet.  Not because he craved fame — quite the contrary, he was always guarded and private, even secretive about himself — but because of his outgoing personality and his native charisma.  He had a direct way of talking and a great sense of humor about everything, even terrible things like war.  He also understood the fact that every modern war is fought on the internet as well as on the actual battlefield.  He knew how to use his Smartphone and post photos on the internet, and also how to charm journalists and provide them with content.

Reporter Alexander Kots

The first truly serious battle took place in Semenovka on 5 May 2014.  Uncharacteristically, his nerves frayed to their limit, Motorola snapped at journalist Evgeny Poddubny and his cameraman Vasya Yurchuk:  “Stop taking pictures!”  And even waved his automatic rifle at them threateningly.

“But we’re on your side,” Evgeny argued back.

“You’re right, I’m sorry!” Motorola apologized.  And made sure to give them an exclusive with photos which he himself had taken from the front.  The photos and videos spread everywhere on the internet, bolstering and giving hope to the pro-Russian side.  But soon enough Motorola started to realize that he couldn’t do both things at the same time:  Take photos on his Smartphone and also carry a rifle in his hands.  This gave an opening to Kots and his crew.  They began to cover Motorola exclusively; they followed him everywhere, to all the famous battles:  Nikolaevka, Semenovka, Illovaisk, Debaltsevo, the battle for Donetsk Airport….

[to be continued]

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