Today I begin a new series based on this piece from RIA News, the author is Andrei Veselov. This piece is very interesting, it comprises a series of vignettes and individual mini-biographies of men serving in the Prilepin Separatist Battalion in Donetsk.
Zakhar Prilepin is the nom de plume of Russian writer Evgeny Nikolaevich Prilepin, born in 1974 in Riazan Russia. Prilepin graduated from the Philology Faculty of Nizhniy Novgorod State University. Coming of age in the Wild 90’s, Prilepin was politicized and joined the National Bolshevik Party which, as its name suggests, is based on a strange hybrid ideology, combining Marxism-Leninism (sometimes Stalinism) with Russian Nationalism. The party was founded by Eduard Limonov, a charismatic but also quite eccentric political leader, who sent many a young man into the streets of Moscow to fight against the Forces of Darkness. It would really take a whole book (preferably written by a reincarnation of Turgenev) just to describe Limonov and his various metamorphoses. Most of this can be written off as post-Yeltsin era hysteria and ideological thrashing about, trying to find the True Way Back to the Land That Was Lost.
In his current incarnation, Limonov is a respectable writer and journalist. Grizzled and wise, he has bowed out of the young man’s game of street-fighting and no longer seeks to overthrow the Putin government. But it should never be forgotten, nor forgiven, that Limonov’s “hybrid” ideology and fondness for building “United Fronts” is precisely what brought about the degeneration and personal ruin of potentially viable “Marxist-Leninist” cadres such as Sergei Udaltsov.
Leaving all that aside for the moment, we return to Zakhar Prilepin, who also passed through the “Limonka” ideological school before arriving in Donetsk. Prilepin’s political ideology shows that same mixture of Marxist Internationalism and Russian Nationalism. “Две вещи несовместные” (“two things that are incompatible”) as the Russian poet Pushkin might say. Stalin, in his time, squared this circle by declaring “Socialism will be built in one country.” In other words, just in the Russian sphere of influence, and preferably nowhere else.
In the current Russian context, the Great White Whale in the room is President Putin. Putin is Russia’s Napoleon (without a Waterloo as yet), he is the man who basically saved Russia from complete annihilation after The Calamity. You can come here to blame him, or you can come here to praise him, but every political force in Russia has to come to terms with Putin and decide: Friend or Foe. The Limonovites and their ilk, like the vast majority of the political forces and movements in Russia, eventually made their inner peace with Putin. Yet they have not completely given up on their fantasy of putting the Soviet Union back together, like Humpty Dumpty. In the meantime, they fight to preserve as much as they can, of the Soviet past, of socialist practices, and the Russian historical traditions. Maybe not such a contradiction after all: Just Hegel’s Dialectic in action! Or, if Tolstoy were still around, he might write something about the God of History and how it uses and re-uses people (and sometimes very odd people, indeed) for its own purposes. How else to explain how men like Prilepin, a poet and political activist, became one of the military commanders who helped to repulse a NATO-trained army?
Which brings us to Veselov’s vignettes. Veselov travelled into Donbass and met personally with these men, about whom he writes.
Major Prilepin is the Deputy Commander of the Intelligence-Gathering Storm Battalion (aka “spetsnaz” which is Russian for “special assignments”) of the Army of the Donetsk Peoples Republic (DPR). Prilepin’s Battalion, which is subordinate directly to DPR head Alexander Zakharchenko, does not have a cool nickname, unlike some of the other DPR Battalions (e.g., “Sparta”, “Somalia”, “East”, etc.) It is referred to simply as Prilepin’s Battalion.
“We have enough volunteers to fill up another whole battalion,” Prilepin told the reporter. “We mostly enlist the locals, although we also have volunteers from other countries. We actually try not to take volunteers from Russia. We get a lot of requests, though. But we don’t want to take, for example, men who just had a fight with their wife and decided, Now I’ll go off to war!”
When Prilepin, himself a Russian poet, decided to join the army in Donetsk, his action was not understood nor well received within his own milieue, that of a mainly liberal literary intelligentsia. “Some people told me that a writer should not participate in that manner. And yet these same (critics) actively and warmly support the Kiev government. This is outright hypocrisy!”
Prilepin arrived in Donbass at the very beginning of the Ukrainian Civil War. “I served here in various capacities — as a war correspondent, also delivering humanitarian aid, like a jack of all trades. When all of this began, in the spring of 2014, we unleashed a project called InterBrigades, and started to secretly syphon volunteers into the area. At first into Luhansk, then into Donetsk. But we were constantly thinking it might be time to start our own unit. Towards the end of 2015 I, as a very well-known entity in Donetsk, was asked to take up the position as consultant to the DPR administration in the area of information and media. Later I became Advisor to Zakharchenko.
“Still later, in the middle of a conversation about various issues, I proposed this to [Zakharchenko]: Alexander Vladimirovich, with your permission I will put together a battalion. I can get a serious number of people from Luhansk. Maybe 200, maybe 400, maybe 600, maybe 800, as many as you need.
“On July 7 of last year, we decided to do this, and by October we had put together the battalion. It went to work in earnest in November . It’s been almost a year now!”
Ukrainian media has speculated that Prilepin’s switch from “civil” to “military” service coincided with the assassinations of charismatic Rebel leaders Motorola (Arsen Pavlov) and Givi (Mikhail Tolstykh). As in, Prilepin was friends with both men, and their assassination caused him to take up arms. This theory does not coincide with the actual chronology of events, though, according to Prilepin: “Givi was killed in February 2017, and I was already a Deputy Commander by then. Then some other bloodsuckers started whispering: You see, Givi was killed, and then Prilepin appears. When Motorola was killed, I decided deep within myself, that my task was to return to Slavyansk and erect a monument to Motorola. But the fact is, the battalion already existed by then.”
Prilepin went on to utter this warning: “Notwithstanding all the little diversions on the Ukrainian side, I know very well who killed Motorola and who killed Givi. I know their actual names! These murders were committed by the other side, by Kiev. The assassinations were carried out by diversionaries who were located in Donetsk. There was even a woman-diversionary who participated. All of these people have been identified.
“Let me go even one step further: The people who assassinated Givi have all been punished. I am not able to tell you all the details. These details will be revealed after ALL the participants in these assassinations have been punished.”
[to be continued]