Here’s a hypothetical telephone conversation.
Hello, Acme Life Insurance….You bet your life, we give you odds. Who’s calling?
My name is Alexei and I want a million dollars worth of life insurance.
Thank you, Alexei. We can handle a million-dollar policy. Where are you calling from?
The Donetsk People’s Republic. It used to be Eastern Ukraine.
Isn’t there a war going on there?
Isn’t it dangerous?
I’m safe and surrounded at all times by armed guards.
Still sounds dangerous.
How about if I move to Moscow?
Yes, that would be safer than Donetsk. By the way, Mr. Alexei, what is your occupation?
I’m the leader of a pro-Russian secessionist militia.
This is what is known as an ambiguous ending. Was the click because the insurer hung up, or because the Ukrainian paramilitary guy was suddenly hung out to dry?
The past couple of years have been an actual actuarial nightmare for the men who have led insurgent forces in the pro-Russian secessionist war in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and what’s been killing them have not been bullets from the battlefield, but rockets, bombs and, yes, bullets fired at close range, but far from the front lines.
Who’s been responsible? And what purposes have been served by these killings? New York Times Moscow Correspondent Andrew Kramer has covered the war in Ukraine and this series of executions of paramilitary commanders, including the most recent death, of Mikhail Tolstykh, a.k.a. Givi, killed in Donetsk, when an RPG flew through his office window and detonated. Just the week before, another rebel leader in the next-door runaway province of Luhansk died when his car blew up.
4 months earlier, back in Donetsk, another paramilitary leader, Arsen Pavlov, nicknamed Motorola stepped into an elevator with his bodyguard. A bomb went off and both men were killed.
Over the past 2 years, 4 more commanders in the secessionist provinces have been assassinated, while another activist, Yevhen Zhilin, was shot dead in an upmarket Moscow restaurant last year, in what observers called a very professional-looking hit.
Andrew Kramer, thanks so much for joining our HERE & THERE conversation.
I guess the big questions here are who dunnit and why? The 4 leading suspects, at least generically are, the Ukrainian Security Services, the Russian Security Services, rival commanders from within the secessionist movement or their own rank and file.
That’s who the Ukrainian Government accused in the death of Givi, saying ordered the very recent attack on the town of Avdiivka in which a lot of secessionist insurgents were killed, which led them to eliminate their commander in revenge. Make sense to you?
Andrew Kramer is a Moscow correspondent for the NY Times. He has been actively covering the war in Ukraine as well as this string of murders of Ukrainian secessionist paramilitary commanders.