‘Donbass’ International Brigade

Reuters / Maxim Shemetov

Reuters / Maxim Shemetov

Nadezhda Kevorkova is a war correspondent who has covered the events of the Arab Spring, military and religious conflicts around the world, and the anti-globalization movement.

November 17, 2014

The strength and whereabouts of the International Brigade operating in east Ukraine is a secret. Yet it is possible to interview the unit’s ragtag troops. They have no single ideology or political affiliation.

But they do believe in accepting volunteers regardless of their background and religion.

The brigade’s ranks include Christians, Muslims and atheists; miners and novice monks; young and old; loners and family men. It even has a few young women.

Most of them have never even heard of the Spanish Civil War where the term “International Brigade” springs from. They have no idea of Communism or Socialism. Sticking to the old Soviet mindset, they still regard Nestor Makhno, the Donbass-born Civil War hero, a symbol of anarchy, while seeing Joseph Stalin as the epitome of order. They have no idea that it was Stalin who stopped aiding the International Brigades in the middle of the Spanish Civil War, effectively enabling General Franco’s Nationalists to win.

And if today’s International Brigade fighters are to win their war, they have yet to develop an ideology to underpin their unity. The only ideology they currently share is their brotherhood in arms.

Abkhazian

The International Brigade’s commander, 28 (call sign ‘Abkhaz’) is an ethnic Abkhazian coming from Sochi.

He was six when his father fought in Abkhazia.

“I am a war child,” he says.

His son is also six.

“When he grows up he’ll ask me whether I was watching the war in the news. Thousands of Russian citizens came over to fight this war; this is why I am here as well,” he explains.

Abkhaz has been here in Donetsk since the early summer.

He had served in the Armed Forces as a conscript at the Russian military base in Abkhazia. He was an infantry rifleman.

“We Abkhazians have been trained since childhood. We are hunters, so we are familiar with arms,” he says, “An armed people ensure their own security.”

Not all the rebels share his views however. Paradoxically, many are concerned that the Donbass residents rush to get their hands on weapons abandoned by Ukrainians – at times even ahead of the militias themselves.

His father and uncle were observers at the Donetsk elections.

Abkhaz joined the unit not because he wanted to start a new life, or because he was a failure back home. He had a degree in economics; and he had a job and did social activities in Sochi. He was growing vegetables in a greenhouse that his brothers and he had built. As for his social activities, he was planting trees, and helping establish relations between rap fans, racers, and other subculture groups with the city administration.

So Abkhaz joined the war not only as a skillful fighter but as someone with experience of settling ethnic and other kinds of conflicts. His background of communicating with the young in society in Sochi became handy here.

Reuters / Shamil Zhumatov

Reuters / Shamil Zhumatov

His father is a Muslim, and his mother is a Christian.

“What I’ve seen here is something I’ve dreamed of. This isn’t a war between Ukraine and Donbass; this is global showdown. They think we are a professional army or some kind of Special Forces – this is just ludicrous. I am attached to my homeland; I was enjoying myself working my grandmother’s garden. But I want to justify the confidence of my fighters who have chosen me as their commander. Most of them come from occupied areas; some are hereditary miners eager to restore their mines. I want to help them win their freedom – them and their cities, towns, and mines.”

This explanation makes the biggest sense out of everything I’ve heard so far. Others keep ranting about fighting the Kiev Fascists, junta, and oligarchs.

They believe they are fighting for the borders of the Donetsk Oblast:

“We’ll see what happens when we reach the borders of the Donetsk Republic. Some of my fighters who are from Kharkov and Zaporozhe want to move the borderline even further. Generally, the River Dnieper is the borderline. But I also wouldn’t rule out that the Ukrainian Army would turn around and go against Kiev.”

Chechen

“Emergency” is the call sign of a 22-year old Chechen. While being an only son, he still secured their blessing to go to war. His mother is a high school principal and an English teacher. His father had fought in the Georgian-Abkhazian War.

Emergency speaks Arabic having attended a madrasah. He was also trained as a lawyer, and did military service for a year. He has come to Donbass together with his uncle.

Emergency is on reconnaissance, and he cannot talk about his experience soldiering. He has only been back with his unit for two weeks, having recovered from shrapnel wound that had nearly ripped his carotid artery.

Emergency is a practicing Muslim.

“I get up at 5:30am to pray, ahead of everyone else,” he says. “I pray five times a day. There are also guys from Dagestan here. We Muslims get food cooked separately for us. There is halal meat in a local store, so they buy it for us. Drinking is prohibited in our brigade.”

Emergency has met no other Chechens fighting in Donbass save for himself and his uncle, though he has sure heard of the media hype alleging their presence in strength.

“Well, let them tell those tales if they want to,” he smirks.

Reuters / Shamil Zhumatov

Reuters / Shamil Zhumatov

Bashkir

The local gunner, 31, (call sign “Black”) was born here in Donetsk. His father is a Bashkir, and his mother, a Ukrainian. Black speaks Ukrainian.

He is not willing to marry any time soon. “I might get married after the war is over. A family is a distraction,” he says.

Upon graduating from school, he wanted to study at a military academy but they would only enroll him if he paid a bribe. He is a vocal opponent of corruption, and so he had to serve in the army. Following his two-year duty, he signed a contract and served as a paratrooper. He joined the militia in June.

“I am gunner,” he tells me. “I’ve got many fellow troops fighting on the other side. One calls me up, from time to time, after getting drunk. If they are all like him, we are going to win this war,” he adds.

“I didn’t want a war. I worked as a guard, and was waiting for a miracle, a repeat of the Crimea story, that Donbass would just join Russia. But hostilities flared up in Slavyansk, and the chances for a miracle were dying away. I simply couldn’t go to work. I joined the militia thanks to a friend of mine when it was all still quiet,” says Black.

He took part in the battle for the local airport and the fighting near the town of Shakhtersk.

“We are part of an assault unit. We don’t man any roadblocks, we are idle during this ceasefire,” he explains.

“I am platoon commander and must act as a role model for the boys,” he tells me. Black recalls four of his friends who died. They found the bodies of three of them but the remains of the fourth were never located.

His family is in the dark about his mission. “I didn’t tell anyone, and so my mom, sister and two brothers still think I work for the private security company.”

“I chose my way, and will stick to it,” says the platoon commander. During his time with the militia he was paid only for the previous month.

“I wear what I managed to buy myself. Many of the boys wear the uniform and the gear they capture in battle. The Ukrainians from the Cherkassy battalion left all their gear during the hasty retreat. We’ve made good use of it. It’s all high quality. Both armies use Kalashnikov rifles. We didn’t see any foreign weapons.”

“We don’t have a situation when someone has three rifles and another one doesn’t have any. We make sure that everyone has what they need,” explains the platoon commander.

“The striped vest and blue berets were introduced as the uniform for Soviet airborne troops by Margelov (general of the Soviet army, WWII veteran, holder of the Hero of Soviet Union – RT), and came from the Ukrainian city of Dnepropetrovsk. He is a role model for all of us,” he says.

“I do worry about the future of my land. I didn’t dig deep into the ideology. Anyway, monarch or oligarchy is not for us. I like Joseph Stalin, he was strong and kept everything under control,” he represents his politics.

Russian

“Student”, 25, is from Novosibirsk. He married an 18-year-old girl at 15, with a bit of cheating of course, and now has an 8-year-old daughter.

“I’ve had enough during these nine years of marriage. I got divorced. We used to have rows before,” he told me.

Back home, he dodged the military draft and worked as a foreman, renovating apartments.

His father is serving his time in jail, and Student himself uses a lot of prison jargon but no foul language. It’s not allowed in the unit.

His mother works as a doctor in a maternity clinic. He’s got a sister, too.

“They know where I am, and they strongly support me,” he tells me.

“I was tired to watching the news from Ukraine. I couldn’t sit idle any longer, and so in September I came here, and these guys, they are my brothers now,” he explains.

Reuters / Shamil Zhumatov

Reuters / Shamil Zhumatov

He got into the unit by chance – on his way to Ukraine he made some new friends and they helped him get here.

“The Ukraine’s new government thinks it can do anything it wants. But it’s high time we kicked them out. Donbass is a sovereign state. I came here as a guest, and I am going to help them win so it’s peace and quiet again. I’ll then come back for my vacation once it’s all over,” he muses.

“They gave me a gun, and so I learned to use it,” that’s how he describes his military experience.

Student likes it here in Donbass, although he doesn’t plan to settle down here.

“There’s law and order here, and even the traffic police are on patrol. Everything is under control.”

He, too, views Stalin as a role model. One of his concerns is too many weapons in the hands of the local people. “They should lay down the arms after it’s all over. It’s bad when you have so many guns in the community.”

Ukrainian

23-year-old ‘Cabin’ is from Donetsk. He joined the rebels on May 26, and on the very first day found himself in the airport shooting. They armed all the fighters who were there, and a fight began, recalls Cabin. He served one year in the Ukrainian Armed Forces as a conscript with an airborne unit, and was planning to reenlist.

“But then everything changed, and I left. I didn’t want to stay on that side, with their nationalist views and nationalist symbols, even though at that time I had no idea that there would be ‘this side’,” he said.

“I was participating in all the rallies, and then I joined the Oplot Battalion (commanded by the newly elected Prime Minister Zakharchenko – RT)”

Cabin’s uniform looks spectacular:

“It was gathered piece by piece. I got some items as presents, others, as trophies.”

He has a university degree in electrical engineering. His family consists of his mother and grandfather. The grandfather comes from Western Ukraine; however his family was [Russian] Orthodox rather than Roman Catholic.

“We have many Russian Orthodox believers with us here. Our friend, a monk, was killed here in August. He had fought in Afghanistan during Soviet times. Then he took the vows and went on a self-discovery journey. He got a deadly wound in his abdomen,” explained Cabin.

They also have a deacon nicknamed “Small Guy”: “He secretly brings priests here across the border to do church services for our fighters, and then takes them back,” said the fighter.

Reuters / Marko Djurica

Reuters / Marko Djurica

Fiancée

Cabin has a fiancée in the unit. Her call sigh is “Little Cabin.”

“I met him at one of the rallies. We realized that we shared common views and positions. That’s how we got together,” says the young lady.

She comes from Donbass. She was working as a general practitioner, and was doing her medical residency. She was looking at great career prospects.

“I gave up my job without thinking twice. The unit needs medical workers badly. My mother and brother both supported my decision, even though my brother isn’t fighting. There are those who have to fight, and others, who would be killed immediately,” said the young lady.

“I am an independent person. I’ve left my family long ago, so they had no choice but to support me. They knew that I would do what I thought was right anyway,” she explained.

The fighters protect her, and don’t take her out in the fields with them.

“We have a physician and military nurses with combat experience, so they are the ones participating in fights. I asked to go out as well but was strictly forbidden to,” says Little Cabin.

“We’ll get married after the war. We have four couples in our unit who got married already. One of them had a baby, and two other girls are pregnant. But we want to wait for the time when we’ve won our freedom.”

She explained that at first, an Orthodox Brigade was established.

“But it didn’t really work well. We transferred to the Interbrigade once we heard about it.”

Novice Monk

“Deacon” is 36. He had no family and grew up in an orphanage. He got an economist manager degree at a technical college, and worked at the Donetsk central market.

“I was tired of worldly living. I didn’t want to be surrounded by people driven by money,” recalls Deacon.

His nickname was coined for a reason. He had been a novice at the Svetlodarsk Monastery in Ukraine for four years.

“My Father Superior blessed me for the fight. I know the brothers are praying for me. There were 12 of us novices who came here. I’ve been fighting for five months now. I was wounded as well, got a moderately severe wound,” says the fighter.

“I do the shooting, this is my job,” he explains.

“They shell our cathedrals. They destroyed a convent near the airport. They shot a priest dead in Konstantinovka last May. So the Orthodox believers are here for a reason. When I was recovering from my wound I met a monk who had also been wounded here,” says Deacon.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

 

 

 

 

 

Catalunya Cancels Vote to Secede From Spain, but Calls for Nonbinding Ballot

Students protested in Barcelona last week after Spain's Constitutional Court issued a ruling that prevented Catalonia from holding an independence referendum on Nov. 9. Lluis Gene/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Students protested in Barcelona last week after Spain’s Constitutional Court issued a ruling that prevented Catalonia from holding an independence referendum on Nov. 9. Lluis Gene/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

 

The Times

In his latest act of defiance toward Madrid, Artur Mas, the Catalan leader, called off his push for a secession vote next month but announced that the regional Catalan government would instead urge its citizens to take part in a looser, nonbinding consultation on the same date. He added that his government had the right to organize such an expression of popular will and that doing so would not violate Spanish law.

“We have sufficient strength to do what we said we would do, which is to consult the people of Catalonia,” Mr. Mas said at a televised news conference. “There will be ballot boxes and papers” on Nov. 9, he added.

Catalans in Barcelona were among hundreds of thousands in a human chain on Wednesday to show support for separating from Spain.

His alternative plan is less likely to push Spain into a constitutional crisis, even if it creates, at least for now, further political and legal uncertainty and continues to be opposed by the central government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. An informal ballot would also struggle to receive the international legitimacy that Mr. Mas had hoped to achieve with a vote.

In the coming weeks, Mr. Mas also faces a significant challenge in keeping other pro-independence parties aligned with his governing Convergence party. “We continue to go forward, but at the moment not as united as 10 days ago,” he said.

Mr. Mas, a late but staunch convert to secessionism, has been trying to lead Catalonia toward independence without being held responsible for provoking an unprecedented crisis for Spain. Catalonia, Spain’s economic powerhouse, has been pushing for a vote on secession that the central government has vowed to block. Mr. Rajoy is also counting on the support of Spain’s Constitutional Court.

Mr. Mas and Mr. Rajoy have been at loggerheads for two years, initially over fiscal issues. However, tensions came to the fore late last month, when Mr. Mas signed a decree approving the Nov. 9 vote. Mr. Mas contends that his position had been made untenable by Mr. Rajoy’s refusal to talk, even after Scotland rejected independence from Britain in a referendum in September.

Mr. Rajoy’s government has steadfastly refused to allow Catalans to vote on independence and, if anything, has been emboldened by the failure of the Scottish push for secession.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr. Rajoy described the cancellation of the Catalan vote as “excellent news.” He said at an economic conference in Madrid that “Spain is a democracy and an advanced country, and to comply with the law is an obligation for everybody.”

But Mr. Mas later sought to dampen Mr. Rajoy’s celebration.

“There are people who say they have excellent news, but excellent news sometimes lasts only a few hours,” Mr. Mas said. He added that his government had “competencies in terms of consultation” of its citizens, without specifying how his latest plan could be deemed legal by Spanish courts.

Mr. Mas must now hope a nonbinding referendum can generate sufficient popular enthusiasm amid discord among the main secessionist parties and without legal guarantees from the government of Spain.

However, the possibility that Mr. Mas will instead eventually switch to a longer-term strategy to achieve an independent Catalonia, by calling for new elections for the regional Parliament, raises the prospect that Mr. Rajoy will end up facing a Catalan Parliament controlled by more hard-line secessionist politicians than Mr. Mas.

Mr. Mas changed tack on Tuesday after a long, tense meeting with other secessionist politicians on Monday, during which he failed to gain their support for his latest consultation plan. After that meeting, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, a left-wing secessionist party that has the second-largest representation in Catalonia’s Parliament, issued a statement suggesting that it wanted new elections to move swiftly toward a unilateral declaration of independence.

“I don’t consider what happened yesterday as the burial of the consensus in Catalonia,” Mr. Mas said. “The real adversary isn’t within Catalonia, but it is the Spanish state, which is doing everything possible to deny us the right to vote.”

Mr. Mas was also forced to forget his voting decree after the Constitutional Court recently ordered the suspension of the Catalan voting campaign pending a final ruling on its legality. The court could take as long as five months to rule.

Still, Mr. Mas insisted that the vote on Nov. 9 would look similar to what had initially been planned, organized with the help of more than 20,000 volunteers, held in polling stations across Catalonia and with the backing of 920 town halls that recently voted in favor of a secession ballot in November.

On Tuesday, Mr. Rajoy suggested that he would be willing to reopen talks with Mr. Mas, if his voting plan was shelved. “We need to dialogue and speak,” Mr. Rajoy said.

Mr. Mas has fanned expectations for independence among Catalans since a falling out with Madrid in 2012, after Mr. Rajoy rejected a Catalan request to reduce its contribution to a Spanish system that redistributes tax revenues from richer to poorer regions.

The fiscal dispute coincided with hundreds of thousands filling downtown Barcelona on Catalonia’s national day to push for independence. Catalonia has 7.5 million people, 16 percent of Spain’s population, and it accounts for 19 percent of the nation’s output.

Salmond: “The Dream Shall Never Die”

Scotland's First Minister Alec Salmond reacts as he concedes defeat in the independence referendum at the "Yes" Campaign headquarters in Edinburgh, Scotland September 19, 2014. (Reuters / Russell Cheyne)

Scotland’s First Minister Alec Salmond reacts as he concedes defeat in the independence referendum at the “Yes” Campaign headquarters in Edinburgh, Scotland September 19, 2014. (Reuters / Russell Cheyne)

Scotland’s First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) is resigning from office after losing Thursday’s independence referendum.

Scots voted to stay in the UK following an intense campaign. The ‘No’ campaign rallied 55 percent of votes against 45 percent ‘Yes’ votes.

“We lost the referendum vote but Scotland can still carry the political initiative,” he told journalists and supporters.

“For me as leader my time is nearly over but for Scotland the campaign continues and the dream shall never die.”

In terms of who will replace him, Salmond says there are a “number of eminently qualified and very suitable candidates for leader.”

When asked what his reasons were for resigning, Salmond said “I had to make a judgement as to whether I’m best placed to take that opportunity forward – and I think others are.”

Deputy First Minister and Deputy SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, is the overwhelming favourite to replace Salmond as party leader.

The First Minister spoke to Prime Minister David Cameron on Friday. He said the PM would not commit to a second reading vote by March 27 on a devolved powers ‘Scotland Bill’, which had been promised by former-PM and ‘No’ campaigner Gordon Brown during the campaign.

“I suspect he cannot guarantee the support of his party,” Salmond said, referring to the backbench Tory rebellion against new powers to Scotland.

“But today the point is this. The real guardians of progress are not the politicians at Westminster, or even at Holyrood, but the energised activism of tens of thousands of people who I predict will refuse meekly to go back into the political shadows.”

Leadership nominations will open at the SNP’s Annual Conference in Perth, November 13-15, said Salmond.

“After the membership ballot I will stand down as First Minister to allow the new leader to be elected by due Parliamentary process.

“Until then I will continue to serve as First Minister. After that I will continue to offer to serve as Member of the Scottish Parliament for Aberdeenshire East.”

Salmond said it had been “the privilege of my life” to serve as First Minister.

Closing his statement, he outlined the position facing supporters of independence.

“The position is this. We lost the referendum vote but can still carry the political initiative. More importantly Scotland can still emerge as the real winner.”

Alex Salmond resigns hours after Scotland’s no vote is revealed

President Artur Mas: Stripping Catalonia of Autonomous Status Will Not Stop Independence Vote

Depriving Catalonia of its autonomous rights will not stop the region's independence movement: Catalan president

Depriving Catalonia of its autonomous rights will not stop the region’s independence movement: Catalan president

 

MADRID, September 16 (RIA Novosti) – Depriving Catalonia of its autonomous rights will not stop the region’s independence movement, Catalan president Artur Mas said on Tuesday.

“[The Spanish government] should not think that this will stop the course of history,” Mas told Catalan lawmakers, adding that Madrid should learn from UK authorities, whose policies have made the upcoming Scottish referendum possible.

Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said earlier on Tuesday that Spain would use “all legal tools available to prevent a separation referendum” in Catalonia, including stripping the region of its autonomous status.

According to Mas, the Madrid government is showing double standards, as it appeals to the law, but chooses “not to comply with it whenever necessary.”

“Do not be surprised that there are people in the region who believe that the time has come to achieve [autonomy] in other ways,” Mas stated.

The Catalan leader noted that he would not go as far as claiming that all Catalans want independence, but said that the residents of the autonomous community wished to establish just how many of them want the region to secede from Spain.

“The movement for Catalan rights is not dead. It is now more alive than ever, but in a different form, as it is no longer asking the government for authority or resources, but rather for a nationwide survey,” Mas said.

Tensions in Catalonia about secession from Spain have increased in light of the upcoming Scottish independence referendum, which will be held on September 18.

A referendum on Catalan’s independence has been set for November 9. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the Constitutional Court of Spain have repeatedly stressed that they will not recognize the results of the vote, which they consider illegal.

Wales, Catalunya and the Basques May Follow Scotland in Its Search for Independence

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Republican writing supporting the Yes vote in the Scottish Referendum on a mountain in West Belfast, Northern Ireland, Monday, Sept. 8, 2014.

 

MOSCOW, September 12 (RIA Novosti) – Inspired by Scotland’s example Wales may also claim its independence in a few years, the Guardian reported Friday.

“It will take a lot of work but I think it can happen. I’m over 50 now but we can see independence here in my lifetime,” Welsh political campaigner and popular children”s author Angharad Tomos told the Guardian after returning from Scotland.

Before the Scottish referendum went forward, debates about independence in Wales were widely seen as impossible, but now there is a growing optimism among Welsh nationalists.

Although Welsh people are aware of the arguments against independence, such as the fact that Wales is not economically strong enough and is located too close to England to be separated, some locals still believe that one day Wales could secede from the United Kingdom. Just as the Scottish people do, Welsh claim that the reason for all of the problems in the country is Westminster’s dominance.

“People tell us we’re a poor country. Wales is not poor. We’ve got huge natural resources. We’re poor because Westminster makes the rules. They’ve never made the rules in favor of us and it’s getting worse. People are having to use food banks; I never thought that would happen. There’s so much unemployment in my area [north west Wales] that young people are disempowered and leaving,” Tomos said.

Some Welsh politicians agree that independence in Wales should no longer be seen as a pipe dream, but rather as a long-term aspiration.

“Six hundred years ago our state was destroyed. We’re playing catch-up. There are 641 castles in Wales. We may be the most militarily occupied nation in the history of Europe. We have to go through a period of de-occupation in our minds. In this century, maybe in our generation, Wales will be an independent state. We need to prepare for that,” the Guardian quoted Adam Price, Welsh politician and former Plaid Cymru member as saying.

Although the majority of Welsh people prefer to live just as they are now and do not want to change the status quo, with recent polls showing that only few percent of voters in Wales would back the independence, everyone agrees that a “Yes” vote is Scotland would have a major impact for the rest of the United Kingdom.

“While a decision to go it alone lies with the people of Scotland, a yes vote would have a major impact for the rest of the UK, and regardless of the result it is important for us to consider our future constitutional arrangements in Wales,” Carwyn Jones, the leader of Welsh Labour and the first minister told the Guardian.

The long-standing issue of the Scottish independence is to be settled by a referendum scheduled for September 18, when voters will be asked one question only, “Should Scotland become an independent country?”

If the majority of Scots vote for independence, then on March 24, 2016 Scotland will secede from the United Kingdom.