Skip to comments.Russian Mercenaries at War in the Balkans
Posted on 08/05/2003 12:47:50 PM PDT by Fusion
While most war crimes committed by Serb forces during the Balkan wars are being investigated and made public knowledge, the role played by Russian mercenaries kontraktniki [contract soldiers] deserves more attention. Many Russian citizens voluntarily fought in the Balkans for the government of Serbian President Slobodan Miloeviæ, committing a range of crimes along the way including mass murder, assault and battery, rape, robbery, and theft. Most, if not all, of these Russian kontraktniki war criminals have gone unidentified by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague hence, so far, unpunished. As the Miloeviæ trial continues to hear witness accounts of atrocities in Kosova, Croatia and Bosnia, the little known part that Russians played in assisting Miloeviæ with these crimes is explained below.
Enrique Bernales Ballesteros, Special Rapporteur of the UN Secretary General, discovered in 1994 that Russians started serving in the Serbian army (then called JNA) in 1991. Between 1991 and 1995, JNAs Russians, along with Ukrainian and Rumanian kontraktniki, fought in Bosnia-Herzegovina (B-H) against the mainly Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) and Croat Bosnian forces. At the beginning of the conflict in Bosnia, the Serbs did not have enough pilots and hired Russians to fill the gap. In Pale, Republika Srpska (RS) within Bosnia, there is a registered association of kontraktniki, which keeps track of the Russian mercenaries who served with the JNA in Bosnia. In the beginning of 1994, near the village of Gomolje, Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Aleksandar Skrabov, a member of the Russian naval infantry, was killed in battle. After the end of his mandate in the forces of UNPROFOR, Skrabov had taken command of the Russian kontraktniki force in the so-called Army of Republika Srpska (VRS). In April 1995, the commander of the UNPROFOR Sector East forces, the Russian General Pereljakin, who had been replaced for dereliction of duty, was appointed as an adviser to the commander of the Baranja division of the Army of the Krajina (RSK) - Serb-occupied Croatia.
During May 1995, a group of Russian and Greek kontraktniki arrived in the Gacko-Avtovac region from the town of Uice in Serbia, at the invitation of the command of the Herzegovina Corps of the VRS, which intended to organize an international brigade. The members of this brigade (which actually numbered around 150 troops) wore one-piece, overall type black Russian uniforms with black berets or flight caps. They operated in eastern B-H, including Bijeljina county. Most of their members were officers above the rank of captain from the special units of the Russian Ministry of Defense, who had deserted the Russian military when Boris Yeltsin came to power. The Russians received 200 German Marks monthly. They were mostly veterans of the war in Afghanistan, and were paid based on the territory they captured. Five of those kontraktniki wounded in action in and around epa, were treated at the Uice hospital. The Russians worked with the Serb mobster eljko Ranatoviæ Arkan's Serb Volunteer Guard (the so-called Tigers), as well as with Vojislav eeljs White Eagles in Kalinovik county. They protected and escorted fuel delivery convoys to the VRS from Arkan's smuggling operation in Belgrade.
A contingent of Greek kontraktniki was formed in March 1995 at Serb General Ratko Mladiæ's request. The Greek Volunteer Guard (GVG) rapidly became a regular fighting unit with its own insignia - a white double-headed eagle on a black background. In September 1995, four of its members received the White Eagle medal of honour from Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadiæ. The GVG had around 100 soldiers and was based in Vlasenica near Tuzla. The GVG unit was fully integrated into the Drina Corps of the Serb Army and was led by Serb officers. Towards the end of the war in B-H, when the Bosnian Serbs attacked the UN safe area of Srebrenica in August 1995, Greek kontraktniki participated in the attack and raised the blue and white Greek flag triumphantly when the enclave fell. Over 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were massacred in Srebrenica, and General Mladiæ has been indicted by the ICTY on charges related to the killings.
Kosova 1998-9: recruitment and organization
During the Serb ethnic cleansing of the Albanians in Kosova in 1998 and 1999, and even during the NATO campaign against Serbia in 1999, the Russian Federation supported the Miloeviæ regime in Belgrade, both politically and materially. Russian and Belorussian relief convoys openly travelled to Serbia, carrying vital military aid such as electronic components for Serbias Russian-made air defense systems, disguised as humanitarian aid. Russian help was not limited to military technology but also included actual manpower. In 1998, Miloeviæ decided to hire Russian kontraktniki and ordered Serb minister of internal affairs and fellow indicted war criminal Vlajko Stojiljkoviæ to recruit volunteers for this purpose. The ministry of internal affairs (MUP), with the help of the Serbian foreign ministry, recruited kontraktniki through construction and international trade companies such as Yugoimport (run by Major General Jovan Èekoviæ), working on building and restoration projects in Russia, and sent them to Serbia. Miloeviæ s brother Borislav, in his capacity as Serbian ambassador in Moscow, acted as the overall coordinator for Russian mercenary recruitment, as well as trafficking of other Russian war materiel sent to Serbia during the conflict. Yugoslav ABK Bank, which operates a branch office in Moscow, was also instrumental in sending Russian kontraktniki to fight in Kosova. Many Russian kontraktniki of Cossack origin were recruited by ABKs Moscow office.
Following the beginning of NATO's 78-day campaign in Yugoslavia in March 1999, a number of Russian political and civic organizations signed up volunteers to fight against Kosovar Albanians. For example, the extreme nationalist Russian politician and Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky recruited kontraktniki to fight in Kosova via his militant youth organization the Falcons. General Viktor Filatov, an LDP organizer signed up Russian volunteers in March 1999, but by then those were too late to join the fight. Russian volunteers were also recruited by the neo-Nazi Aleksandr Barkashovs Russian National Unity Movements branches. In early April a group of Russian kontraktniki arrived in the northern Serbian city of Novi Sad. They had been recruited by the Russian-Yugoslav Fraternity Fund and were organized by Vlado Mièunoviæ, chairman of the Yugoslav branch of the fund.
According to Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Vladimir Mukhin, Russian reservists and military retirees took part in fighting in Kosova. The commander of the Russian Armys Far Eastern military district, Victor Chechevatov, filed an official request with the Russian general staff to send kontraktniki to Serbia. It is plausible that some Russian kontraktniki who fought in Kosova may have been actual Russian servicemen, members of OMON and SOBR elite paramilitary police units, Russian military intelligence (GRU) commando brigades, Spetsnaz brigades or airborne units such as the 76th Pskov Guards Air Assault/Airborne Division, and the 331st regiment in the 98th Kostroma Airborne Division, members of which have been deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosova as peacekeepers since the end of the hostilities in Kosova in Summer 1999. Russian kontraktniki routinely came through Belgrade and encountered no problems with Serbian officials, even though they had no baggage and were clearly on their way to join the war. Wounded Russian volunteers were treated in hospitals in Serbia.
Some of the Russians who volunteered to serve with MUP were deployed with the 124th Intervention Brigade of the Special Police Units (SJP), later decorated by Miloeviæ for their service in Kosova. On the ground, Russians serving with MUP worked closely with the Serbian 3rd Armys Prishtina Corps commanded by Major General Vladimir Lazareviæ, the 52nd Military Police Battalion led by Major eljko Pekoviæ, and the VJs 549th Motorized Brigade, commanded by Colonel Boidar Deliæ. An SJP brigade was stationed at Grmija, a resort area near Prishtina in Kosova and Russian kontraktniki operated out of this base. Russian kontraktniki serving with the SJP wore the regular dark blue Serbian MUP uniforms and the red berets of the SJP, making them indistinguishable from Serbian police. Western intelligence sources believe that there are many war criminals among the Serbian SJP members who committed atrocities during the Bosnian war. SJP members boasted good quality equipment purchased in the West, especially boots, costing over $200 per pair, which could endure long marches.
Some Russian kontraktniki were also attached to one of MUPs two Special Antiterrorist Force (SAJ) units. The members of this 700-strong SAJ unit were deployed in Prishtina, Kosova under the command of Zoran Simoviæ Tutinac. Russian kontraktniki, like Serb SAJ members, wore dark brown uniforms and black head masks with apertures for the eyes. As commander of the MUP SAJ, General Obrad Stevanoviæ, and Major General Senta Milenkoviæ and as commander of the MUP HQ General Sreten Lukiæ, were responsible for overseeing the Russian kontraktniki. They worked closely with Lieutenant General Geza Farkas, head of the VJ Security Service (military intelligence). Serb intelligence officer Franko Frenki Simatoviæ, commander of the Special Forces (JSO) of Serbian State Security (RDB), and his associates Raja Bozoviæ and former Belgrade police chief Radomir Markoviæ deployed their red-beret troops in Kosova as well. Frenkis Boys, as they were known, operated alongside other paramilitary formations such as the White Eagles (under the command of Milan Lukiæ and his cousin Sredoje Lukiæ) and the Tigers in Kosova, as they had in Bosnia 3 years earlier during ethnic cleansing operations against the Bosniaks.
Operation Horseshoe: the deployment - 1998
Operation Horseshoe was the codename for Miloeviæs plan to ethnically cleanse Kosova of Albanians. A copy of the blueprint for Operation Horseshoe in the hands of the ICTY in The Hague proves that ethnic cleansing measures had been planned during 1998. Yugoslav 3rd Army chief Gen. Neboja Pavkoviæ was in charge of the VJ forces in Kosova. In the weeks leading up to the Serbian campaign, Pavkoviæ moved 40,000 additional troops into Kosova or along its borders with Serbia proper, and was working closely with MUP units. Pavkoviæ took his orders from Gen. Dragoljub Ojdaniæ, then freshly appointed VJ chief of staff, another indicted war criminal. Ojdaniæ's appointment in November 1998 was key in leading to the mass killing operations in Kosova, as he showed no inhibition about having the VJ help MUP units carrying out brutal acts. In some cases, Russian kontraktniki of MUP units operated under VJ control.
Arkans Tigers, Frenkis Boys and eeljs White Eagles all appeared in Skenderaj (Srbica) county in Drenica, Kosova in January 1998. Arkan, Captain Dragan (an Australian national of Serb descent) and the Russian kontraktniki they operated with committed many atrocities in the Drenica Valley in winter and spring of 1998. In early March 1998, Russian kontraktniki of the SAJ took part in a massacre at Donji Prekaz, Kosova. This operation, under the pretext of attacking a Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) unit, took several days and was completed on 5 March. In July 1998, Russian kontraktniki were once again identified in Kosova when Kosovar Albanian LDK party members witnessed troops in green VJ uniforms speaking in Russian on their 2-way radios in the Decani area. Albanian eyewitnesses placed Russian kontraktniki wearing facemasks and speaking in Russian at the village of Korenica, where they shot 4 Albanian men dead and burned their house in the summer of 1998. A 40-year old Russian mercenary using the alias Igor Novikov, who had earlier served with the JNA in Bosnia, also fought in Kosova . According to Novikov, the Russian kontraktniki had been on duty in Kosova in autumn 1998.
According to the Humanitarian Law Centre in Belgrade, Russian kontraktniki and Bosnian Serb paramilitaries were active in the Orahovac area during NATO's bombing campaign in 1999. The centre has collected eyewitness reports of the atrocities committed by Russian kontraktniki in Orahovac between March and June 1999, during NATO's bombing campaign. The kontraktniki often stopped Albanian civilians in the town of Orahovac and robbed them. They also laid many anti-personnel mines in and around the town, which caused a number of deaths among Orahovacs Albanian population. In the spring of 1999, 60 Russian kontraktniki were involved in an assault on the town of Prizren that left 22 Albanian civilians dead. US reporter Roy Gutman, then working for the New York newspaper Newsday, reported that Russian volunteers were also in the front line of killing in the villages of Velika Krusa, Pirane, Samodraza, Korisa, Bela Cirkva, Pusto Selo and Drenovac. In April of the same year, KLA took prisoner a Russian mercenary, wearing the green VJ uniform, in the town of Pashtrik. Also in April, Russian daily newspaper Novye Izvestia reported the arrival in Moscow of a coffin containing the body of Fyodor Shulga, 34, a mercenary who had fought on the Serbian side in Kosova after initially traveling to the Balkans as a tourist. As the NATO bombing continued in late May 1999, the KLA turned over to the Red Cross the body of a Russian mercenary, 34 year old Lieutenant Vitaly Bukharin (or Bulakh), whom they had killed in battle. Bukharin had been a unit commander for Russia's Ministry for Emergencies until 1997.
Many times during the war, KLA units intercepted Russian radio conversations of the kontraktniki, who engaged them in places such as the villages of Zerze and Bellacerka in May. Also in the same month, Russian kontraktniki were spotted in Pec in western Kosova, wearing green VJ uniforms but speaking in Russian, instructing Serb air defense units in new tactics to be used against NATO aircraft. The kontraktniki were also spotted in the town of Djakovica (30 miles north of Prizren) in April 1999, armed and in VJ uniform. Albanian witnesses stated that a Russian kontraktnik led Serbian paramilitary units in wreaking havoc in Djakovica and in Mitrovica. In Djakovica a Russian mercenary attached to the 549th motorized rifle brigade of the VJ 3rd Army led a group of eight local Serbs who wore masks when they attacked the home of an Albanian, whose Russian-speaking mother identified him. There the Russian mercenary single-handedly murdered 3 Albanian men.
Although the kontraktniki were within the VJ chain of command, on occasion they stepped outside it. A unit of approximately 100 Russian kontraktniki and Serbian paramilitaries is understood to have broken from military discipline and removed itself to the village of Zegra/Zheger (Gnjilane/Gjilan) in late March 1999, where they abused the local population. Two high-ranking military commanders were removed from their posts as this unit managed to worry even the local Serb civilians. In an attempt to control the kontraktniki, the unit was broken up, which only led to smaller gangs going their various ways and causing problems in a number of other villages in the region. VJ and MUP units began to wear coloured cords on their arms in order to distinguish themselves from this renegade unit.
In addition to the Russians, the KLA claimed other nationalities including Ukrainian, Belorussian, Romanian, and Greek mercenaries were also in the ranks of the Serbian forces. They were not only involved in fighting, but were given tasks such as the movement of ammunition, laying of mines, and building dummy armoured vehicles. They were paid between 300 and 400 German Marks per month.
In late May 1999 Russian kontraktniki, among them a Russian-origin Israeli, were spotted at the Grand Hotel in downtown Prishtina. Russian kontraktniki were part of an execution gang that shot at least four civilians in the village of Korenica around that time. This group was believed to have been made up of Serbs rejected as unfit for the VJ, led by an Israeli (and former Soviet) citizen named David Ben Ami. About 40 Israeli men were reported to have fought alongside Serb forces against ethnic Albanians in Kosova. The Israeli volunteers, all recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union and ex-soldiers in the Red Army, fought primarily in mixed Russian-Serb units of the Yugoslav forces. The Israelis, some of who were actually not Jewish but had married Jewish women in order to obtain Israeli citizenship, included veterans of the fighting in Afghanistan and Chechnya.
There were also a number of West European mercenaries fighting for Miloeviæ in Kosova. Among them were Germans, French, Finns and Danes, one of whom, a 26 year old Dane, confessed to the Danish paper Extra Bladet that while being paid 400 Dollars a month for his services he had murdered 20 Albanian civilians; he was later arrested by the Danish authorities and charged with war crimes.
Kontraktniki leaders still at large
Roy Gutman wrote about the Russian kontraktniki whom he ran into on 13 June 1999 in Prizren. There he observed a tall, muscular Russian with a neatly trimmed beard who posed for pictures with two comrades-in-arms, holding high their machine guns, giving the Serbian three-fingered salute and shouting slogans in a mixture of Russian, English and Serbian, just before they left Kosova under the terms of the Military Technical Agreement signed days earlier between NATO and the Miloeviæ government. When German troops arrived in Prizren, the kontraktniki again showed up in two buses and in a Mercedes painted camouflage brown to taunt NATO and local Albanians. The kontraktniki left only after the Germans brought up an artillery piece and ordered them out of the building they occupied.
The bearded Russian man Gutman saw was most likely Vladimir Miyasnikov, who was a leader of the Russian kontraktniki fighting for Miloeviæ. Miyasnikov operated under the disguise of a Russian diplomat, but is believed to be a member of GRU. He and Colonel Igor Saburov (known by his nickname Noki in Kosova) led some of the Russian kontraktniki, who participated in the killing of hundreds of ethnic Albanians and the destruction of towns and villages around Prizren, such as the Tusus neighborhood where they murdered 34 Albanians and burned over one hundred homes on 26 May. Some Albanian locals also noticed that the kontraktniki, in green camouflage uniforms, masks, and some with bandanas on their heads, were carrying big knives, smoking cigars, and speaking in Russian and Greek amongst themselves. Colonel Saburov was quite notorious, even among the Serb forces, on account of his extreme brutality against Albanian civilians. Early in the morning of 16 May, a group of nearly one hundred of Arkans Tigers, among whom was Vladimir Miyasnikov, arrived in the Bilbildere neighborhood of Prizren and summarily executed two Albanian civilians. The relatives of the murdered Albanians were able to recognize Miyasnikov from his picture, even though he wore greasepaint on his face and under his eyes. In spite of earlier reports that the Russians were volunteers, and were either retired military personnel or not in active service, Saburov and Miyasnikovs professional leadership indicates that some Russian kontraktniki were active-duty Russian military personnel seconded to MUP and VJ by the Russian government.
Miloeviæs admission and ICTYs duty
During his ongoing trial for war crimes at The Hague, Miloeviæ admitted his full knowledge of the presence of the Russian kontraktniki killers in Kosova. The complicity of the Russian authorities in these crimes, some of whom are still in office in Russia, is illustrated by the following. In April 1999, Yugoslav Federal Defence Minister Pavle Bulatoviæ struck a deal with the Russian authorities to deliver them the wreckage of a US Air Force F117 Stealth fighter/bomber aircraft the Serbs had shot down, partly in return for the services of the Russian kontraktniki provided by or with the consent of the Russian authorities. General Alexander Koshelnik, a commander of the Russian contingent in the Kosova Peacekeeping Force (KFOR), admitted the possibility that at least some Russian mercenaries were involved in Kosova. In May 2000, Gen. Dragoljub Ojdaniæ, who had then become the Serbian defence minister, visited Moscow, despite the fact that he had been indicted by the ICTY for war crimes that he and his Serb and Russian troops had committed in Kosova. Ojdaniæ had travelled to Russia to discuss prospective military cooperation with Russian Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev and Chief of General Staff Anatoly Kvashnin. Despite an outstanding international arrest warrant as a result of the ICTY indictment, General Ojdanic was warmly welcomed in Moscow and stood with other foreign officials to observe a Russian military parade on Red Square. Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and the authorities in Moscow were therefore obliged to detain Ojdanic as a war crimes suspect. It is not hard to guess why they declined to do so.
Both Dr. Bernard Kouchner, the Kosova Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, and General Wesley Clark, the commander of US forces during the NATO operation in 1999, confirmed the participation of Russian kontraktniki in ethnic cleansing, particularly in the region southwest of Prishtina. On 22 June 1999 the Pentagon officially confirmed that Russian kontraktniki had fought alongside Serb forces in Kosova during the war, and promised that war crimes investigators would examine the Russians role in atrocities against Kosovar Albanians. More than 3 years after this promise was made, while many of the chief Serbian war criminals had been indicted for organizing the horrible atrocities in Kosova, their henchmen such as Vladimir Miyasnikov, Colonel Igor Saburov and other Russian kontraktniki, numbering more than 150, remain at large.
The ex-KGB thug Putin continues to empty the prisons of the Russian Federation and export terror. Currently in both Iraq and Iran Russian mercenaries are paid to kill Americans and international NGO workers. The sophistication of remote controlled detonated mines in Iraq now of a far higher level than in previous "guerilla" conflicts. US intelligence with several Russian contract killers in custody now.
How long will President Bush permit Americans to be killed by Russian mercenaries in league with Tehran and al Qaeda? How can any American with loved ones in Iraq criticize Chechen Nationalists battling Moscow each day in Ingushetia, Dagestan and Moscow proper? The Russian murderer they kill today may have been the one to kill an American tomorrow...
American aid to the Russian Federation must be halted until these murderers are returned to Kosovo for trial. Putin just another Moscow thug in a cheap suit and bad haircut -- why does the world permit him to kill tens of thousands in Chechnya?
Not to worry about Colonel Saburov though. The KLA leadership has put a bounty on his head just as the Americans have done in Iraq -- should be the same results...
The forces of freedom on the move. Europe trembles.
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