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23rd Mar 2019

EU blacklist sheds light on Putin's rag-tag Ukraine army

The latest EU blacklist on Russia sheds light on the command structures and composition of Vladimir Putin’s east Ukraine forces.

The list, published on Friday (25 July), imposes a travel ban and asset freeze on 15 people and 18 entities.

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Five of the people sit on the Russian leader’s Security Council: Mikhail Fradkov (also Putin’s intelligence chief); Nikolai Patrushev; Aleksandr Bortnikov; Rashid Nurgaliev; and Boris Gryzlov.

Another listed man, Sergei Beseda, runs an intelligence branch responsible for operations in Ukraine. Ramzan Kadyrov, also under the new ban, is a pro-Putin warlord in Chechnya.

The security chiefs are said to have shaped “the policy of the Russian government threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine”.

Beseda and Kadyrov are believed to be involved at a more operational level.

The EU sanctions paper cites the fact Kadyrov “on 1 June 2014 … expressed his readiness to send 74,000 Chechen volunteers to Ukraine if requested to do so”.

The rest of the individuals are rebel leaders in Ukraine.

Nine of the 18 listed entities are either self-proclaimed states, such as the “Donetsk People’s Republic,” or irregular battle groups.

If the orders come from the Kremlin, it has a variety of fighters under its command.

The “Army of the Southeast”, based in Lugansk, east Ukraine, and the “Vostock Battalion”, which originated in Chechnya, are described by the EU as “the most important” separatist units.

The “Great Don Army” is formed from an old Russian warrior caste - the Cossacks.

The “Sobol”, based in Crimea, is said to be a “radical paramilitary organisation” which is “responsible for training separatists to fight against the Ukrainian government forces”. The “Lugansk Guard” is called a “self-defence militia” which also trains other fighters.

The other nine entities listed on Friday are Crimean companies snatched by Russia after it annexed Crimea three months ago.

Novorossiya

Meanwhile, the name of one of the separatist entities - the “Federal State of Novorossiya” - might hold a clue to what happens next.

Putin in his Crimea annexation speech on 18 March said that east Ukraine and south Ukraine - what he called “Novorossiya” - should also be part of Russia.

Some EU diplomats had hopes that MH17 would see him end his Ukraine adventure for shame.

But others fear that fighting will flare up in August, when international monitors leave, in a bid to make Novorossiya into a fact on the ground.

For his part, Martin Dempsey, the chief of the US armed forces, believes the conflict will get worse.

He told the Aspen Security Forum, an event in the US, on Friday: “They [the Russian leadership] are clearly on a path to assert themselves differently, not just in eastern Europe, but in Europe in the main and toward the United States”.

He said Putin wants to “redress grievances that were burdened upon Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union … and he’s very aggressive about it, and he’s got a playbook that has worked for him now two or three times, and he will continue to [use it]”.

Dempsey added that his contacts in the Russian military are themselves wary of Putin’s intentions.

“I think that the Russian military is probably reluctant - you know, this is risky for me to say this, and 10 of them could end up in a gulag [a Russian penal colony] tomorrow - but I think that the Russian military and its leaders that I know are probably somewhat reluctant participants in this form of warfare.”

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