war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Key insurgent admits there was no civil war, just Russian aggression

Halya Coynash
Pavel Gubarev has acknowledged that the ‘people’s uprising’ in the Donetsk oblast in 2014 was nothing of the sort, and that without Russian involvement, it would have remained a “usual, unarmed and toothless street protest”.

Pavel Gubarev in Dec 2020, During the seizure of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk by Girkin and his men that began on 12 April 2014

Yet another prominent participant in the events of 2014 in eastern Ukraine has acknowledged that the ‘people’s uprising’ in the Donetsk oblast was nothing of the sort, and that without Russian involvement, it would have remained a “usual, unarmed and toothless street protest”.  For those in Donetsk, or following what was happening, Pavel Gubarev’’s admission is hardly a revelation.  It is, nonetheless, worth noting, and not only, as Denis Kazansky points out, because of Russia’s constant narrative about a ‘civil war’ in Donbas. Gubarev’s ‘uprising’ closely followed the scenario, being pushed and financed by Sergei Glazyev, a senior adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and, without Russian machine guns and specially trained fighters, it failed.

It was during a December 2020 interview to Maxim Kalashnikov, a Russian blogger and supporter of ‘Russian world’ ideology that Gubarev made it quite clear who had caused the events that led to the formation of the so-called ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ [‘DPR] and to a war that has already killed over 13 thousand Ukrainians.  First place, in all of this, Gubarev says, belongs to Strelkov, the nom de guerre of the Russian ‘former’ military intelligence officer, better known, among others, to the Dutch prosecutor and International Criminal Court, as Igor Girkin.  Without Girkin / Strelkov, the so-called ‘Russian spring’ in Donetsk and Luhansk would have died the same death that it did in Odesa and Kharkiv, Gubarev admits. It was Girkin who was able to “drag the uprising out of a usual, unarmed and toothless street protest”. 

The last 10 days of February 2014 had seen the gunning down of peaceful protesters on Maidan, followed by the flight, ultimately to Russia, of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, and Russia’s invasion of Crimea.  There was undoubtedly concern, among many in the predominantly Russian-speaking and Yanukovych’s ‘Party of the Regions’ – dominated Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts about the new government in Kyiv and what they should expect.

Nonetheless, neither the demonstration in Donetsk on 1 March 2014 during which Gubarev claimed to have been elected “people’s governor” nor the crowds on subsequent days who, led by Gubarev, seized the Donetsk regional administration building and erected a Russian flag, were particularly large. In his interview to Kalashnikov, Gubarev tries to present the fact that they were (largely) unarmed as the reason why they were doomed, although this is almost certainly not the case.  The Euromaidan protests were totally non-violent until the second half of January 2014.  Yanukovych’s regime was unable to crush it due to the huge numbers of people who came on the street and the mass support for the protesters. 

The pro-Russian, anti-Maidan protesters in Donetsk did not have anything like that level of support.  This was true even after the so-called ‘tourists’ or aggressive young Russians arrived and took part in the demonstrations.

Gubarev himself was arrested by Ukraine’s SBU [Security Service] on 6 March and remanded in custody.  Russian state television treated him as a martyr, arrested by the ‘fascists’ in Kyiv.  The reports were silent about just who Gubarev was, although his background was actually quite typical of the pro-Russian activists whom Russia had been grooming since around 2005.  Gubarev had earlier been a member of the neo-Nazi, Russian chauvinist Russian National Unity movement and was one of several Russian or pro-Russian activists with seriously xenophobic and far-right views to support and / or fight in the Donbas conflict.  The Russian silence was understandable given Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempts to justify his country’s aggression against Ukraine as because of the need “to defend” Russian nationals against “the orgy of nationalists, extremists and anti-Semites on the streets of Kyiv”.  

We know from the ‘Glazyev Tapes’ – intercepted calls between Putin’s senior adviser and various individuals in Crimea and other parts of Ukraine that Russia was providing financial and other assistance to various pro-Russian groups.  The main objective was to ensure that ‘uprisings’ appeared to be spontaneous and home-grown.  The plan failed in Crimea, thanks to the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people who organized a huge demonstration on 26 February 2014 and prevented an effective coup.  Russian soldiers without insignia seized control the following morning.

The attempts failed in Kharkiv and Odesa as well, and it is important to note that Gubarev himself is recognizing that they were just as doomed in Donetsk and Luhansk. It was Girkin (Strelkov) and around 50 heavily-armed and trained fighters who changed that on 12 April 2014, when they seized control of official buildings in Sloviansk.  Girkin and many of the others had already played a major role in Russia’s invasion of Crimea, and it is simply impossible that they were able to arrive in Sloviansk with such an arsenal of weapons without having gone through Russia.   The Kremlin has constantly tried to claim that Moscow is not involved in the conflict, and that the Russians involved in setting up the pseudo ‘Donetsk and Luhansk republics’ and in fighting Ukraine were there as ‘volunteers’. 

Gubarev’s words about the role Girkin played do not alone debunk this narrative  They do, however, come after many of the Russians, including Girkin himself, another of the fighters who entered Sloviansk that day and the Russian ‘prime minister’ of the so-called ‘DPR’ have all incriminated their Russian paymaster.

Girkin has openly admitted that the first shots and, therefore, the violence in Donbas was effectively provoked by his men.  If Girkin has reason, including his trial in absentia now underway at the Hague over his role in the downing by a Russian Buk missile of Malaysian airliner MH17, to watch his words about Moscow’s involvement, other Russian participants have been less circumspect.

Alexander Zhuchkovsky arrived in Sloviansk together with Girkin.  Later, after they were driven out of Sloviansk, Zhuchkovsky remained in Donetsk.  Ukrainian journalist Denis Kazansky has pointed out that Zhuchkovsky, who holds overtly Nazi views, did not even try to pretend he was in Donbas to ‘defend the peaceful population against a Kyiv ‘junta’. The Russian is totally blunt, saying that the war was aimed at destroying Ukrainians because their existence as a separate people was not in the interests of the Russian people.  While the post was later deleted (as being too “cannibalistic”),  Kazansky has presented a screenshot of the VKontakte post in question. 

Zhuckovsky has also written a book ,’85 days in Sloviansk’, n which he leaves no doubt at all about Russia’s role in the conflict.  Kazansky, who fortunately is closely following all such individuals’ outpourings, believes that this book is the first such open description of Russia’s role in unleashing and carrying out military action in the east of Ukraine. 

Zhuchkovsky is clearly aggrieved that they did not hold Sloviansk  “Russia nonetheless had to bring in forces, albeit unofficially. Had Moscow done that at the end of June or beginning of July, Sloviansk would still be under a Russian flag”, Zhuchkovsky wrote.

“Without Russian support, the militants would not have held out until autumn.  The long-awaited help arrived only in the middle of August.”.  (Further details here)

Another of the first Russian ‘leaders’ of ‘DPR’, Alexander Borodai has also admitted that without Russia’s military intervention, he and the other ‘insurgents’ would be dead. 

“I want to say that we are rather beholden to the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin.  By we, I mean those volunteers who arrived in 2014. We owe him that smallest of things – our lives. Everybody who arrived in the first half of 2014 remembers what the situation was like in the second half of July 2014. If not for his policy, if not for his decisions and actions, we would not be here. In the same way as that there would not be Russian Donbas, and the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics”.

This is direct admission that the so-called ‘volunteers’, who were in fact heavily armed and financed by Russia, would not have held out against the Ukrainian Armed Forces without Putin’s “decisions and actions”.  Those decisions involved the deployment of large numbers of military men, tanks, military hardware, etc.,  in a country with which Russia is not officially at war.


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