The 5th Department
Col. Girkin told his friends that he worked at the anti-terror department of the FSB. In reality, he worked for the 5 Department of the FSB: “Operational information gathering and international connections”. Under this mundane title, a slightly more sinister job was being done. This department is in charge of data-gathering and “preventing activities in the near abroad”. In a nut-shell, the 5th Department has the job of ensuring that the former SU countries, especially the ones not lost forever to NATO and EU, remain within the sphere of influence of Russia. By way of example, one of the clandestine jobs that this department did was organizing the 2004 elections in the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia”. The 5th Department also maintains a network of pro-Russian “local activists” in all former SU countries, as we will see in the Ukrainian scenario later.
In the Department, Girkin’s area of specialization was Ukraine, although he maintained a network of informants in many other former SU countries. Take, for instance, journalist Dima Starostin. Starostin reported extensively from Georgia in the 2006-2008 period, setting up public opinion in Russia in favour of military intervention in South-Ossetia. After the war, Starostin worked for one of the pro-Moscow opposition leaders, construction mogul Djussaev. In Girkin’s correspondence we see that Starostin provided him at least once (in 2009) with information on persons of interest to the FSB in South Ossetia. So much for Russian journalists being journalists.
Girkin’s hobbies provided him with an excellent cover for maintaining a broad network of friendships with like-minded, Soviet-nostalgic people – many of them vets – across the CIS, but also in the Baltics.
Girkin’s direct boss at the 5th Department until his exit into “retirement” in early 2013 was Gen. Sergey Beseda. Remember this name; it will pop up again in our story – this time in Kiev.
Whether or not Girkin actually took part in the wars in Bosna, Transnistria and the Caucasus, or this was the product of a fertile imagination [sources at the Ukrainian secret services tell me they have not been able to find any corroboration of his claims], many of his friends are indeed veterans. Indeed, they never talk their common wartime experience, but they do share a lot with him. And the stuff they share is straight out of the textbook on post-war traumatic experiences. Take for instance Roman, a Russian vet who served as volunteer from the Transnistria secession war in 1992. After a brief visit to Tiraspol on the 20th anniversary of the war in 2012, he was given a medal of honor – only to begin a nightmare of hallucinations, of people who had lost their fathers, sons or small children in the war; people who believed Roman had killed them, and now that he had received the medal, they were after him to murder him. He begged Girkin to believe him and help him. Girkin said he believed him, and arranged for him to be institutionalized.
Most of his vet friends had similar issues, and were not pleasant company for Girkin, but he needed to have them in his network. Occasional wars needed volunteers.
One of Girkin’s email confidants and reader of his fairy tales is Olga Kuligina, Like him, she shares a passion for a military reconstruction and for a “greater Russia”. She hates non-Russians and liberal democracy. In a forum discussion on racial intolerance in Russia, she made such racist statements that another forum poster retorted “You remind me of that old joke about the person who said the two thinks he hated most were racism and Negroes”.
But Girkin’s friendship with Olga Kuligina goes back to 1993. In an email to a friend, he calls her a “wartime friend from the Transnistria war”.
Today Olga is a professor of strategy at the State Economic University in Moscow. Her boss is Marat Musin – a respectable academic; the head of the Department of Strategy at the Economics University, and author of numerous handbooks on money-laundering and tax evasion, all in use by the FSB. He is also a self-described expert on Syria and Ukraine. In April 2014, he put his joint expertise to use, by making the following public appeal to the Ukrainians:
“Do not trust the EU. The EU won’t come to help you, when you are in need of help. Don’t be fooled that an association treaty means anything. Look at Syria. It has been an associated member of the EU since 1978 (! – shock mine), but did the EU come to help it when it was attacked?” Marat also believes that Russia needs to wage wars if it wants to protect its identity and to remain a super power. He also believes Ukraine has been taken over by Nazi Jews (yes, his words –even he admits that this is a strange combination, but Dr. Musin says it has happened), and Russia should wage war on them to reclaim Ukraine.
Marat Musin puts his money where his mouth his. Outside the university, he is apparently the main recruiter of Russian volunteers, willing to fight for Assad’s regime in Syria. Thanks to Girkin, these volunteers are easy to find, as they keep in touch with him – not only in Russia.
In August 2012, Girkin wrote to Olga:
“Please talk to Marat. A friend – Dima Starostin – wants and can go to Syria – working on a full-time basis. He is not a bad journalist, even has some contacts in the Russian communities in Syria. He used to work for Leontiev, later for Djisoev (one of the leaders of the south-Ossetian opposition); knows the Caucuses well. Now jobless and wants to go to Syria”
Olga replied succinctly:
“Marat is the only one who decides. And he is in Abzhasia now”.
Dima Starostin is the journo-FSB-stitch we already discussed above. Now he is in Syria.
In August 2013, while working for Marshall Capital, Olga asks Igor for help. Marat needs to know if a certain Andrey Muharev is fit to be sent to fight as a mercenary in Syria. He applied as a volunteer, and said he had been a commander of the Second Russian Volunteer’s Unit in Bosnia. Marat remembered that Girkin had served in Bosnia, and wanted Girkin’s opinion.
Girkin was less than flattering on Muharev, said he was unreliable, probably has no passport as he is “almost a bum”, and said he had borrowed money from Girkin once and never returned it. He couldn’t vouch for him, but if Marat needs more volunteers, he can take him – “just be careful with him”.
A source at the Ukrainian special services showed me – on the condition of anonymity – documents evidencing Girkin’s direct role in recruiting Crimean Ukrainians for the war in Syria during 2013. Unfortunately I cannot share more than this at this moment.
In October 2013, there is an emergency, and Girkin has to help solve it. A Russian internet site, fontanka.ru, has published an investigation, evidencing – with hard documents – the participating of Russian mercenaries in the Syrian war, under the guise of security personnel for a company protecting Russian vessels. As a result of the public scandal, the FSB is forced to indict the top management of the two companies, formally employing the security guards, and to start an investigation for illegal mercenary work against nearly 300 Russians.
The ownership of the companies is obfuscated by many offshore layers. What we know for a fact is that the Olga Kuligina immediately emails Girkin about the published article. Furthermore, Girkin is asked to work on formulating a plausible explanation of why these 300 Russians were caught on a fight shooting at Syrian rebels using Ak47s while fulfilling pure security functions. The person who interacts with Girkin on the defense is Irina Vilter. Irina Vilter is the wife of Girkin’s boss, the owner of Marshal Capital, Konstantin Maloveev.
To be continued…