Russia’s Donbas proxies shelled Russian territory and their own civilians, SBU intercept claims

War in the Donbas

Article by: Yuri Zoria and Alya Shandra
Ukraine’s SBU has released intercepts purporting to show that the Donbas militants shelled Russian territory, their own civilians, and mention the arrival of Kadyrov’s troops and a PMC to Donbas.

The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) has published a video claiming to show the “conversations between militants of the so-called L/DNR.” The audio records show that the Russian occupation forces keep shelling the Ukrainian territory to provoke the Ukrainian Army to return fire so that it caused damage to residential areas. It also shows two fragments suggesting that the Russian proxy militants shelled Russian territory and also their own civilians.

Such incidents are the basis of Russia’s current war disinformation, which claims that Ukraine is committing “genocide” in Donbas by shelling the “Russian-speakers” there and that Ukraine is preparing an attack on Russia. The disinformation campaign is unfolding US and Ukrainian government officials have repeatedly warned that Russia is preparing a casus belli for a further invasion of Ukraine as some 200,000 Russian troops remain deployed near Ukrainian borders.[/box]

Russia’s puppet statelets of Luhansk and Donetsk “people’s republics” (“LNR” and “DNR”) have escalated hostilities in Ukraine’s east on 17 February, staging multiple heavy artillery attacks on the Ukrainian-controlled territory of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Russia used the escalation, in which it accused Ukrainian forces, as one of the formal reasons to recognize the independence of the “LDNR.”

From Day One, the escalation has been accompanied by a large number of staged false flag attacks to blame Ukraine of fire attacks of the Russian territory, sending sabotage groups to Russia, carrying on terror attacks in the territory, controlled by “LDNR.” Ukraine denies any allegations.

SBU’s intercepted conversations

The tapped calls presented in the SBU’s video with an English-language transcript allegedly show the conversations between “LDNR” members and local residents of the occupied Donbas region.

The first interlocutors discuss "LDNR" reports that the Ukrainian army shelled the settlements of Vesela Hora and Metallist and find that the residents of those areas say they didn't hear anything.

"In short, I think it's all done on purpose," one unnamed interlocutor, presumably a resident of the "LDNR," says.

Allegations of Ukrainian army shelling are disseminated by Russian state media and the outlets of the proxy "statelets" to create the illusion of a wide-scale Ukrainian assault on Donbas. Importantly, the recent "escalation" of the situation in Donbas was one of the pretexts used by Russia to recognize its proxy "republics" and introduce Russian troops there. Particularly, various Russian propaganda media alleged that the Ukrainian Army shelled Vesela Hora on 18, 20, 22 February.  

The next interlocutor, a woman, mentions that there is a field camp of the Chechen Russian guard in the Voronezh Oblast, near the border of Ukraine, who arrived with weapons and armored vehicles.

Following that is a man telling that a column of equipment of Kadyrov's units arrived from Russia, bearing Kadyrov's flag, and being stationed at the customs between Ukraine and Russia.

This confirms social media reports that Russian troops started entering the "republics" immediately after their recognition by Russia, contradicting Putin's statement that Russian "peacekeepers" have yet to be introduced there.

Speaking at 1:10, the next man, presumably an "LDNR" militant, states that they wanted to attack a bridge in Schastia, a Ukrainian-held city:

"The PMC militants and us, the support group. Isn't it f**ing insane?... There are thousands of those motherf**kers [Ukrainian army servicemen- Ed] there and 20-30 of us had to take the bridge?" he states, confirmed previous reports  that Russian private military companies have arrived in Donbas.

Namely, a 19 February report of Ukraine's intelligence mentions that mercenaries from the Wagner PMC have arrived in Donbas and are planning a series of terrorist acts together with the Russian special services to accuse Ukraine of an escalation.

The next conversation at 1:32 appears to represent a conversation of residents of territory under the "LDNR" saying that it is "their guys," i.e. the "LDNR" militants, who are shelling "LDNR" civilians.

"They are shooting from here but somewhere from Obozne or Vesela Hora... no, no, it's not Ukrops [derogatory term for Ukrainians - Ed] who are throwing it. It's our guys who are throwing."

At 2:05, a man says that the Ukrainian-held Shchastia was being fired at from the vicinity of the Metalist village, located in "LDNR" territory, was shelled 10 times, but no return fire was returned.

"Schastia has been shelled even with Grad rockets, but ours, Ukrainians, do not return fire," says another man, presumably on Ukrainian-held territory.

A prominent narrative of Russian disinformation during the ongoing escalation is that Ukraine is firing first on the territory of the proxy "republics," a narrative that has even found its way to western media such as Reuters in the elusive headline "Ukraine, Russia-backed rebels trade accusations of shelling along front." The above fragment of the intercept, however, proves Ukraine's position that the shelling comes from the Russian proxies.

At 3:54, presumably "LDNR" representative discusses the shelling of a borderline outhouse on Russian territory, presumably from "LDNR" territory.

"Do you know there was a borderline outhouse blown the f**k up in Russia? Well, done, well done [ironically - Ed]."

The SBU in comments under the video claims that the borderline outhouse under discussion was a border post in Rostov Oblast. On 21 February, Russia's Investigative Committee launched a criminal probe into the actions of "undetermined persons" shelling Russian territory from artillery from Ukraine after a shell struck a "border post" in the Scherbakovo village of Russia's Rostov Oblast "amid relentless shelling from Ukrainian territory."

However, the named border post is located right near the border with the Russian proxy "DNR" and outside the shooting range of the Ukrainian military, OSINT researchers from the Conflict Intelligence Team reported. They also said that independent geolocation confirms the location of this incident as Scherbakovo. CIT wrote that the distance from this location to the contact line in Donbas is 37 km, and no Ukrainian equipment that can shoot that far yet leave such little debris at the impact site.

Nevertheless, it falls very much into the narrative of relentless Russian accusations of such shelling, which started on 20 February.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba refuted any reports of Ukrainian shelling of Russian territory and called for an international investigation into Russian media reports:

“We resolutely refute all accusations of any alleged Ukrainian shells falling on the Russian territory. Ukraine has never opened any such fire. We call for an immediate and impartial international investigation of the incidents reported by Russian media.”

Following conversations show "LDNR" militants discussing blowing up a thermal power plant in Ukrainian-held Schastia. As a result, the city and nearby settlements were left without power or heating.

After that, alleged "LDNR" militants are heard discussing the poor conditions of warfare: lack of food, water, and equipment.

If genuine, the SBU video illustrates the merger of military actions and propaganda with which Russia drives not only its escalation in Donbas, but far-reaching foreign policy goals: the recognition of its proxy "republics."

It illustrates in great detail how Russia creates an alternative reality driving its hybrid warfare in Donbas, without regard for human loss.

Ukraine's Security Service says that its investigators gave their permission to declassify the files in order to "show who is really responsible for aggravating the situation in Eastern Ukraine."

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