How the SBU Induces a Split in the “Azov” Battalion

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


Certain events in Ukraine can be easily predicted. But their participants nevertheless seek to verify the forecast by themselves. Sometimes it is reminiscent of a comic axiom: it is possible to thrust an electric bulb into a mouth without effort, but it is impossible to pull it out…

The odious Kharkov radical Oleg Shiryaev – the admirer of the neo-Nazi group “Axe of Perun”, and in the past a commander of Skhidny Corpus and adviser to the governor Svetlichnaya – in September, 2018 became the prisoner of a pre-trial detention center as a banal racketeer.

Several of my publications on “Ridus” were devoted to the “morally high relations” between right-wing radical groups in Kharkov. A year ago I wrote that the SBU is working on splitting “Azov”.

The relationship between organisations, units, and social movements connected to “Azov” is quite often reminiscent of love between a toad and a viper.

During this time much water has flowed under the bridges. “Azov” is missing some leaders who formed its foundations: they died under mysterious circumstances. And certain active functionaries of the civil “Azov” corps and National Corpus created on its basis have broken away from this movement: former colleagues with ease transferred them to the category of renegades.

The “White Leader” Andrey Biletsky needs a totalitarian hierarchy – a rigid vertical in the organisations and units created by him. And the lower-ranking main men, like Oleg Shiryaev, who created the “Skhidny Corpus” unit, wanted to have their own organised criminal groups and “forage platforms”.

The conflict and split were programmed. But such small splinters as Shiryaev couldn’t compete with Biletsky. And it’s unlikely that the commander of “Skhidny Corpus” would dare to reach a higher level and start to leave his mark on the territory of “National Corpus” and “National Druzhina” if he wasn’t protected by the SBU.

Another question: has Shiryaev already used this protection? Or does he only hope to use it? In any case, his conflict with Biletsky and the split in this environment was favorable to the SBU for the creation of its own counterbalances to “Azov” and the Minister of Internal Affairs standing behind it.

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Let’s pay attention to when and under what circumstances “National Corpus” publicly distanced itself from Shiryaev. This happened in May, 2018, when “National Corpus” blocked a quarry in the settlement of Bezlyudovka.

Former colleagues accused the former head of the Civil “Azov” corps of carrying out raids, and called his organisation (“Skhidny Corpus”) “semi-criminal”.

In turn, Shiryaev affirmed that he wrote a statement about his withdrawal from “National Corpus” last year. But this isn’t about who distanced from who the quickest: the toad from the viper, or visa-versa. The keywords in the conflict — LLC “Bezlyudovskoye Karyeroupravleniye” [the management of the Bezlyudovka quarry – ed]. Shiryaev stated that “National Corpus” interferes with the economic activity of this enterprise and tries to “nationalise” it.

The head of “Skhidny Corpus” didn’t stint on the accusations made against former colleagues: “In this example you can see for yourself who is the real raider. I consider that the information campaign against me aims to slyly pocket the quarry from the state and add it to the moneybox of income of ‘Botsman’ (Sergey Korotkikh) and Biletsky”.

In addition, Shiryaev explained that he decided to cut ties with “National Corpus” after he made his own investigation into the suicide (according to the official narrative) of the “Azov” member Yaroslav Babich. He made a loud statement: “I have started to guess that Yaroslav was killed precisely at the order of Biletsky. There will be no forgiveness for this”. The former colleague of Biletsky Oleg Odnorozhenko also promoted a similar version of events.

But people in the know say that this, first of all, is the business interests of Avakov, which are connected to the Bezlyudovka quarry, and the idle curiosity of Korotkikh and Biletsky factors in afterwards.

Anyway, it is precisely Avakov that gave Shiryaev a counterpunch in the autumn, for his spring “fight against raiding”. But now raiding started to be attributed to Shiryaev and his people.

In September, 2018 there was an attempt to capture the conveyor in the Zmiyev district of the Kharkov region. Shiryaev and his people from “Skhidny Corpus” were spotted during the events, which involved firefights. The farmer Aleksandr Strogy testified that he saw Shiryaev among the raiders, who collected the crop from his field. But Shiryaev explained his sudden interest in agriculture by his active civic position: He came to see what was happening, and then left.

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The raider capture in the Zmiyev district is qualified by law enforcement bodies as “hooliganism”. Since it was the Minister of Internal Affairs Avakov who announced Shiryaev’s detention, it was impossible to goof up when electing a measure of restraint. That’s why, in addition to the fresh September events, the prosecutor, like a conjurer, pulled out from his sleeve an old episode – the attack of radicals on the housing of the head of the Krasnokutsk regional police department and his deputy in December, 2015.

Shiryaev and his people threw molotov cocktails and stones at the houses of police officers. Respectively, here suspicion under two other articles [of the Criminal Code – ed] was added: active participation in mass disorder, which were followed by riots; the destruction and damaging of property; attempting to occupy a building; deliberately damaging the property of an employee of law enforcement body by arson.

It seems that everything is as it should be. But there is a question: why did law enforcement bodies start to be interested in the events of December, 2015 only now?

The answer is on the surface. In December, 2015 Shiryaev was a valuable asset for the Minister of Internal Affairs. The commander of “Skhidny Corpus” even received an award gun from Avakov. But, seemingly, afterwards he was in cahoots with the wrong [in Avakov’s opinion – ed] department. So that’s why he started to “fight against raiding” at the Bezlyudovka quarry thanks to the tipoff of other patrons.

And the new patrons rather longly moulded Shiryaev into a leader similar to Biletsky. At some point the commander of “Skhidny Corpus”  got lucky.

In search of a feeding trough Shiryaev, with the same bunch of young and hungry wolves, drove the old wolf Cheremukhin – who was forced to leave his position as the deputy head of the main department of the National Police in the Kharkov region and go to Kiev – out from Kharkov. Shiryaev received the opportunity to stockpile money over 1.5 years according to good ol’ schemes and themes that only serious people were allowed access to…

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But now the mousetrap has slammed shut. The court ruling on electing a measure of restraint for Shiryaev in the form of detention was welcomed by representatives of “National Corpus”, who swarmed the courtroom.

Law enforcement bodies easily found articles [of the Criminal Code – ed] that would make it possible to jail Shiryaev. But they just as easily closed their eyes to another one of his offenses: for example, participation in the attack on Sberbank of Russia.

On a twist of fate, Shiryaev was taken into custody according to the ruling of the same judge Efimenko, who last year elected a similar measure of restraint for the former deputy of the Kharkov City Council Andrey Lesik, who is suspected of infringing on the territorial integrity and inviolability of Ukraine for posts on social networks.

In 2016 there was a case when Oleg Shiryaev, together with other radicals, disrupted a constituent conference on the creation of a public humanitarian group for the peaceful settlement of the crisis in Donbass and attacked the deputy of the City Council Andrey Lesik.

But active participation in the persecution of objectionable politicians with “racially wrong” views didn’t lead Shiryaev to a long-term indulgence.

During the spring escalation of the conflict between Shiryaev, Biletsky, and “National Corpus”, one more Nazi organisation – C14 – drew attention to itself. They remained loyal to Shiryaev.

And it’s not a secret that the SBU patronises these radicals and covers for them. The demonstrative friendship and joint photos of Oleg Shiryaev and Andrey Medvedko – the member of “C14” suspected of murdering Oles Buzina – became the cherry on the cake.

It is easy to guess which omnipotent security agency is to thank for the fact that the murderers of Buzina, who were detained by law enforcement bodies, are now free. Perhaps Oleg Shiryaev, who was also detained by Avakov’s subordinates, won’t stay in the pre-trial detention center for much longer.

But it also shouldn’t be excluded that the SBU routinely threw Shiryaev under the bus and washed their hands of him because of his full professional unsuitability. Instead of becoming a counterbalance to Biletsky, he was turned into a banal street mugger.

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