A well-known Russian soldier implicated in war crimes in eastern Ukraine has now been spotted in Syria.
Photos allegedly taken in Syria show Arseny Pavlov, better known by his nom de guerre Motorla, fighting in the country. One photo has Motorola holding a gun while wearing a uniform emblazoned with the Syrian regime flag and the likeness of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
This isn’t the first sighting of Motorola in Syria. A photo of Motorola that emerged in mid-September, The Daily Beast reports, featured the soldier and a friend posing next to a portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, likely within Syria.
Russia is visibly and dramatically bolstering its military presence in Syria. Moscow has said that these deployments are intended to help prop the Assad regime by engaging in strikes against moderate rebels, the al Nusra Front, and ISIS.
The deployments are still likely to benefit the Kremlin. Russia has moved dozens of fighter aircraft and military supplies to Syria’s coast while also launching a naval exercise in the eastern Mediterranean. These deployments – although not popular in Russia – help Moscow to expand their regional influence to levels unseen since the Cold War.
Motorola’s presence could actaully help Russia put a popular face on its Syria deployment. Motorola first gained prominence during his time as the head of the Sparta Battalion in eastern Ukraine. The militia group gained prominence after it seized the Donetsk Airport in January 2015, effectively routing the Ukrainian troops posted there.
Pavlov allegedly executed Ihor Branovytsky, a captured Ukrainian soldier in April 2015. Branovytsky had been captured at the Donetsk Airport by Russian-backed rebel forces.
After the killing of Branovytsky, Motorola allegedly participated in a telephone interview in which he claimed to have executed over a dozen captured Ukrainians.
“I’ve shot 15 prisoners. I don’t give a s**t. No comment. I kill whoever I want,” Motorola said in the interview. However, it has not been independently verified that the voice belonged to Motorola.
- Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters
Since fighting in eastern Ukraine, Motorola has been subject to a European Union blacklist. But the sanctions don’t appear to faze him.
“I do not have a bank account abroad and I do not plan to visit the countries of the EU, so their sanctions against me are misplaced and pointless,” Motorola told the Georgian Journal in March 2015.
Motorola told the Georgian Journal that he had previously served as a Russian soldier in the Chechen War in the 1990s. In the years between the fighting in Chechnya and Ukraine, Motorola allegedly ran a car wash in Russia close to the Ukrainian border. Motorola said that after being arrested for drunk driving in a stolen car, he chose to fight in Ukraine over serving a prison sentence.