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Investigative Stories from Ukraine: Russian Olympic athletes serve, promote country’s military

by Anna Myroniuk March 28, 2023 9:28 PM 5 min read
Russian Olympic athletes often serve in the Russian military, which pays them salaries and gives awards. (Credit: Slidstvo.Info)
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Slidstvo.Info: Russian Olympic athletes receive salary, awards from the country’s army, promote military service

Some Russian Olympic athletes officially serve in the country’s National Guard, a military formation participating in Russia’s war against Ukraine, an investigation by Slidstvo.Info found.

The athletes serve, get paid, and receive awards on behalf of the military formation.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) reported on Jan. 25 that it is “searching for a pathway” to allow athletes from Russia and Belarus to take part in the upcoming 2024 Summer Games in Paris, overruling the previous recommendation to keep them out of international sporting events.

IOC President Thomas Bach said the pathway concerns athletes that don’t support Russia’s war against Ukraine.

However, many Russian athletes have a direct affiliation with the Russian military and National Guard, Slidstvo.Info found.

According to the publication, Olympic gymnast Denis Abliyazin, who took part in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, is a senior lieutenant with Russia’s National Guard, who received military awards from the Guard’s leadership and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

Olympian skiers Aleksandr Bolshunov and Denis Spetsov reportedly received ranks of captains in the Russian National Guard.

The publication also obtained documents proving that yet another Russian Olympic athlete, biathlete Eduard Latypov, who participated in the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, is an active serviceman and is being paid by the Russian Defense Ministry. In April 2022, two months into the all-out Russian war, Latypov got promoted to lieutenant and received a state award from the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

The Olympic medals not only bring athletes awards from the Russian army but also new ranks, which consequently boosts their salary, Slidstvo.Info found.

According to the publication, the Russian military uses Olympic athletes to promote military service.

Watch the full video with English subtitles via the link. The full article in English is available here.

RFE/RL: Ukrainian defense enterprise Motor Sich sells aircraft engines to Iran through Belarus, bypassing US, EU sanctions

Motor Sich, Ukraine’s major aircraft engine manufacturer, sold engines used in Russian military planes through Belarus to Iran, circumventing sanctions imposed on Iran by the U.S. and European Union, according to an investigation by Schemes, the investigative wing of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

After a series of scandals, the company, owned by pro-Russian tycoon Viacheslav Bohuslaiev, was nationalized by the state.

The claim is based on the documents leaked to the journalists. The papers were extracted by law enforcement from the office of Bohuslaiev, now under arrest for an alleged illegal supply of military equipment for Russian military planes.

The paper trail reportedly mentions three Iranian companies. Among them are Design and Manufacturing of Aeroengines (DAMA), also known under its second name Turbine Engine Manufacturing Industries (TEM), as well as Iran Aircraft Industries (IACI) and Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company (HESA).

Since March, all three companies have been under Ukraine-imposed sanctions. They are allegedly connected to the Iranian military-industrial complex.

According to Ukraine’s register of sanctioned companies, HESA and DAMA have been involved in producing the Shahed drone, which Russia uses in its attacks on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure. DAMA has purchased supplies for HESA, including from Motor Sich.

According to one of the negotiation protocols obtained by RFE/RL, Bohuslaiev suggested Belarusian company Belvneshpromservice as an intermediary for trading with the Iranian DAMA, arguing that supplying to Iran directly could endanger Motor Sich's foreign trade.

However, the company Bohuslaiev brought in, Belvneshpromservice, is also under U.S. sanctions for trading with the military-industrial complex of Syria and Iran, according to RFE/RL.

The journalists also found that Motor Sich appointed an Iranian national to promote the company’s products in Iran. He is the director of New Aviation Technology and System (NATS), a company that has not been sanctioned yet.

Read the story in Ukrainian via the link.

NYT: International Legion fighters lie about military experience, misuse donations

Foreigners arriving in Ukraine to help it fight back against Russian aggression sometimes fabricate their military records and misuse donations they collect for the International Legion, an investigation by The New York Times found.

Having reviewed more than 100 pages of documents from inside volunteer groups and interviewed more than 30 sources, The New York Times concluded that the International Legion and other volunteer groups are in a crisis, with recruitment stagnation and inner fighting.

According to the publication, different groups of volunteers accused one another of misdirecting funds they had raised for the Legion. The internal documents allegedly show that the military formation is also struggling to attract new recruits.

Many foreigners who joined in the first days of the war had reportedly lied about their military and combat experience and are unfit for fighting. One official told the newspaper that in the beginning of the full-scale invasion, the International Legion spent 10 minutes or less checking each volunteer’s background.

Read the full story by NYT here. To find out more about the troubles in the International Legion, read the Kyiv Independent’s award-winning two-part investigative series about the Legion:

Part one: Suicide missions, abuse, physical threats: International Legion fighters speak out against leadership’s misconduct

Part two: International Legion soldiers allege light weapons misappropriation, abuse by commanders

Media: Russia-installed leader of Crimea starts private army with ties to Wagner Group

The new private army launched by Sergey Aksyonov, the Russian-appointed leader in the occupied Crimea, is allegedly linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner Group fighting in the Russian war in Ukraine, according to an investigation by iStories, an independent Russian media outlet.

The new private army, called Convoy, was reportedly founded in Crimea in March. Journalists of iStories link this event to the alleged alliance recently formed between Prigozhin and Aksyonov. Aksyonov has publicly supported the Wagner Group backer in his conflict with Russia’s Defense Ministry.

iStories found that Convoy is tied to Prigozhin through one of the leaders of the newly-created private army in Crimea. He is a fighter with the code name Mazai, who journalists identified as Konstantin Pikalov, an associate of Prigozhin and a curator of the Wagner Group in Africa.

The new military formation reportedly has T-80 and T-90 tanks, as well as means of electronic warfare.

Read the story in Russian via the link.

Media: Ex-Ukrainian riot police officer helps Russia abduct children, threatens them with beatings

Russian media outlet The Insider identified Valerii Astakhov, a former Ukrainian riot police officer, as the man threatening to beat up Ukrainian children abducted by Russia from occupied parts of Kherson Oblast.

In March, Moscow released 17 Ukrainian children who were kidnapped and held in Russian-occupied Crimea for half a year.

One of the freed children told The Insider that Astakhov was one of the children’s captives and was threatening to beat kids with a metal stick. The interview child said that one of the kidnapped girls was beaten by Astakhov.

Back in 2014, Astakhov, then part of the Berkut riot police, allegedly took part in dispersing the protests during the 2014 EuroMaidan Revolution that eventually ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Following the Russian occupation of Crimea later that year, Astakhov reportedly moved to the occupied zone, became a Russian citizen and started serving in Russia’s Internal Affairs Ministry on the peninsula.

Read the story in Russian via the link.

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