About a month ago Ukraine, the media outlet UNIAN.com, or the Ukrainian Independent Information Agency Of News conducted a press conference that included three members of the OMAN which is part of the Russian Interior Ministry that functions as riot police as well as anti-insurgency forces in conquered territory.
The first individual identifies himself as the Department of Internal Affairs, Rapid Deployment Force, LTC Astakhov Dmitriy Mikhailovich.
The second as, Inspection Officer at Information and Documentation Group, OMON Special Task Police Squad, Spiridinov Yevgeniy Viktorovich.
And the third as Brigadier Chief of Police, OMON, Plotnikov Yevgeniy Vitalyevich. He seems pretty young to hold a Chief of Police title so this may be a translations error.
Two of the three show visible signs of injury as well as medical treatment. LTC Mikhailovich appears to be the senior ranking officer among them. They then conducted an “interview” with the media.
LTC Mikhailovich holds up papers in front of them and says, “These papers-these are our cue card we want to tell you. This is not our text written in advance to be voiced here.”
You can watch the interview and judge for yourself the sincerity of these men, but as a graduate of Navy SERE School, I found it pretty extraordinary on a couple of counts.
First, the statements appear to be entirely voluntary and not coerced by torture or threats, LTC Mikhailovich shows no visible signs of making his statements under duress. The others have injuries that appear several days old and are consistent with battlefield injuries from an explosion rather than a physical beating. Don’t assume that black eyes only come from taking a punch to the face, they can occur generally from facial truma of various kinds. Viktorovich states that they were wounded before being taken prisoner and recieved prompt medical treatment. This is consistent with the stated policy of the Zelensky government in the treatment of prisoners, even though there have been reports of Ukrainian Territorial Guard units in Donbas shooting prisoners they have taken. We’ve reported on that here.
Some will say this is a violation of the Geneva Convention regarding treatment of POWs. This may not be the case here. First, these three guys could classify as civilians under the convention. They are not members of the Russian armed forces, but paramilitary police from the Interior Ministry. Similarly, a member of the FBIs hostage rescue team captured by an enemy would be considered a civilian detainee as well rather than a military prisoner of war.
There are rules about coersion and forcing prisoners to make statements and using them as objects of “public curiosity” like parading them through crowded streets, but appearing before the press would not generally qualify as abuse as “public curiosities.”
It is possible that these men made these statement involuntarily but there are some missing markers of a forced statement in the way these things are generally done in Eastern Europe.
First, these statements are generally read from a printed statement.
Second, these statements generally include self-incriminating confessions of war crimes by the prisoners themselves.
Third, these statement generally include a denunciation of their own side in stark political terms.
The statements by all three are actually self-exonerating. They claim they only found out they were going to Ukraine while actually on the way there. They did not confess to any illegal acts or crimes while in the country. Their general appeal was more of an apology to the people of Ukraine and a the hope that the Russian people would be able to figure out what was going on inside Ukraine itself.
All in all, they actually come off pretty sympathetically against the Ukraine government’s general presentation of Russians as bloodthirsty killers engaged in genocide. If this was something done by Ukraine for pure propaganda purposes it would have been better to have them confess to being there to murder civilians in cold blood on orders from Putin. There are also reports that Interior Ministry units are part of the effort behind the lines to apprehend Russian deserters and shoot them, so it would have served as good propaganda to get them to admit to that as well.
It is also notable that the statement is led by a Lieutenant Colonel and not a low-ranking member of the OMON. This is a career guy with years of service and what they did on camera is effectively treason in Russia that would result in them being put on trial for their lives. This is a pretty strong inducement not to cooperate at all with your Urkainian captors since it means death when you are returned to Russia. There have been prisoner exchanges between Ukraine and Russia that would also bolster prisoner resistance to involuntary cooperation as well. Appearing on camera like this, pretty much means they can never return to Russia, or they are looking at long prison sentences or execution as traitors.
While these guys probably did not attend anything like the SERE schools we have for servicemembers in the US, they do interrogate people for a living as “law enforcement” personnel in Russia, so they would understand common methods of resisting interrogation themselves, so they didn’t get tricked into doing this thing.
With all that in mind, it is important to note that this was not an open press conference attended by the international press. There are few questions asked of them and reporters are not identified at all.
The questions they do ask are not the questions we would have asked like,
“Where and how were you captured?”
“What are your injuries and how did you get them?”
“Were you coersed into making this statement today?”
“How are you being treated by Ukraine?”
“Have you been contacted by the Red Cross and have you been allowed to contact your families?”
You may think prisoners would not be able to give honest answers to these questions, but you don’t ask them expecting honest answers. You ask them in order to give the prisoner the opportunity to show by the manner in which he answers that they are forced and not voluntary.
Is this propaganda? Certainly. The question is though, is it propanganda coersed from POWs after torture? You can watch the video yourself and decide for yourself, but it has various indictations of being voluntary.