InformNapalm volunteer intelligence community through open source intelligence (OSINT) alone has so far identified more than 1000 soldiers and officers of the Russian army, who took part in the aggression against Ukraine.
We asked ourselves: why Russian officers unquestioningly carried out criminal orders of the higher command? We unexpectedly found the answer in the criminal past of the medium-tier commanders of the most belligerent Russian units. In this investigation, we are looking into the biographies of five recent commanders of the 15th Motorized Rifle Brigade (MRB), (military unit 90600, Roshchinsky town, Samara Oblast, Central Military District, Russia), who have been in command of this unit since 2010. In the course of our investigations, dozens of servicemen from this brigade were identified as participants in military operations in Donbas.
“It’s easier to carry out criminal orders if you have a criminal past”
Colonel Vitaly Gerasimov
Let us start our review with Colonel Vitaly Gerasimov who was in command of the 15th MRB from October 2013 to October 2014. The active phase of the Russian military invasion of Crimea and Donbas took place in 2014.
Born on July 9, 1977 in Kazan city. In 1999 he graduated from the Kazan Higher Tank Command College, and in 2007 – from the Combined Arms Military Academy of the Russian Federation. He served in the North Caucasus, Far East, South and Central Military Districts, rising through positions from the platoon commander to the chief of staff of a brigade in Kemerovo.
One of the first reports about Gerasimov’s appointment as the brigade commander is dated October 21, 2013. His last name was also mentioned in the media at the time of the inspection visit of the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu to Samara in early August 2014.
(According to some sources, Colonel Vitaly Gerasimov, a veteran of the Chechen war, transferred from the Kemerovo Oblast to Samara, may a relative of the chief of the Russian Army’s General Staff, the first deputy minister of defense of the Russian Federation, Colonel-General Valery Gerasimov).
During Gerasimov’s tenure as the brigade commander, Russian sources reported on February 2014 that an unnamed lieutenant colonel of the 15th MRB was detained on suspicion of killing a contract serviceman.
It is noteworthy that the extract from the Ministry of Defense official press release published against the backdrop of Sergey Shoygu’s visit to Samara in August 2014, indirectly points to participation of this brigade units in the armed conflict. The main forces of the brigade were transferred to Rostov Oblast, and the brigade commander reported of a considerable ammunition consumption and extensive marching for over 2000 km:
“Colonel Vitaly Gerasimov, the brigade commander, informed [Minister Shoygu] that ammunition consumption in fire exercises this year had risen about five times from the average. The brigade commander especially noted the good level of training of combat vehicles’ drivers, each having already traveled more than 2000 km this  year.“
Colonel Victor Kindeyev
Colonel Kindeyev commanded the 15th MRB in 2010, before the war against Ukraine. A veteran of post-Soviet local conflicts, convicted of extortion from subordinates.
Date of birth February 17, 1968, the place of residence is Samara (social media account OK). He graduated from Ulyanovsk Higher Tank Command College in 1989, and from the Combined Arms Military Academy of the Russian Armed Forces. In 1990s he served in the following hot spots: Azerbaijan, Georgia (so-called South Ossetia and Abkhazia), Moldova (Transnistria) and twice in Chechnya.
After attending the academy in the early 2000s, he continued his career at the command positions of the North Caucasus Military District (currently South-East Military District), in Chechnya and North Ossetia, later on was transferred to the Central Military District. He is a recipient of the Order of Courage, medals For Bravery and For Merit to the Fatherland II class, he also he received engraved watch from the President of the Russian Federation. Details of the biography and the track record of Colonel Kindeyev are available here.
According to Russian sources, in 2012 Colonel Kindeyev was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison. It is reported that Kindeyev established a scheme in the unit entrusted to him: the soldiers receiving bonuses had to “share” them with the commander and his deputy. With this illicit income, the brigade commander bought two apartments in Samara, the investigators also found $100,000 on his wife’s bank account. In conclusion, the convicted Colonel Kindeyev said: “I’m not guilty, I did not give any instructions, I did not receive any money. All this is fabrication and lies. This is collusion between Alimagomedov and the investigators. And we will prove it .“
Revenge of the FSB for Beslan?
Such corruption schemes in the Russian army are not new (see 1 , 2 , 3 ) . And military unit commanders, participating in corrupt schemes, remain in their positions. Nevertheless, the honored commander, recipient of multiple decorations and even an engraved watch from the President of Russia, became a person under investigation. This may be due to the fact that Kindeyev is associated with another scandalous statement: “The tanks shelled the Beslan school on the FSB officers’ orders.” According to media reports, Colonel Kindeyev, being in command of military unit 66431 (693rd Motorized Rifle Regiment of the former 19th Motorized Rifle Division, Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia) ordered to dispatch three T-72 tanks to Beslan. According to him, the shooting began after his tanks were placed under command of the FSB. Seven shots were fired at the school. According to the witness reports, this threatened the life of the hostages.
Note: as a result of the Beslan tragedy, 314 hostages were killed, 186 of them were children. Total losses amounted to 333 people, including personnel of the armed forces and law enforcement agencies. Many unanswered questions remain 13 years after this disastrous hostage release operation.
Colonel Konstantin Stepanishchev
As evidenced by data from open sources, he commanded the 15th MRB from 2011 to October 2013, and then was transferred to command the 23rd MRB (military unit 65349), which at that time was based in Samara Oblast, Central Military District.
The 23rd MRB also repeatedly featured in the InformNapalm materials with its redeployment to the Rostov Oblast and invasion into Ukraine in 2014 (see 1 , 2 ). There are established facts of the servicemen of this brigade being seconded to the illegal armed groups (IAGs) in Donbas. Armored vehicles of this brigade were spotted in operation of Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) IAGs.
In February and March 2015, InformNapalm published information about parts of the 23rd MRB being redeployed to Belgorod Oblast (see 1, 2, 3), and in January 2016, disclosed new location of this unit in the town of Valuyki, Belgorod Oblast. Russian sources confirmed our data only in the summer of 2016.
Little is known from the biography of Konstantin Stepanishchev. Born in 1975. In 2005 and 2006, he served as the chief of staff of the 81st Motorized Rifle Regiment in Samara. However we found a great deal of information on the internet about the Luhansk activity of Colonel Stepanishchev (callsign Almaz), in early February 2015, who, according to some unconfirmed reports, lost his legs in the Donbas deployment. The Colonel’s Ukrainian deployment was compensated soon by the Russian presidential decree of December 2015 whereby Stepanishchev was promoted to the rank of major general. The commander of the brigade relocated to the Belgorod Oblast, officially appeared at the rank of General only in June 2016 – at the opening of the military camps for the cadets and celebrations on the occasion of the 77th anniversary of the 23rd MRB formation. His name has not been mentioned anywhere in the open sources after that.
Colonel Nikolay Zakharov
According to media reports, Colonel Zakharov was appointed the commander of the 15th Peacekeeping MRB, on October 22, 2014.
The biography of Nikolai Zakharov is presented in some detail, and there is an explanation for this. Born in 1965, in Kurgan Oblast. A graduate of the Chelyabinsk Tank School in 1989. He rose from being a platoon commander to the regiment commander. A participant of combat operations, he was awarded the Order of Courage and Order for Military Merit. In 2002 he graduated from the Frunze Military Academy. From 2009 to 2011 he held the position of chief enlistment officer of Chelyabinsk Oblast. Then, for three years, he worked as deputy head of cash-in-transit service at Chelyabinsk division of Sberbank.
Colonel Zakharov is the most famous enlistment officer of the Russian web, the hero of advice memes associated with conscripts. His online popularity was spurred by the federal-level scandal he got himself into by mentioning at a press conference in 2011 a classified instruction that “the Caucasians are not to be taken to the army”. This became the reason for his resignation. After a three-year pause in his military career and a stint as a cash-in-transit supervisor, in May 2014, Zakharov again became a chief enlistment officer. After 5 months, in October 2014, he was appointed the commander of an elite combat unit – the 15th MRB.
It is noteworthy that most of the award certificates in 2014 and 2015 for medals, issued to servicemen of the 15th MRB for participating in Donbas hostilities (based on Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu orders), were signed by Colonel Zakharov, the commander of military unit #90600. But Zakharov did not hold the position of brigade commander for long: as of 2016 open sources cite the name of Colonel Avdeev as the brigade commander.
Colonel Alexey Avdeev
Commander of the 15th MRB since 2016. The criminal episode in the past of Colonel Avdeev is a deliberate cover-up of a homicide. He appears in few reports – in the background note on Roshchinsky garrison, in some media reports, as well as in this video (at 32:40-33:10), which was filmed at the May 9 parade in Samara.
The current commander of the 15th MRB Avdeev presumably served from 2010 to 2014 as the chief of staff of the 102nd Russian Military base in Armenia (military unit 04436, Gyumri city and Yerevan city). It was Colonel A. Avdeev who commanded the Russian-Armenian military parade in Gyumri on May 9, 2014 (video).
An officer with the same name appears in two trials – the garrison court of Yerevan (Armenia) of 2014 and the garrison court of Samara from 2016. Also on social networks, there is an appeal by a group of the 15th MRB servicemen to the brigade commander Avdeev, published in the group Overheard in Roshchinsky on July 1, 2017, who complain that they were left behind in Tajikistan.
But the most noteworthy event was an accident, in which the major of the neighboring unit of the same garrison was complicit in the death of a 15th MRB contract soldier. Colonel Avdeev, in collusion with other officials, tried to conceal the details of the incident, shift the blame on his subordinates and shield the guilty officer.
We found online an open letter addressed to the President of Russia from contract servicemen of the 4th company of the 2nd battalion of the 15th MRB, published on October 26 in the Shoygu rubric on the ForPresident.ru website. In this letter, contract servicemen of the 15th MRB request to investigate and punish the guilty person and those who covered up the crime that occurred in the spring of 2016 near their military unit. It is known from the records that on March 9, 2016, Major Usov serving in the same garrison, in military unit 59292 (91st Control Brigade), while driving his Mazda SH-5 under alcohol intoxication, hit four contract soldiers of the 15th MRB.
One of the victims, 22-year-old corporal Negin (photo from the social media page on OK), died of his injuries. According to the testimony of other victims, before the arrival of road police officers, Major Usov, exerted psychological pressure on them, forcing contract soldiers to perjure that a woman, Usov’s wife, was driving the car. The frightened victims gave false testimony. After the incident, the commander of the 2nd battalion of the 15th MRB, Major Marushkin, started a fictitious backdated Leave Register, in which he recorded the four wounded servicemen as being on leave, although at the time of the accident they were actually on duty returning to the permanent station from the training area.
Also, the brigade commander of military unit 90600 Colonel Avdeev and the commander of military unit 52292 colluded to conceal the circumstances of the incident. Also Colonel A. Avdeev and chief of staff of the military unit 90600 Lieutenant Colonel V. Kolchin exerted pressure on the victims and witnesses. By mutual agreement, Colonel A. Avdeev and the head of the Roshchinsky military hospital falsified blood alcohol content test result of the deceased corporal Negin.
As noted by regional Russian media, the justice “partially triumphed.” Following the investigation in April 2017, Major Usov was sentenced to 2 years in a penal settlement and got his driving license withdrawn for 2 years. In addition, he had to pay the relatives of the deceased corporal 300 thousand rubles, although during the investigation his spouse attempted to take the blame for the death of the corporal.
According to the reports from February 2017, the couple tried to exert pressure on witnesses, tried to bribe them into testifying that the woman drove the car at the moment of the accident. Avdeev, despite the misconduct, is still in command of the 15th MRB.
Read more about identifying servicemen from the 15th MRB in Donbas:
- 15th Motorized Rifle Brigade deployed to the Ukrainian border as an intelligence unit and “peacekeepers” at the same time.09/10/2014
- Back to Basics: Russian Mercenaries Pretend to Be Peacekeepers 10/03/2014
- Back to Basics – 2: more evidence of the Russian servicemen turning into DPR / LPR militants and then back into “peacekeepers”
- Mourning ‘Peacekeepers’ of the 15th Brigade02/06/2015
- A division of the 15th “peacekeeping” brigade from Samara in Millerovo04/25/2015
- The 15th Brigade Contract Soldier Is Noticed in Krasnodon08/05/2015
- Russian 15th Brigade Mimics ‘Donbas Miners’12/14/2015
- The War Criminals of the 15th ‘Peacekeeping’ Brigade: Unpublished Story03/06/2016
- Russia Uses Servicemen of the 15th Motorized Rifle Brigade of Peacekeeping Forces in Donbas05/05/2016
- Russian squad sergeant Kozlov spotted in Ukraine09/26/2016
- Coming back in a body bag: a contract soldier from Russian 15th Brigade identified (photos, videos, 18+) 10/06/2016
- Identified: 10 servicemen from the 15th MRB of Russian army, who participated in Crimea annexation and invasion to Donbas (Infographics)
(Creative Commons — Attribution 4.0 International — CC BY 4.0)
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