The recent announcement that Vladimir Borisovich Tsemakh (call sign Borisych) would enter into protective custody in Kiev for 60 days following his seizure by Ukrainian special forces from the occupied city of Snizhne in Donetsk region has flared across English-language Ukrainian news sources, generating a degree of international attention for the War in Ukraine, now into its 6th year.
Tsemakh is the former Air Defense Chief of the 1st Sloviansk Brigade, commanded by the infamous Igor Girkin (call sign Strelkov) the DPR’s first Secretary of Defense. In a video interview given in 2015, Tsemakh claims “I hid the Buk” referring to the surface to air missile which destroyed MH-17 in 2014. Compounding this, Yury Butusov of Censor reports that Tsemakh directly commanded a unit which committed war crimes on August 6th, 2014.
We know a fair deal about the operation to seize Tsemakh. He ostensibly drove his wife to work in the morning, and after returning home was knocked out and drugged with psychotropic substances. He was then brought 80 kilometers to the Mar’inka checkpoint by two unknown men, which he crossed in a wheelchair, before transit to Kiev on the 29th. At around the same time, rumors began to circulate on Russian/separatist media noting the location and the personality likely involved. One of the kidnappers ostensibly had a passport describing him as Tsemakh’s son.
Delving deeper, the matter becomes significantly more complicated. Tsemakh is not one of those individuals most wanted for the MH-17 takedown and his value as a witness for the ongoing MH-17 trial is questionable, especially considering that he had spent his career using ZU-23-2 self-propelled anti-air cannon, and not SAM systems. Considering the “Eichmann” precedent, the bar for seizing and transiting criminals across international lines is rather high, tempered in this case only by the de facto state of war existing between Ukraine and the “separatist” states/Russian Federation.
Even in a Ukrainian court, any verdict will be seen as politically motivated turning Tsemakh into a badly needed martyr for the “separatists” in their quasi-national myth-making, akin to Arsen “Motorola” Pavlov or Mikhail “Givi” Tolstych, and Alexander Zakharchenko.
The second argument, as implausible as it may seem is that curators of the DPR project have outwitted Ukrainian security forces into accepting a poison pill. The speed with which pro-Russian and separatist media sources reported the matter (swifter and in more detail than Ukrainian press releases) is remarkable, as is the notification that “forged documents” were used, and the identification of the individuals using CCTV footage, barely after Tsemakh was in Kiev. It is entirely within the realm of possibility that Tsemakh and his abduction will be used to tarnish the ongoing MH-17 investigation and divert attention away from Russia’s role.
All told, the value of Tsemakh will become apparent over the coming weeks and months. With the transfer of the MH-17 investigation from Ukraine to the Netherlands, Tsemakh can at most be utilized to extract information in exchange for a lighter jail term in Ukraine (at the moment, he is being held under Part 1 of Article 258-3 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine – “Creating a terrorist group or a terrorist organization”). His extradition to the Netherlands would almost certainly elicit “civil rights” concerns from Russia.