Murder as Method of Terror: Why Russian Soldiers Follow ISIS Patterns

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The Russian military brutally executed a Ukrainian prisoner, cutting off his head with a knife. The video of the murder appeared online on the evening of April 11 and was actively disseminated by pro-Kremlin Telegram channels and social media accounts.

On the same day, the Russian group MILITARY Z published a photo of the head, impaled on a spike, stating that these were “the remains of a soldier of the AFU.” It has not yet been possible to find out the circumstances of the footage, as well as to establish a verified connection between photos and the video.

The Security Service of Ukraine has launched an investigation into this war crime. President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy stressed that this case “is not an accident, not an episode.”

“We are not going to forget anything. Neither are we going to forgive the murderers. There will be legal responsibility for everything. The defeat of terror is necessary,” stated the President.

The Centre for Strategic Communication and Information Security explains why these videos appear and what they indicate.

War crimes are a routine for the Russian military

This is not the first case of inhuman cruelty of the Russian military and paramilitary formations, which became publicly known. Ukrainian law enforcement officers, journalists, and human rights activists have been receiving evidence of the killing, torture, and rape of civilian hostages and prisoners of war since 2014 — since the beginning of the Russian armed aggression against Ukraine, which led to the occupation of Crimea and part of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.

The first victim of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine was Reshat Ametov, a Crimean Tatar who protested against the Russian occupation of the peninsula. 

Family archive picture: Reshat Ametov,39 seen with 2 of his children, Alij,5 and Khatidzhe, 2,5.

On March 3, he was kidnapped by militants of the paramilitary formation “Crimean Self-Defence” led by a retired Russian army officer, Yevgeny Skripnik. The killers gouged out Reshat Ametov’s eyes, broke his ribs, and left numerous wounds and burns on his body.

Yevgeny Skripnik

The occupiers cut off an arm of Vasyl Pelysh, the soldier of the 24th battalion of territorial defence “Adiar,” because of the tattoo with the Ukrainian coat of arms — Trident.

Vasyl Pelysh (left)

The fact that torture such as eye gouging or cutting off limbs is a common practice for the Russian occupiers has repeatedly been evidenced by the survivors of captivity.

The full-scale Russian invasion, which began on February 24, 2022, is accompanied by massive war crimes. In the occupied territories, the Russians tortured, raped, and killed both the captured soldiers and civilian hostages. In Kharkiv Oblast alone, after the expulsion of the Russian invaders, Ukrainian law enforcers found 25 torture chambers — specially equipped places for torture. 

As of mid-March, Ukrainian law enforcement officers documented more than 71,000 war crimes, including more than 150 cases of sexual violence against women, children, and men. But the real number of rapes is much higher: the documentation and investigation of this type of crime is complicated both by the murder of some victims by the occupiers and by the psychological trauma of the survivors.

Why do videos of executions and tortures appear?

The Russians themselves do not document every crime, filming it on video. But we can say that the practice is quite common. 

In March, a video was published of the shooting of a captured Ukrainian soldier Oleksandr Matsievskyi by Russians, whose last words were “Glory to Ukraine!”

Oleksandr Matsievskyi

In July 2022, two parts of the video of torturing and murdering a prisoner who had his genitals cut off with a stationary knife were leaked. OSINT investigators Bellingcat found that the crime on the territory of the health centre in Luhansk Oblast was committed by Ochur-Suge Mongush, a native of the Republic of Tuva, and other militants of the Kadyrov battalion of the Russian Guard “Akhmat.”

Ochur-Suge Mongush

These bloody videos are published not only to topple the morale of the Ukrainian military and demoralize the civilian population.

Russians provoke Ukrainian soldiers to similar criminal acts as revenge. 

There is every reason to believe that the creation of such content is a tool for “binding by blood” of servicemen of the Armed Forces of Russia, Russian Guard, and militants of irregular forces. Persons involved in crimes should understand that they have no “way back,” and desertion, surrender, or other attempts to avoid participation in hostilities will end very badly for them.

Telegram channel “DSHRG Rusich” added a comment to the video of the execution: “you will be surprised how many more such videos will pop up.”

This is another proof that torture and executions of prisoners is a systematic Russian practice. 

This channel is the official communication channel of the Sabotage Assault Reconnaissance Group “Rusich.” The founder and commander of this unit, Alexey Milchakov, does not hide his neo-Nazi views and is personally involved in the creation of bloody content. In 2011, Milchakov published a photo of the murder of a puppy, having cut off its head, on social networks. The Russian police even opened a criminal case on this fact. 

Alexey Milchakov

But neither the problems with the law nor the blatant propaganda of Nazism prevented Milchakov’s service in the elite part of the Armed Forces of Russia — the 76th Guards Air Assault Division, stationed in Pskov. In 2014, he went to Donbas as a “volunteer.” Among the things that Milchakov then filmed were the killing of Ukrainian wounded soldiers who were ambushed in the Luhansk region on September 5, 2014, and the desecration of their bodies.

After his participation in the war in the east of Ukraine in 2014, Milchakov became a prominent media figure in Russia, a guest on television programmes, and an activist of the so-called “Union of Donbas Volunteers.” He repeatedly met and took pictures with Russian politicians, for example, with Putin’s assistant at the time Vladislav Surkov.


●     The actions of the Russian military are no different from the actions of ISIS terrorists. The ranks of the Russian army include sadists, commanders know about their crimes, they even manage them.

●     The torture and killing of prisoners and hostages by the Russian military is a logical continuation of the actions of the Kremlin and the senior command. It was they who chose terrorist methods of warfare, with missile strikes on residential buildings and critical infrastructure.

●     There is every reason to recognize Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. 

●     The terrorist actions committed by the Russian state and its military are incompatible with the presence of Russia among the permanent members of the UN Security Council.

●     Any attempts to “freeze” the conflict or make a truce cannot stop the war. They will only increase the Kremlin’s appetites and give Russia time to better prepare for a new wave of aggression.  

●     Only Russia’s defeat can stop the terror and brutal crimes. To this end, Ukraine needs military assistance.

Centre for Strategic Communication and Information Security

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