How South Ossetian fronts for Russian money laundering live in luxury
On November 25, 2019, the head of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), Denis Pushilin, signed a decree implementing personal sanctions on Igor Gumenyuk, a Ukrainian politician and businessman who owned large amounts of industry and property in Donetsk oblast. The decree served to transfer his personal property into “state” ownership of DNR when, in reality, his property was seized years prior.
Gumenyuk’s central Donetsk city mansion has been used by the DNR leadership and a group of Ossetian fighters connected to the Vostok Battalion and International Brigade Pyatnashka as a sort of “embassy” to host the “administration” of Anatoly Bibilov, “president” of the so-called Republic of South Ossetia (RSO). Social media imagery dates this activity tracks back to at least May 2016.
The figurehead for this public display is Radislav Gagiev, who switched sides to Russian-backed South Ossetia after the 2008 Russo-Georgian War. As described on his Facebook page, Gagiev currently works in Bibilov’s “administration” as the “Representative of the State of Alania in the Donetsk People’s Republic” — Alania is a term often used to describe the ethnic region of Ossetia.
RSO plays a central role in the conflict in the Donbas, as it serves as a conduit for Russian economic activity with non-government-controlled areas (NGCA) of Ukraine. Two central entities to the coal and steel trade are registered in the RSO — Vneshtorgservis and the International Settlement Bank. RSO recognizes the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics in Eastern Ukraine and freely conducts business with them. While Russia does not recognize the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, it does recognize the RSO, enabling the RSO to function as a financial proxy between Russia and the NGCA of Ukraine.
Gagiev allegedly participated in the early stages of the war and now resides in Gumenyuk’s Donetsk city residence, acting as a sort of ambassador of the RSO to the DNR. The mansion has also been described as the “residence of the president of South Ossetia in DNR” by social media users who have posted images from their visits to the residence.
Bibilov has visited Donetsk for general “public diplomacy” on multiple occasions. Visits date back as early as 2014, with fighters or personalities connected to the RSO often serving as hosts. In the early stages of the war in Ukraine, many of these men fought with the so-called Vostok battalion, but most moved on to the International Brigade Pyatnashka later on.
Pyatnashka is a battalion in the so-called “Spetsnaz Regiment” of the DNR, a unit which was perceived as a sort of praetorian guard under the now-deceased leader of the DNR, Aleksander Zakharchenko. The Spetsnaz Regiment has since reformed under the “Ministry of Interior” (MVD), but the battalions within it are largely unchanged.
Many of the former and current fighters associated with the residence also took part in the 2008 Russo-Georgian war. One of the more high-profile of these include Alan Gabatov, now a deputy with the so-called ruling party in the internationally unrecognized parliament in South Ossetia and Chairman of the “Committee on Legislation, Legality and Local Government.”
In the above image, Gabatov is seen in front of the main building of the property, holding an ORSIS T-5000M sniper rifle with an attached suppressor. The T-5000M is an updated version of the standard T-5000, a recent sniper rifle design from the Russian company ORSIS. The T-5000 has been spotted in the Donbas before, famously with Dejan “Deki” Beric, but this particular version has not been documented outside of this incident.
David Gubaev (who inexplicably owns a Russian service uniform) is another fighter from the South Ossetian Vostok/Pyatnashka group documented at the property. Gubaev was also documented in the 2017 coup in Luhansk in which Pyatnashka and “Chechen” fighters supported the now head of the “Luhansk People’s Republic,” Leonid Pasechnik, to take power.
The above image shows the large indoors pool inside the main building of the property. This is one of two pools documented there, the other being a larger outdoor pool. It also depicts Gubaev posing with Bibilov at a Tskhinvali office and meeting room.
While many visitors to the compound had histories of fighting for the RSO and serving in its armed formations, some too were current members of the RSO “Ministry of Defense.” Khokhik Pukhaev, pictured below in the main building of the compound with Pyatnashka’s pet lynx (left), and next to the former DNR “Minister of Defense” (Vladimir Kononov) and a now-deceased Pyatnashka commander, Oleg Mamiev (right).
The property is a well-surveilled compound consisting of nine buildings — one main mansion, a guard building/garage, an electrical shed, two guest houses, a poolside building, a possible auxiliary guard shed, and two extra buildings of an undetermined function.
The DFRLab previously wrote about the usage of some Donetsk properties by armed formations, most famously Hotel Prague by what was then known as Zakhar Prilepin’s fourth reconnaissance-assault battalion, also of the Spetsnaz Regiment. The Spetsnaz Regiment and its battalions are known to occupy a number of upscale Donetsk properties.
Most of the people visiting the compound have been entirely unremarkable, comprising fighters, politicians and celebrities linked to the RSO. The above images give a good idea of what the compound looks like from the ground, as well as its vast scale and lavishness.
It is not clear if the persons visiting this compound play much more than formal roles, but the luxury made available to them cannot be denied. The compound itself is a testament to the wealth accumulated by those with a share in the industrial sectors of the Donbas region, and the symbolism of this display of wealth being handed over to outsiders should not be lost as the NGCA industry wastes away under Vneshtorgservis’ mismanagement.
Michael Sheldon is a Research Associate with the Digital Forensic Research Lab.
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