Dec 25, 2009

Vitaly Khripun: "I went to serve, not to engage in lawlessness"

The third and most recent deserter has caused a new round of information war between Georgia and Russia. It's been two days since Vitaly Khripun's transition to the Georgian side, the circumstances of which the Club of Experts reported on the 21st of December, , but the media still has not overcome the confusion of initial reports of television and news agencies. Against this background, we offer an exclusive interview with the warrant officer of FSB, who itself speaks about reasons for his decision.

- Vitaly, please tell us about yourself and answer a question: how do you come to Georgia?

I was born in April 11th, 1984 in Poltava region. I lived in Murmansk, where my family - mother, 7-year-old half-sister and stepfather still live. Also there I was called up for the army. After the service I worked in a private firm, on a fishing boat. When there the war happened in South Ossetia, they were saying on TV that it was an attack on Russia and that Russia was protecting small Ossetian people, and I decided that I should go there to defend a just cause. Also information was that service in hot spots was well paid, and I was attracted by an opportunity to make a career. I consulted with my uncle, FSB Colonel Igor Grishenko, and he helped me to enroll for special courses. We were being prepared and tested for four months, and then we received appointment. I became a warrant officer and an instructor of reconnaissance groups.

- Is this a contract service?

- Yes, it is a contract service. I was supposed to serve in South Ossetia for two years and after that I would have received a right to request a transfer to another place. Pay was good - over one thousand dollars. They said that I would be promoted and promised good prospects.

- When did you come to the conflict zone?

On December 6th I arrived in Tskhinvali, and from there I was sent to Sinaguri. We lived in Sinaguri but served on the outpost in Perevi. When I was coming, I did not know that it was a territory of Georgia. I thought that I would be defending South Ossetia and Russia.

- What influenced your position?

- Locals helped to understand. There is a mixed population around there - Georgians and Ossetians. From them I found out that we are in Georgia, that the whole of South Ossetia is also Georgia. I was surprised when I heard this not only from Georgians, but also from Ossetians. Generally, I did not expect at all to see a situation that I encountered there. You can feel that there is a bad attitude towards us - Russian soldiers. Especially on the part of Ossetians, because they feel that they are masters and, unlike Georgians, they have plenty of weapons. Georgians might even feed sometimes whereas you should be more careful with Ossetians. Though neither of them likes us. No one can be trusted. All the time in a state of alert. Guys are always tense, they often lose temper. Nobody wants to serve there. Everyone thinks how to leave.

- Can you talk about specific incidents?

- I have not witnessed any fight. General atmosphere is bad. We were forced to humiliate local population, abuse them, extort money, and not let them move around. If they were carrying something - food or firewood – we should have made them pay for carriage. Commanders demanded this. We were told to keep locals in check, no easing up on them. And if someone protested then we should have used force immediately, and if necessary, shoot to kill. There is no law, and you cannot protest. When I objected, I was threatened. They said: "Stay quiet and do whatever you are told otherwise we have a lot of extra rounds of ammunition ...".

- This was the reason for your escape?

- Yes. I came to serve, not to engage in lawlessness. Why can not everything to be honest, according the law? When you blew up the monument, our officers got very angry and demanded stricter attitude towards the population. This was the last straw for me. I have long thought about this and decided that the best thing would be to leave. At night left the outpost, walked towards the Georgian post and surrendered.

- What do you think about your fate?

- We have been told that there is order in Georgia. I heard that two soldiers who have gone before me are settled normally. I want to live in a country where there is no corruption, where the laws are respected. In Tbilisi, I was explained my rights and I have applied for political asylum. This issue is being solved together with the UN. I hope that I will not be given up to Russia. Everything is over for me there - and career and everything. If I get in their hands my life will be impossible. Maybe someday I can return, but not now. Here, I was promised benefits and help with getting work. I have a technical education and I can work so I will be able to earn a living.