While NATO expansion has contributed to fear compelling Russia to engage in the current conflict, Ukraine is also divided by nationalism and ancient ethnic rivalries.
Among the Ukrainian separatists are a number of Westerners, drawn to the country by the conflict and financing their adventures using charity crowdfunding websites – sometimes in apparent violation of website rules and Ukrainian laws.
One of the most prominent is Russell Bentley, a Texas native who describes himself as a pro-Russian communist.
Bentley was born in the state of Texas in 1960, and he became interested in communism at the age of twelve after reading the works of Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevara.
Bentley decided to join the Vostok Battalion of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in December 2014, believing that the new government of Ukraine was fascist and that Russia was not an authoritarian state, but an ally of the Donbass rebels.
When the Ukrainian conflict started, Bentley was working as an ordinary lumberjack in Austin.
By December 2014, he had reached the epicenter of the conflict, armed with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and tasked with repelling Ukrainian forces at Donetsk airport, a key strategic position.
Bentley was known to be fighting the Ukrainian Army on the front lines until June 2015, when he entered the information warfare branch of the armed forces of the DPR.
Bentley released videos of himself in Donetsk, he was interviewed by Vice News and he celebrated the death of his fellow American Mark Paslawsky, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy from New Jersey, who was the only US citizen known to be fighting alongside Ukrainian forces against pro-Russian separatists.
Bentley is based in Donetsk and has been in Donbas since December 2014 as a soldier in the Novorussian Army in Vostok and XAH Battalions.
Bentley is affiliated with the Essence of Time movement, a Russia-based communist group that seeks to create “USSR 2.0” and he insisted that Russia did not invade Ukraine.
“It’s a liberation, Bro,” said Bentley during an interview with Max Blumenthal on thegrayzone.com.
Bentley calls America a fascist police state, he accused Ukrainian soldiers of being Nazis, and claims that Russia is less of a dictatorship than the United States.
By July 2016, he had been baptized into the Russian Orthodox church and says he has both Russian and Donbas citizenship, although his American passport has not yet expired.
From the start, Bentley has financed his exploits by relying on crowdfunding websites, such as GoFundMe, JustGiving and Indiegogo, which are typically used for charitable purposes.
Bentley has been using such crowdfunding websites to fund his own personal war efforts in Ukraine.
In November 2014, Bentley launched a GoFundMe page to finance a “fact-finding mission” to Donbas, the conflict zone that includes the eastern pro-Russian breakaway regions in Ukraine called the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic
Bentley raised $2,000 and he hasn’t returned to the United States since.
After spending six months fighting with separatists on the front line, Bentley was reassigned and now works, he says, as an “information warrior” – producing regular pro-separatist propaganda videos on the Ukrainian war for the United Armed Forces of Novorossiya.
Bentley is not much for original thought, for example, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declared that Russian troops are going to “liberate” the people of Kyiv.
While some allegations about right-wing involvement in Ukrainian politics may have credence, the suggestion that the separatists are of organic origin is horsefeathers.
Novaya Gazeta published Russia’s plan for the annexation of the territories of Ukraine, which was drawn up when Viktor Yanukovych was still president of the country. The document that has come into the possession of the Russian newspaper was presumably “brought in” to the puppet presidential administration sometime between February 4 and February 12, 2014.
Atrocities occur on all sides in war and truth is said to be its first casualty but while there is blame enough to go around over what led to the current crisis and more to the story than initially meets the eye, there is no doubt that Russia initiated an invasion on orders from President Vladimir Putin, in violation of international law and without regard for human decency.
Putin ran out of patience because he was not getting his way but Bentley is a blind ideologue whose common sense was crushed by communism.
“I am a soldier, therefore I did my duty – I shot, I killed. Fascists behave like dogs. They are zombies, they have no heart, no brain,” Bentley told Komsomolskaya Pravda, in a 2015 interview with the daily Russian tabloid newspaper. “During the attack of the Ukrainian military on the airport, I lost friends. It’s hard to comprehend.”
Bentley also told Komsomolskaya Pravda “Donetsk is my new home. I will stay here even after the victory of the DNR.”
The mercenary also said he wants to open two restaurants serving Mexican cuisine, one in Donetsk and the other in Crimea.
And after that, Bentley plans to write memoirs about his life, war and politics. For now, he is conveniently silent about Russian fascism, such as the incarceration and murder of journalists and political opponents; bans on free speech, demonstration and publishing; as well as anti-Semitism and the oppression of LGBT people.