quinta-feira, 24 de novembro de 2016

The Eurasian Movement in Brazil: trajectory and arrest of Rafael Lusvarghi

(Lusvarghi in eastern Ukraine in early 2015.)

On the morning of October 6th, at 9 am, it was arrested at Boryspil International Airport, near Kiev, the Brazilian Rafael Marques Lusvarghi, 32 years old, one of the foreign fighters linked to pro-Russian separatists in the war in Ukraine. The arrest was carryed out by agents of the Inteligence Service of Ukraine (SBU) on charging of terrorist group formation according to Article 253-8 of the country´s Criminal Code. Lusvarghi is considered a foreign mercenary. With him were found an ID of the Donetsk People´s Republic (DPR) bearing an Igor Strelkov´s signature, Russian military and main leader of the War in Donbass, a DPR´s passport, a laptop with messages exchanged with groups considered terrorists and a medal as condecoration by services in combat, possibly given by Strelkov himself.

(Youtube video of the Intelligence Service of Ukraine that shows Rafael Lusvarghi detained by Ukranian agentes at Boryspil Airport, on October 6th.)

The Brazilian fighter´s arrest raised questions by pro-Russian supporters. Lusvargh was arrested because the plane he was inside, bound to Moscow, was diverted to land in Boryspil. The plane would be British Airways, rising suspicion that there would be a UK interference in his arrest.

On the same day a report from the Opera website, leftist Brazilian magazine friendly to Lusvarghi´s person, received a series of information from "friends and supporters of the Novorrosya´s cause" by André Ortega, former magazine´s correspondent that´s in Ukraine. According to him "netizens from the Russian-Ukranian world" suspected that Lusvarghi´s arrest were a made-up history. The justification was that the video released by the SBU showed the Brazilian´s face blurry, and his beard would be bulkier than presented in recent videos. The report says that "supporters sympathetic to Novorrosya´s cause" would be concerned about the Brazilian´s safety, as the Kiev government, which would act "neo-Nazi paramilitary groups", would be using torture against their prisioners. The text also accuses "nationalist radicals" and the Ukranian government´s paralisys of not complying the Minsk Agreements, including the war prisioners amnisty

(Blurred face rised suspicion by Lusvarghi´s defenders that the man arrested at Boryspil woundn´t be the Brazilian.)

On October 9th, the maganize published another report with Ortega´s informations commenting on the Lusvarghi´s trajectory untill his arrest. The fighter returned to Brazil at the end of 2015, where he worked in a fishing boat on the coast. He would have left Ukraine to be "tired of living in the region", having lived the war enough and was frustrated with the conflict stalemate and the uncertain ceasefire. His departure from Ukraine would be condition for compliance with the Minsk Agreements, since he is foreign fighter.

Lusvarghi had received work offers elsewhere in the world, among them the company Omega in August this year to act as security in a ship that would leave Odessa, in Ukraine, to Galle, in Sri Lanka. He accepted the offer, but at the same time reacted with concern. The Brazilian contacted the company to know the risk of passing through Ukraine after having fought in Donetsk and informed about the amnesty to the fighters according to the Minsk Agreements. He also sought guidance on his situation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Brazil. According to Ortega, Lusvarghi accepted the offer because it offered only one-way ticket, to consider Odessa a pro-Russian city and trusting the Agreements. Omega would have come into contact with the office of the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OCSE), located in London, that would have ensured that there´s no risk to the Brazilian. He bought the ticket on September 26th, flew to Turkey on October 5th and on 6th flew to Ukraine. According to the report, the Kiev´s Prosecutor would have issued arrest warrant against the Brazilian on October 4th, one day before his departure from Brazil, and a "pro-Ukranian site" would have disclosed the path of his trip. Theses informations would indicate that the SBU knew about the Lusvarghi´s passage by Ukraine.

Even without providing evidence, the magazine also suggests that Omega would have contributed to the arrest, since among it´s clients would be the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine.

The informations avaliable in the paragraphs above lead to a contradiction: if Lusvarghi went from Turkey to Ukraine, as Opera claims, then how would his flight, supposedly of British Airways, be going to Moscow? Otherwise the plane wouldn´t have it´s route diverted to land at the Boryspil airport. Either the Brazilian had Russia as a destination for a conection, or the magazine missed (or omitted for unknown reasons) this information.

The news website of pro-Russian militants Slavyngrad.org says that the Brazilian´s flight was on the Dublin-Moscow route. He would go to the Russian capital to negotiate a job offer in a ship security company (it doesn´t clarify if of Omega). Lusvarghi would have been deceived by SBU agents, who in the contact for the job offer would have passed as Russian agents. The site also rises the possibility that there would be UK´s interference, questioning the recklessness of the flight in making a stopover in Ukraine, that is in conflict with Russia.

The DPR´s media, as expected, also rejected the classification of the Brazilian as a "foreign mercenary", calling him an "internationalis worrior".

In Brazil, the Itamaraty (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) received the news of the Brazilian´s arrest on October 7th through it´s Embassy in Kiev. The Embassy´s consular section contacted the Ukranian authorities to visit Lusvarghi and have more information of what had happened. The answer came on 14th by the Itamaraty: the Brazilian would be well with access to god food, he didn´t suffered mistreatment, he had a lawyer, and a Ukrainian prosecutor was following up the case. These informations were released after the Embassy made a consular visit to Lusvarghi.

But how did the Brazilian fighter come to Ukraine? And what was his trajectory before the arrest?

(Lusvarghi, center, at the French Foreign Legion in 2006.)
Rafael Lusvarghi was born in Jundiaí, in São Paulo State, in a middle class family and descendant of Hungarians. His trajectory was decribed by himself in an interview granted to the website História Militar Online (HMO, Military History Online in English) in September 2015. This is the most complete description of his public life avaliable in the Brazilian media:

"My name is Rafael Marques Lusvarghi. I´m military officer, combatant officer, and a very good one. I started my career early, getting ready at the French Foreign Legion as parachutist in the Mountain Company of the 2EP [2eme Régiment de Étrancher Parachutistes] where I participated of some missions [that he can´t reveal], and also doing some courses. I was dispensed for health problems. Recovered, back to Brazil, I passed in a contest for soldier of the São Paulo State´s PM [military police] at the end of 2005.  
There my service was basically internal, with only a few ontensive rounds and radio patrol. But even so I learned a lot about the funcioning of the administrative area, and the bureaucratic part without that´s impossible to generate a great force. Although I don´t like this role, I consider indispensable the bureaucracy and the procedures stardadization operante modes.
Of course, ambicious and proud, I wanted to grow and become an officer. I passed on the competition to the CFO [Portuguese initials for Officer Training Course] in Pará State, and I attended the Coronel Fontoura Military Police Academy at IESP. Traditionalist, I decided for perfect myself in the cavalry and I was presented at the Cassulo de Melo Mounted Regiment.
In 2010 I made the big mistake of interrupting my military career, asking to discharge from the corporation. It was to go to live in Russia. I have never had patience with civilian life, lack of discipline and hierarchy, black in white.  
Back to Brazil in 2014, I took certain actions for reasons I disagree with today, the way the demonstrations unfold in Brazil is improperly. I would like to point out here that above all I´m apolitical today, even I have my conceptions, above all against all this victmism that plagues our nation, who wants do, who cries is weak, and as we say in the military circle, the weaks that explode. Therefore, I regret the reasons that took me to the streets [during the World Cup demonstrations in Brazil], but I don´t regret the struggles I involded myself. As free citizen and in spare time, I can do as I please not breakings the laws. If I want to drink and stop in the middle of a street without traffic, I will, if I want to drink dressing a skirt, I will too. And being right, I struggle to the death for my rights. As the US Marines say, one of the best forces in the world: Sempre Fi, do or die!
After released I returned to my project to participate in the civil war in Ukraine, on the pro-Russian side because... I´m pro-Russian unconditionally. But it turns out that it´s really the pro-Russian who are right in this issue."

Lusvarghi´s trip to Ukraine received significant attention from the Brazilian press. First because he was already known for participating in the street protests in Brazil in 2014; second, it was curious that a local citizen would go to such a distant country to engange in an armed conflict without direct connection to his homeland.

Despite the succint description of his career as military, police officer and figther, Lusvarghi omits some details that help to understand the trajectory and the reasons that made him to take these decisions.

The Brazilian´s actions became more "radical" after his return from Russia in 2010, where he took an Administration course in Kursk, worked and learned the Russian language. One of his teachers gave him the nickname "Riurik Varyag Volkovich", in reference to Rurik dinasty. Lusvarghi intended to enter the army, but wasn´t accepted for being a foreigner. He returned to Brazil in the around 2013/14. In this return period he claims to have gone to Colombia and contacted the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), to whom he would have made a "visit" in the city of Cartagena. He would have entered the guerrilla, but left because the guerrillas "don´t have culture (...) they don´t have prepare, they don´t have plan of what to do", and he was disapointed with the peace process then under negotiation between the group and the Bogotá government that would lead to the weapon delivery and the transformation of the guerrilla into a policial party.

(On the left, Lusvarghi´s detention by the military police in São Paulo, on June 12th, whose photo had great repercussion in the Brazilian press; on the right, the arrest on June 23th wearing a Scottish kilt.)

Back to Brazil, Lusvarghi got two jobs in the city of Indaiatuba, in the interior of São Paulo, one as an English teacher and another as a helpdesk assistant in a computer company. He participated in protests promoted by leftist movements and parties againts the expenses of the 2014 World Cup. In one of the demonstrations held in the city of São Paulo on June 12th, day of the event´s opening, he was detained after standing in front of the Military Police´s Shock Battalion. He received several rubber bullets shots and was only contained by five policemen officers at the same time. It was in this occasion that he became famous: in a photo widely divulged by the Brazilian press, he appears being strangled by a military policemen, which picture became one of the symbols of the protests against the World Cup.

(Scars that Lusvarghi has scored on his face in a tattoo studio: a stage of creating of a Nordic fighter.)

On June 17yh, Lusvarghi underwent to a scarification in a tattoo studio, a technique used to cut the skin and leave a scar, while the Brazil team played against México in the World Cup. The brand was inspired by the characters Leonidas, from the movie 300, Kratos, from an eletronic fight game, and a former Foreign Legion´s collegue. On June 23, he was in another protest, now at the Paulista Avenue, the main one in São Paulo. There were new clashes with the military police, but this time he and a friend student of Journalism at USP (University of São Paulo), Fábio Hideki, were arrested of charges of being black blocs and carrying explosives. The future fighter was dressed with his ideals of fight: scared face, long hair and beard (in allusion to the Nordic warriors), kilt, (Scottish dress similar to a skirt) and shirtless. He also carried a tattoo on his right shoulder with a symbol and the Russian word "biersek", that would be a reference to the Norse mithology warriors.

(Lusvarghi on the day of his release from Tremembés penitentiary, São Paulo State, on August 7th, with tattoo on his shoulder in a symbolic reference to Norse mythology.)

Lusvarghi was also charged of resistence, criminal action, incitement to crime and disobedience. The São Paulo Justice released him and his friend 45 days later, on August 7th, when reports from the Forensic Institut showed that the material they carried wasn´t explosive or incendiary, but empty cans of chocolate and yogurt that, according to the police, had a "smell of fuel". The judge, in turn, had classified the two as "gauche caviar" , in allusion to the fact that they would be hypocritical socialists. The arrest caused Lusvarghi the lose of both jobs and a trip to Ukraine, where he had already bought a ticket and would have to board on June 28th. Released from Tremembé penitentiary, where he was imprisioned, the future fighter sought help from "politically engaged friends" (whom, he said, wouldn´t be recruiters) and gathered documentation for travel. On September 18th, he and Hedeki were "summarily" acquitted of the charge of carrying explosives by the Court of Juistice of São Paulo. The next day, Lusvarghi was already in Moscow, from where posted a photo on Facebook that appears at Red Square. He arrived in Ukraine on day 20 to work with the pro-Russian separatists.

(Lusvarghi, on the left of the Brazilian flag, with the pro-Russian separatists in winter 2014/15)

As soon as he arrived in Ukraine, Lusvarghi joined the Prisrak Battalion, in Dombass, where most members were volunteers. His knowledge and experience in the military, police and armaments helped him to become a fighter. His trajectory in the first year of war was intense. The first combat he participated was in Vergulovka, in October 2014. In March 2015, he already commanded his own platoon with five Brazilians denominated Ernesto "Che" Guevara Internationalist Unit, in allusion to the Argentinian communist guerilla. The platoon was created with battalion´s permission of which it was part. The members came from different regions of Brazil, had vaired profiles and had as function to recognize the enemy and to commit acts of sabotage. Until this time, Lusvarghi would have directly participated in death of at least four Ukrainians soldiers, according to his own statement in an interview. On April 26, he got seriouly injuried on legs, trunk and arms after being hit by shots or a bomb´s shrapnel in the violent battle at Donetsk International Airport. Recovered at the city´s hospital, he returned to battle more than two months latter. His military role during almost this time was of mortars battery commander. 

With the disclosure of his photos on Facebook where he appears in combat, Lusvarghi has drawn more people from Brazil to fight on the side of pro-Russian militants. Today there are around ten Brazilians on the battlefield.

(Lusvarghi carrying out maintenance of the machine gun DShK 12,7 mm, at Donetsk Airport, on April 2015, just before being seriously injuried in a violent battle.)

The return from Russia, contact with the FARC, participation in the street protests in Brazil (whose motivations declares repetance) and the definitive trip to Ukraine revail an insistent search of the Brazilian for more dangerous activities. Some of his statements help to understand the personal and political motivations for such attitudes.

Shorlty after being released from prision, on August 7th 2014, he was interviwed by the G1 website of Globo Organizations. At one point the journalist questioned his ideology, and had the following answer:

"Left. I would say anarchist, but anarchist is a utopia. So I would stay in Stalinism. I would say anarchist if I though it worked, but it´s utopia. So I call myself a stalinist.

In the same interview, the journalist recalled that Lusvarghi had previously stated he was fan of the former governor of São Paulo State, Luiz Antônio Fleury Filho, for being a nationalist. But when questioned if he had sympathy for the Integralist movement (fascist and nationalist right-wing movement in Brazil in the 1930s), he showed rejection of the opposite spectre of the left: "I don´t like anything that has to do with the right", he replied.

(The Brazilian with Communist symbols: admiration to the left-wing ideologies and a growing adherance to Russian nationalism since 2014.)

On the last days of September 2014, just under two months after the interview with G1 website, Lusvarghi, just arrived in Ukraine, exchanged messages with newspaper O Estado de São Paulo where he once again aswered to questions on his political positions:

"On the political part, I oppose the imperialist advance in Ukraine, to the claws of the great international financial capital, the NATO´s base (North Atlantic Treaty Organization, lead by the US) pointing missiles to Russia."

In the interview granted to Istoé, one of the Brazil´s largest circulation maganizes, in January 2015, the Brazilian had been fighting in Donbass for four months. At the time he revealed some about his motivation to participate in the war in Ukraine. His interest on Russia is of long time, and he follows everything connected to the country. "In addition to descending from the peoples of the East, my interest comes from childhood, from everything related to Russia, history, culture, people´s mentality", he says, defining himself as leftwing and Stalinist. When asked why he believed that eastern Ukraine should become independent, he cited several historical cases of independence (including that of Kosovo, criticized by Russia) and justified the separatist movement for "the right to peoples´ self-determination". In another question, they asked why he elisted as volunteer in an foreign army, and he replied:

"... I fight here exclusively for the Great and Holy Mother Russia, my ancestors´ land, because the blood that flows in my vein is the same as the blood of the people here. Politically I´m totally against liberalism, the current UE and US policy. But my struggle is, above all, for the Russian people´s independence and the union of this people under the umbrella of only one country and only one leadership".

The fighter´s brother, Lucas Lusvarghi, says that since he was a child he was interested in military mattes, mainly war history, and studied a lot of Geography, History and strategy.

The Brazilian also makes clear in other statements his predilection for armed struggle and his preference for Russia. In the interview with the HMO website, in september of that year, they asked why he left Brazil to join the separatists. The answer was this:

"1) I´m not going to deny. I like war. Beside this, it´s not a lie, only live in peace who learn to fight. 2) I´m totally pro-Russian, that´s what brought me here, absolutely no political ideology."
He was also asked by a reader how he could conciliate his self-declared "left" position, published in Istoé magazine, with obedience for an authority like Igor Strelkov, according to the questioner a "right-wing monarchist" who "openly declares himself a Tzarist and 'white' nationalist" (in reference to anti-Bolshevik forces in the Russian Civil War in 1918-1922). Here´s what the Brazilian replied.

"When I said Stalinist, and stood as leftist, more than a year ago, I meant that I was an admirer, not a supporter of this flag. Several times I have made clear to be a practical person, who doesn´t buy ideas in closed packages, but a little here, a little there. I don´t support any flag myself... (...) It must be done the best for the nation. Answering your question, I see no problem in being commanded by anyone... command who can, obey who is judicious."

Another reader asked if, even as a "leftist ideology follower", he belivied in freedom of the pro-Russian ones after the conflict:

"I´m not leftist, and our struggle is precisely for the Kiev government not to forbid the Russian language and culture in the east of the country." 

In one of his last interviews, given to Slavyngrad.org website, Lusvarghi positioned himself in a nationalist of clearly Eurasian line. The interviwer asked him why he went to war, since, in his words, "loving Russia is one thing, but dying for the Russians is quite another". The Brazilian´s answer shows the language typical of the Eurasian movement:

"Well, in first place, Brazil and Russia are very closely aligned by the BRICS. Whatever is the Russia´s interest also favors Brazil in a geopolitical perspective. The BRICS can become a substitute for the US and European hegemony in the world - but only if the actions finally take the place of the words we hear now." 
"The US influence in Brazil is very strong. Everything the US touches goes away: familiy values and religion, though I´m not very religious. Everything become rather meaningless." 

As late as 2014, Lusvarghi had openly declared himself "leftist", "stalinist" and even "anarchist". In the interviews given at the end of the same year when he was already in Ukraine, he demonstrates a relative detachment from a "pure" far-left to which he sympathized when was in Brazil. When comparing the declarations about his political motivations and ideology, the Brazilian shows an "evolution" from a far-left to Russian nationalism between 2014 and 2015. 

Lusvarghi sees himself as a militant and legitimate heir of the Russia´s nationalist "cause" under a leftist, anti-American and anti-Western bias. Since he arrived in Ukraine his political positions, judging by the statements given to the Brazilian press, has become more pro-Russian than exclusively leftist. I would say a mixed of both, in an absorption of leftist ideology into Russian nationalism. He doesn´t openly state wheter he had any personal involvement with the ideais and Eurasian political movement, such as the Alexander Dugin´s thought or the Eurasian Youth Union, that since at least 2006 was already preparing a future war in Ukraine. This hypothesis is raised when Lusvarghi resorts to the same movement´s language by stating radically against Western liberalism, makes references to Russia´s geopolitics and at the same time demonstrates admiration for apparently antagonistic figures in the ideological field such as Stalin and Strelkov. Another clue, this more evident, is a photo published on July 18th 2015 in the "Brazilian Front of Solidarity with Ukraine", a Facebook group in support of pro-Russia, separatists, where Lusvarghi appears holding a Eurasian Movement´s symbol flag.

(Lusvarghi, on the right, with his battle colleague Luizz Davi: Eurasian Movement in war in Ukraine.)

The Neo-Eurasianism developed by Dugin has as one of it´s main characteristics the combination of far-left and far-right elements in the same political movement. This is made clear in the Russian thinker´s statements during the debate with the Brazilian philosopher Olavo de Carvalho, where he proposes an alliance among all social elements capable of facing the US globalism. Carvalho, in turn, warns exactly this aspect of Dugin´s Neo-Eurasianism, capable of absorbing extremists of both specters and make them work together in the name of a global dictadorship, as he comments in the article Eurasianism and Genocide.

Lusvarghi´s connection to the Eurasian movement is clearer in an interview given to the Vice News section in Portuguese and released nine days after he arrived in Ukraine. He states he "answered to the call of the Brazilian Front of Solidarity with Ukraine" and the Continental Brigade, armed branch of the Continental Unity, in his words a "synthesis between the the FARC and Hezbollah", to fight in the country. The Brigade, he says, is a unity within the Prisrak battallion, of which he´s member, and armed branch of the Unity, that originated in January 2014 in Belgrade, Serbia, and consists mainly of Serbs and French.

("Glory to Rafael Lusvarghi": Facebook page´s stylized cover used to exchange informations and recruit Brazilian fighters for war exalts the person of it´s main representative.)

But the most important thing here is the Lusvarghi´s mention to the "Brazilian Front of Solidarity with Ukraine". Altough it´s not possible to prove, this is possibly the group to which belong the "politically engaged friends" who would have helped Lusvarghi to go to Ukraine after leaving the jail. The group has a Facebook page that´s used to recruit future Brazilian fighters for pro-Russian separatists. There are also informations about the conflict and Russian or pro-Russian press news. It´s active members criticize Western countries and the Kiev government, including commemorating the death of soldiers on the Ukrainian side, and exhibit symbols and language characteristic of the Neo-Eurasian ideology. Many of them exchange messages asking informations on how to get on the battlefield. The great page´s symbol, that untill now has almost twelve thousand likes (many only as observers), is Lusvarghi, pioneer and reference for the Brazilians which want to fight on the Russian side of the war. The page´s cover presents a stylized image of him with the greeting "Glory to Rafael Lusvarghi" in Russian.

On October 7th, one day after the arrest, it was created on Facebook a page for asking the Brazilian´s freedom: "Free Rafael Lusvarghi". Until this day it had one thousand likes.

(Picture taken from the Facebook page that ask for the Lusvarghi´s release: similarity with Jesus Christ´s figure - added the light from the top that illuminates his face - reinforces an idealized image of the Brazilian.)

In the next text we´ll see how this recruitment is done, the contacts network in Brazil and who are the Brazilians which, besides Lusvarghi, are fighting on the side of pro-Russian separatists.

* Published in Portuguese on November 1st 2016.

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