On the night of August 1, Italian police arrested three people and declared another three wanted. They are accused of recruiting and financing mercenaries for pro-Russian forces in the Donbas. The investigation, which has been ongoing since 2013, has been called “Operation 88” – a reference to the the fascist greeting “Heil Hitler!”. This was the greeting suspects exchanged in telephone conversations. Most detainees are involved in the ultra right Italian forces. In particular, they are associated with the League party – previously known as Lega Nord – which currently hold seats in the Italian government. So far six arrest warrants have been issued, three people have been detained, and there are three others in hiding – presumably in occupied Donbas. Another seven suspects have had their houses searched. This is how Italian police are hunting for members of a criminal group involved in recruiting mercenaries to fight with Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas. Some of the 15 suspects personally participated in active combat against Ukrainian troops. Mercenaries, unlike contract soldiers, are outlawed in Italy. They face 4 to 15 years in prison. And Italian police have no doubt that these people were mercenaries. From intercepted telephone conversations, it is evident that the suspects received money for their work and even complained they were underpaid. During the interview, the figure they cited was 400 euros per month, but the Italian press writes that mercenaries who work on the frontline earn up to 50,000 euros. However, who pays for their services remains unclear. (…) Palmeri openly calls himself a fascist and sports a swastika tattoo on his shoulder. The prosecutors suspect that he is the main liaison between the Italian mercenaries and the Putin commanders in the Donbas. However, it’s not only the ultra-right who fight for the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) and Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR.) One of the suspects has extreme left views. Mercenaries tend to be united by the Eurasian ideology of Russian philosopher Aleksandr Dugin and the idea of a “great Russia,” which opposes the “fallen” West. In addition to Palmeri, at least two other mercenaries are hiding in the Donbas. They are Gabriele Carugati, son of the former head of the Northern League’s local branch in the Lombardy region and Massimiliano Cavalleri, another resident of the region.
“Operation 88”: How Are Mercenaries in Donbas Connected With Italian Leadership?
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