Shadowy commander is face of insurgency in Ukraine

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This image taken from Associated Press video shows Igor Strelkov, military commander of pro-Russian militias in Slovyansk talking to journalists in Slovyansk, Ukraine, Sunday, April 27, 2014. Strelkov has been identified as a Russian security services operative by Ukraine’s government. In what appeared to be a closely vetted interview to Russian media, Strelkov did not directly deny the accusation, saying the uprising in Ukraine was being carried out by opponents of the “Kiev junta” — language similar in tone to that adopted by the Kremlin leadership. (AP Photo/Associated Press Video)

This image taken from Associated Press video shows Igor Strelkov, military commander of pro-Russian militias in Slovyansk talking to journalists in Slovyansk, Ukraine, Sunday, April 27, 2014. Strelkov has been identified as a Russian security services operative by Ukraine’s government. In what appeared to be a closely vetted interview to Russian media, Strelkov did not directly deny the accusation, saying the uprising in Ukraine was being carried out by opponents of the “Kiev junta” — language similar in tone to that adopted by the Kremlin leadership. (AP Photo/Associated Press Video)

This image taken from Associated Press video shows Igor Strelkov, military commander of pro-Russian militias in Slovyansk talking to journalists in Slovyansk, Ukraine, Sunday, April 27, 2014; in background, is one of three blindfolded and bound men who are allegedly the captured Ukrainian secret service members. Strelkov has been identified as a Russian security services operative by Ukraine’s government. In what appeared to be a closely vetted interview to Russian media, Strelkov did not directly deny the accusation, saying the uprising in Ukraine was being carried out by opponents of the “Kiev junta” — language similar in tone to that adopted by the Kremlin leadership. (AP Photo/Associated Press Video)

Pro-Russian activists storm an administration building in the center of Luhansk, Ukraine, one of the largest cities in Ukraine’s troubled east, Tuesday, April 29, 2014, as demonstrators demand greater autonomy for Ukraine’s regions. The action on Tuesday further raises tensions in the east, where insurgents have seized control of police stations and other government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns.(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

A Ukrainian journalist shows a photograph of Igor Strelkov, a military commander of pro-Russian militias in Slovyansk, to his supposed neighbor in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, April 29, 2014. Camera crews swarmed around an apartment building that Ukrainian TV reported to be home to the commander’s mother. Neighbors told The Associated Press that a “fancy black car†had turned up Tuesday morning to whisk the woman away. Strelkov, speaking in Slovyansk, strengthened the case that Russia is behind the turmoil that is rocking the eastern part of the country. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

A Ukrainian journalist shows a photograph of Igor Strelkov, a military commander of pro-Russian militias in Slovyansk, to his supposed neighbors in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, April 29, 2014. Camera crews swarmed around an apartment building that Ukrainian TV reported to be home to the commander’s mother. Neighbors told The Associated Press that a “fancy black car†had turned up Tuesday morning to whisk the woman away. Strelkov, speaking in Slovyansk, strengthened the case that Russia is behind the turmoil that is rocking the eastern part of the country. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

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SLOVYANSK, Ukraine (AP) — When shadowy commander Igor Strelkov appeared before the cameras recently in green combat fatigues and a clipped mustache, he did more than reveal the face of the insurgency rocking eastern Ukraine. He strengthened the case that Russia is behind the turmoil.

The commander did not address Ukraine and European Union assertions that he is a Russian intelligence officer. But he told journalists that he and his men entered Ukraine from Crimea, which Russia annexed in March after an insurgency that Russian President Vladimir Putin now admits involved Russian troops. Strelkov’s assertion that many of the insurgents are not locals undermines rebel claims that the insurgency is a spontaneous uprising, rather than a coordinated operation backed by outside forces.

“The militia is of course strongly sprinkled with volunteers from other regions,” Strelkov said in a taped interview with Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda. He estimated that a third of the fighters are not Ukrainian. He backtracked Tuesday in an interview with Russian TV, claiming 90 percent of the militiamen were Ukrainian.

The EU on Tuesday included Strelkov among 15 new people targeted by sanctions. EU documents identify him as a member of the Russian military intelligence agency GRU, as do Ukrainian authorities. The commander himself was cryptic about his origins in the weekend interview.

In Moscow, a flurry of drama surrounded Strelkov’s emergence, as camera crews swarmed around an apartment building that Ukrainian TV reported to be home to his mother. Neighbors told The Associated Press that a “fancy black car” had turned up Tuesday morning to whisk the woman away.

Equally murky are the origins of Strelkov’s insurgents, their operations and their weapons. They have proven themselves to be ruthless and effective, running their campaign with unerring foreknowledge of Ukrainian security operations.

Strelkov said his forces obtained their weapons partly from police buildings they had taken over, adding that his men also took arms and vehicles from Ukrainian forces they fought when they entered eastern Ukraine last month.

“Russia so far hasn’t supplied us with a single machine gun or bullet,” he said.

It wasn’t clear why Strelkov has chosen to go public now.

The insurgents are seeking more autonomy from Kiev — possibly even independence or annexation by Russia. Ukraine’s acting government and the West have accused Moscow of orchestrating the unrest, which they fear could be used as a pretext for a Russian invasion.

The belief that the Kremlin is directing the insurgents — whose mysterious origins and green fatigues have won them the moniker “little green men” — gained credence when Putin last month dropped his denials that the Russian army had been deployed in Crimea during the uprising in that region.

But there

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