Rage against the machine

‘We have to take to the streets and be ready to lose our freedom’

Ex-serviceman Ashabali Alibekov, 52, becomes the first to be released following charges of ‘discrediting the army.’ He hosted YouTube channel ‘Wild Paratrooper’. In March 2022, he was sentenced to 1 year and 2 months in a strict-regime colony under the charge of repeated ‘discrediting of the Russian army’ (part 1 of Article 280.3 of the Criminal Code). It comes with a maximum sentence of 5 years.

We talked to him what it’s like to be in Russian prison, the price of liberty, and the lessons Russians can learn from the Wagner mercenaries.

Life and times of Ashabali Alibekov

Ashabali Alibekov was born in the Dagestani village of Sergoka and was raised in an orphanage in Khasavyurt. He served in the Black Sea Fleet as part of his urgent military service when he was young. At the beginning of the Second Chechen War, he served as a commander of a reconnaissance paratrooper battalion, spending a total of nine months in active combat zones.

After his military service, he tried a variety of jobs, working as a loader, firefighter, tractor driver, and even as a first aid instructor. Additionally, he gained experience as a bodyguard for the Deputy Prime Minister of Dagestan and the head of ‘Dagneft,’ Gaji Makhachev.

Asxab Alibekov first gained media attention in 2007 due to a high-profile incident on the outskirts of Stavropol involving a Chechen student injured by a police officer during a mass brawl. Alibekov called for an investigation into the incident and urged for the responsible Interior Ministry employees to be held accountable. Following these incidents, he survived two assassination attempts, leading Asxab, along with his wife and son, to move to Novorossiysk, where he served in the Black Sea Fleet.

In 2017, he spent several months in Crimea. However, he broke the jaw of a lower-ranking officer and charged a three-year sentence for this under the article on exceeding official powers with the use of violence. Alibekov pleaded guilty.

In early February 2018, the former paratrooper made his debut on YouTube by posting a video where he directly addressed Vladimir Putin, urging a boycott of the upcoming presidential elections.

‘You’ve been in power for almost 20 years, you don’t let anyone breathe. You lie that there are no our soldiers in Ukraine, but we are dying there. You pit our soldiers against the Ukrainian people. […] Your ratings rise only because of war. As soon as it drops, you start a war in the Caucasus, in Chechnya, in Donbas, then in Abkhazia and Georgia. Aren’t you tired of killing our soldiers?’ Alibekov said in early 2018. His bold statements earned him the nickname ‘wild paratrooper,’ which became the name of his YouTube channel. Currently, the channel has gained 92 thousand subscribers, and his debut video got over a million views.

Following the video, Alibekov faced consequences: his probation was replaced by actual imprisonment in the summer of 2018, resulting in his dismissal from the military. While in Correctional Colony No. 5 in Apscheronsk [Krasnodar Krai, 125 km from Krasnodar], he got an additional 8 months for assaulting a police officer. As Alibekov stated, the guards provoked and attacked him first.

Despite the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the ‘wild paratrooper’ remained outspoken. In September 2022, a case was initiated against him. Alibekov was charged for ‘repeatedly discrediting the army, leading to his imprisonment.

On prison

Alibekov is shedding light on the conditions inside the correctional facility

‘Within the colony, you’ll find hardened criminals, drug addicts, and those who made mistakes out of ignorance. But it’s not solely a population of the worst criminals. Among the inmates, there are individuals of high education and caliber. Yet, among the 1200 inmates in Correctional Colony No. 5, I was the only one labeled a political prisoner. Many guards sympathized, anticipating my return due to my video.

Medical care within the colony is deplorable. During my time, 18 people died from various ailments—cirrhosis, HIV, among others. Oddly, the colony’s medical staff attributed most deaths to ‘heart failure,’ a diagnosis they frequently favored.

The meals served consist mostly of oats mixed with stones and porridge that closely resembles animal feed. This food is just enough to sustain life. It’s intentionally contaminated, causing severe drops in blood pressure. To uncover the truth, I smeared the food onto paper and handed this sample to the laboratory after being released. Soon, we’ll get the results.

Asxabali Alibekov. Photo from the personal archive.

While I was in the cell, I wrote three books: an autobiography, a historical account of the Dagestani people, and a funny novel. I also composed approximately 60 songs and poems. Yet, the most significant creations are three anthems dedicated to Dagestan. I hope to reach out to the Union of Writers in the republic. If they like it, perhaps Dagestan will sing my anthem.

On rage

During his first term, Putin was alright at least compared to the previous leaders. But two years in, as a former KGB officer, he began handing critical positions in the government to the security forces. After that, I understood that Russia was slowly being put in chains. Russia became a prison.

The tone and content of that statement seem quite intense. Here’s a revised version that maintains the essence while toning down the language:

Putin will never willingly give up power. He’ll sit until the he dies. After the Wagner PMC rebellion, I saw Putin nervous for the first time in my life. He crapped his pants. So, I understood that discussing the future of Russia is pointless, only weapons matter. The mercenaries set us an example. Tanks, cannons, planes settle matters better than any smart talk.

On military service

I never followed criminal orders during the war [in Chechnya]. In other words, I refined them, acted in my own way.

All my soldiers came back home alive. I have no authorities. I even had a suspended sentence for punching a colonel. I served not the generals but the people.

Asxab Alibekov during military service. Photo from the family archive.

This Ukrainian guy also got it from me (Asxabali recalls an incident of a fight in the army for which he received a sentence). He was a collaborator, switched to the Russian army. Then they presented it as if we argued because of work. In reality, it wasn’t about that. It was purely a national issue. I told him, ‘You’re Ukrainian. You serve in Russia. And you’re killing your fellow Ukrainians. Why didn’t you take a neutral side?’ In this argument, I was defending Ukrainians. He attacked me, I quickly cooled him down. Broke his jaw with a single blow. And that was it, he calmed down.

I live by the principle make love not war. I used to be a nonconformist, a biker. But the world is structured in a way that the military must defend their people, their land. So, I became a soldier. I wouldn’t become a cook or a tailor. I defended my homeland from these bearded bastards [Chechen militants], who had nothing humane left. They were the ones who slaughtered our guys, raped women, blew up homes in Volgodonsk, and attacked public schools.

Who is Kadyrov anyway? Without Putin, he’s nothing. All he can do is decorate himself with the medals. It’s called the ‘Brezhnev illness.’ His time will come. The same goes for Putin.

On future

Various people are trying to help me. They say it’s not safe for me to live in Russia, that I should leave. I would gladly leave because I feel the danger here. I know they [authorities] won’t leave me alone. This is Russia, the laws don’t work here. The authorities will definitely come after me again. But leaving without money is pointless. I can’t risk my family just like that. My family is my weak spot. While I was in prison, they kept an eye on my wife, they bugged my devices. The most important thing is to hide my family because they are at greater risk than I am. I’m not gonna to run. I’ll fight as long as I can.

I would like my children to live in a free democratic country without dictatorship, where a person who works, runs business and make himself useful would be prioritized. The criminal justice system needs a complete overhaul, so that people aren’t imprisoned for trivialities [like an charging with discrediting the army], not imprisoned for their personal opinions.

Russia should become not just a country but a home. Home should be good. It will only be good when we choose a worthy president, a worthy government that doesn’t steal money but cares for the people. I know a few such people.

I don’t want power. I love fishing, hunting, motorcycles, traveling. Sitting in an office on my ass is not for me. But I really want to be a peacemaker between Russia and Ukraine. I’m ready to exchange prisoners, participate in negotiations. I won’t let down either Russians or Ukrainians. I stand for the truth. It would be a tremendous honor for me. O have enough courage, foolishness, recklessness for that. I can handle this for sure.’