Exclusive: Russell Bentley, Texas Man in Russian Army, Says He's 'Liberating' Ukraine

Living among the pro-Russian fighters occupying the Donbas region of Ukraine is a former American soldier, Texas native Russell Bentley.

Given the codename "Texas" after joining the Novorussian army in 2014, Bentley went viral earlier this week for sharing footage of himself on "the front line" with Russian troops marching through the Donbas.

After he caught the attention of people online, Newsweek exclusively spoke to Bentley about how a man from Austin—a self-proclaimed former "surfer, beach boy-type guy"—ended up flying to Ukraine to join and fight with the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR).

Bentley's journey to Ukraine

In February, the world looked on as Russian forces started surrounding the border of Ukraine. For months Russian officials had denied plans to invade, but Bentley and others within the DPR knew what was coming.

"It wasn't a surprise to me. It was a surprise to a lot of idiots that consider themselves, you know, geopolitical analysts in the West," Bentley told Newsweek. "A month ago people were ridiculing me for saying: 'Hey, you know what? This time they mean business.'"

Bentley, a self-proclaimed communist, first set foot in Donetsk on December 7, 2014, but his arrival in Ukraine was a long time coming.

He was born into a "wealthy, very upper-middle-class family" in Highland Park, Dallas, Texas, a "very elitist" area, according to Bentley. As a young man he served in the U.S. Army, spending several years based in Germany and traveling "extensively" across Europe.

He was a demolition specialist and combat engineer before being granted an honorable discharge. From there, he then lived on South Padre Island, Texas, where his family had a restaurant. He spent seven years in the town as a "surfer, beach boy-type guy" before moving to Minneapolis, where he developed an interest in politics.

Russell Bentley 2016 images
Images of Russell Bentley in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, uploaded on his blog in February 2016. russelltexasbentley.com

He was involved with marches and protests against the first and second Gulf Wars, and claims to have been an advocate for immigration rights, women's rights and gay rights.

He became increasingly dissatisfied with America's foreign policies and became "disgusted and enraged" by NATO's 2011 intervention in Libya. He set into action as he didn't want to feel like a "punk" and simply "write about how bad it was on Facebook."

In 2014 in Odessa, Ukraine, dozens of people were killed during a clash between pro- and anti-Euromaiden demonstrators. Seeing footage of this online, Bentley said: "You know what, I'm gonna go to Ukraine, and I'm going to kill the Nazis that did this, and I'm going to defend people, innocent civilians."

Russia has justified its campaign against Ukraine by claiming they're fighting neo-Nazis, and it aims to "denazify" the country. However, dozens of historians have signed an open letter condemning Russia's actions and rhetoric. Laura Kockusch, a professor of Holocaust studies at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, told NPR that the language is part of "a fiction that is used by Putin to justify his war of aggression on the Ukraine."

Continuing his journey from the U.S. to Ukraine, Bentley said: "I had a great job, I had a great girlfriend, I had a great life. I was comfortable. I made a thousand bucks a week cash, talking to people as a salesman. My girlfriend was a yoga instructor 20 years younger than me, bro. No shit."

Bentley packed his bags, rode his motorcycle to Dallas and had one last Thanksgiving with his family. He sold his motorcycle and got on a plane to Moscow.

Fighting Ukrainians on the front line

Traveling from Rostov to Donetsk, Bentley met a friend he'd been in touch with, a journalist reporting from the city. A week later, he joined the army with the Vostok Battalion, a Russian militant group operating in the Donbas region.

"If I told all the times that I came within seconds or inches of death, first of all, we'd be here all night, and second of all, you wouldn't even believe me," Bentley said. "I can tell you that I'm the luckiest dude that I've ever known. I believe in guardian angels, because of how lucky I've been here." He said he served with the Novorussian army in 2014, 2015 and 2017.

Bentley believes he's the only American fighting for the DPR, but he does think there are Americans serving against him. "Actually, there's seven Americans that have served in the Nazi volunteer battalions on the Ukrainian side who are, or at least were until a couple of months ago, under investigation by the FBI for war crimes here."

Russell Bentley YouTube
Russell 'Texas' Bentley appearing in a YouTube video he posted online on February 20, 2022. YouTube - Russell Bentley

Bentley visited the combat zones in Ukraine recently, as shown in the clip that went viral, but he claims to have been there as a journalist rather than as a soldier. He plans to stay in the region, but has no intention of fighting, unless he's forced to.

"I carry a pistol with me everywhere I go. I have an AK at my house. If there was to be a Ukrainian offensive against the city of Donetsk, I would fight as a partisan. I'm 61 years old, bro, I'm exempt from military service," Bentley said. "I told a friend the other day: 'Dude, I like the life of the veteran much more than life of the soldier."

"Someone who has not done it can't imagine the hardship. The fear and the tragedy and the blood and the horror of it, but just the hardship of it, dude, I mean, it's like running a marathon twice a day, every single day without stopping.

"So no. If the Ukrainians come into Donetsk, I will fight. I have machine gun and have a lot of bullets, and I'll use them. I'm not afraid of being killed, but I know what would happen to me if I got captured. So that ain't gonna happen."

"Liberating" Ukraine

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24—Bentley disagrees with the term "invade" in this instance—there has been mass soldier and civilian casualties on both sides, with one million refugees reported to have fled the country.

The International Criminal Court has also announced that it is launching an investigation into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Russia in Ukraine.

But according to Bentley, Russia will take away the military power of the Ukrainian army and "give Ukraine to the Ukrainians."

"You can see the quality of life in Ukraine. It's the shittiest country in all of Europe right now. I mean, 25 percent of all the prostitutes in Europe are from Ukraine. That's a fact," said Bentley. Newsweek could not find any evidence to support this claim.

"Russia's gonna roll back as soon as the Nazi military might is destroyed. Russia is gonna say: 'Hey, you know, this is your country. It needs some fixing. We don't got time for it, but you guys go ahead. Maybe we can help out some.'"

Looking at how the war could potentially escalate, Bentley believes that any further interference from America, Europe or NATO would be a mistake.

"The worst case scenario is the idiot Biden, or whoever tells him what to do, and the idiots in Europe and NATO to, you know, to escalate this thing into a European or a global conflict.

"It's because of the idiocy of these guys continuing to send weapons to Ukraine, when the outcome of the war with Russia is already beyond question.

"The only reason that Russia is taking so long to deal with Ukraine is because it is so completely being careful with kid gloves and a feather duster, not to destroy infrastructure, and not to kill innocent civilians, and Ukrainian policy of using human shields is making that very difficult. So it's taking longer than was expected."

Putin and Zelensky

As one might expect, Bentley holds Putin in very high regard, noting his physical achievements as reasons he will be victorious. "Understand it, Vladimir Putin is a black belt, eighth degree in judo, and he's also a ninth-degree black belt in taekwondo, which is another level of excellence. The number of people who have both of those blackbelt degrees in the whole world you can probably count on your fingers and toes." It should be noted that Putin's black belt was recently revoked by the International Taekwondo Organization.

Bentley went on: "So this isn't a guy who is going to get bullied or, you know, buffaloed. He's not a guy that you can bluff. And he's not a guy that bluffs.

"There's a famous saying, bro. Russians don't start wars—they finished them. And Russia didn't start this war a week ago. The goddamn U.S. government started eight years ago, and now Russia is coming in to finish it."

When Bentley arrived in Ukraine in December 2014, Petro Poroshenko was the country's president. But in 2019, sitting president Volodymyr Zelensky ran on a radical reformative platform of anti-establishment and anti-corruption.

Zelensky's leadership and reaction to the crisis have been praised across the world. The former actor and comedian has been credited as uniting divided Americans against Putin. He also received a standing ovation from the European Parliament on Monday. Bentley however, is less impressed.

"He's a clown. He's a puppet. He's a crackhead, literally, a f**king coke fiend. He's a trained monkey just like Poroshenko. He does whatever his bosses in Washington tell him to do. I mean, if anything Zelensky's even more pathetic an example of obsequious lickspittle than Poroshenko was."

Never coming home

Despite defecting from America, Bentley still has a fondness for his former country. The Texas flag is displayed behind him on his YouTube videos, and he said he still keeps in touch with members of his family.

"I love the idea of America. I love American people, my family, my friends there," he said. "I don't want anything bad to happen to any good people anywhere, but the United States is ruled by a fascist regime."

Russell Bentley Texas flag
The Texas flag is displayed behind Russell Bentley in one of his YouTube videos YouTube - Russell Bentley

With his feet planted firmly in the Donbas, and believing strongly that Russia and the DPR will reign supreme, Bentley stated he has no reason to return to the country of his birth.

"If I return to the U.S., it'll be on a Russian tank to liberate the U.S., just like what we're doing here. If I go back to the U.S. unarmed, I'll spend the rest of my life in prison for some bogus bullshit charge," Bentley said.

"But I don't need to go back to the U.S. I have a DPR passport. I'm a citizen of the Donetsk People's Republic. I'm also a Russian citizen. I have a small house with a big garden, a beautiful, brilliant wife, who's smart and tough and cool. [She] speaks three languages and is more educated than 90 percent of the people in the United States.

"There is no place I would rather live than here."

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