The Rupture That Could Trigger Putin’s Deadliest Rampage Yet

The Kremlin’s chief executioner in Crimea is not modest about having slaughtered some 70,000 of her neighbors.

“We need pitiless, unceasing struggle against the snakes who are hiding in secret,” Rosalia Zemlyachka told the Sebastopol newspaper Vremya. “We must annihilate them, sweep them out with an iron broom, a sea of blood, everywhere.”

Witnessing Zemlyachka’s carnage first-hand, Russian opposition leader Sergei Melgunov said the lampposts of Crimea’s largest city are “richly garnished with wind-swayed corpses.” In the nearby beach resort of Feodosia, Melgunov and other officials said they observed Zemlyachka commandeer the city’s wells as burial pits. When the shafts were clogged with tortured soldiers and civilians, Melgunov added, she strapped her victims to planks, either roasting them alive in furnaces or drowning them in barges in the Black Sea.

“It’s a pity to waste cartridges on them,” Zemlyachka said.

To be sure, Western leaders now wrestling with the question of whether to encourage and fund Ukraine’s intention to grab back Crimea may not be familiar with the Kyiv-born secret policewoman known to locals as Demon.

Yet back in Moscow—a century after Zemlyachka, at the end of the Russian Civil War supervised the Bolshevik’s extermination of a population nearly three times the size of Key West—the Demon remains the darling of Russian President Vladimir Putin, a superstar at KGB headquarters, and the poster ghoul for what Russia is capable of doing if Ukraine marches on Crimea.

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