Russian Units Honoured for Military Action in Ukraine?
Graves in Pskov oblast which journalists came under attack for reporting in August 2014. Most of the No. 76 Pskov Airborne Paratroopers Division are believed to have been killed in eastern Ukraine
On March 25 Russian President Vladimir Putin issued decrees awarding three Russian military units guard rank for unspecified “mass heroism and daring, resilience and courage demonstrated in military action in defence of the Fatherland and state interests in conditions of armed conflict, and bearing in mind their services in peacetime.”.
Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov has denied that the honours to No. 38 communications regiment; No. 11 and No. 83 airborne-assault brigades are for military action in Ukraine. This, he asserts, is impossible “because we know that Russian armed forces, regular units have not had nor do they have any involvement in those events”.
Peskov claims that the awards are for a combination of services, including participation in military exercises.
They are also, as all three decrees state clearly, for courage, etc. “in military action in defence of the Fatherland and state interests in conditions of armed conflict”.
It is reported that the 83rd brigade took part in the first Chechen war 20 years ago (1994-1996), while the 38th communications regiment took part in both Chechen wars, the last ending over 10 years ago. None has been officially engaged in military action since then.
These are by no means the only such unspecified deeds for which Putin has recently issued honours.
On March 9, he honoured Andrei Lugovoi, the man whom Britain wants to try for the 2006 murder of former FSB agent and Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko. The award was “for courage and daring demonstrated in carrying out work duties in conditions linked with risk to life”. Lugovoi, together with Dmitry Kovtun, are suspected of poisoning Litvinenko with radioactive polonium mainly because the two men left a trail of radioactive polonium 210 whereever they went, with at least one location giving such dangerously high readings that the scientists had to be removed for their own safety. Specialists have confirmed that the Kremlin critic who had accused Putin and the FSB of being behind apartment block bombings in Moscow and two other cities, causing enormous loss of life, was poisoned by a substance which is almost solely (97%) used in Russian nuclear reactors. .
That same day, Putin awarded Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov the Order of Honour for "professional achievements, public activities, and many years of diligent work." The award was announced a day after Kadyrov called Zaur Dadayev, the person designated as chief suspect in the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov a “true Russian patriot”.
Peskov’s remarks are at very least ingenuous with few observers these days seriously believing that Russian soldiers are not fighting and dying in eastern Ukraine. Putin himself, moreover, later admitted that the soldiers without insignia who seized control in Crimea in February 2014 were Russian.
Boris Nemtsov, who was murdered near the Kremlin on Feb 27, was one of the most vocal and consistent critics of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and aggression in eastern Ukraine.
In 2014 he and Leonid Marynyuk presented a film entitled ‘The Warmonger’ [Разжигатель войны] about Russia’s aggression in eastern Ukraine.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vfFhnqw0sE8 (press the icon in the bottom right for English subtitles).
His was not the only voice speaking out against Russia’s undeclared war and telling the truth about deaths of Russian soldiers.
The first reports of such deaths came in late August from Lev Schlosberg who investigated the apparent deaths of the majority of members of a paratrooper regiment from Pskov.
Schlosberg was savagely beaten just days after publishing information about the deaths in combat of Pskov paratroopers. Others who have tried to find out about conscripts being forced to go to Ukraine and about the numbers of soldiers dying have faced repressive measures. 73-year-old Ludmila Bogatenkova from a regional Soldiers’ Mothers association, for example, was initially arrested and remanded in custody and only released because her state of health made her death in custody seriously likely. She is still facing dubious criminal charges. The NGO Soldiers Mothers of St. Petersburg was forcibly added to the register of ‘foreign agents’ days after making information about soldiers’ deaths and injury in Ukraine public. Svetlana Davydova, a mother of 7, including a 2-month-old baby, was arrested in the Smolensk oblast and taken to Russia to face charges of state treason after phoning the Ukrainian embassy to warn that the soldiers in a unit nearby were being sent to Moscow and then probably to Ukraine. She was only released and the charges finally dropped after a real lawyer was taken on, rather than the one provided by the prosecution. The lawyer, Ivan Pavlov managed to get it through to the investigators that they would lose a great deal more by trying and failing to prove that the information in question constituted a state secret – or that it was false.
All kinds of ruses, manipulation and pressure on relatives have been applied to try to conceal information about Russian military engagement in Ukraine. Where Russian state control on the media is near absolute and people have not personally known soldiers who were killed or injured in Ukraine, the tactics may work. The number of those who know about Cargo 200 and secrecy over the death of their loved ones is rising, with pretence becoming ever more difficult. In western countries, active reluctance to openly acknowledge the scale of Russian engagement was a major problem for a very long time. The weight of evidence is, however, overwhelming, with most estimates suggesting up to 12 thousand Russian soldiers deployed in Ukraine. We should probably add those who returned alive or in coffins and whose units demonstrated courage “in military action in defence of the Fatherland and state interests”