Nemtsov Report Says More Than 200 Russian Soldiers Killed In Ukraine War
More than 200 Russian military personnel have been killed in fighting in eastern Ukraine, according to a report based on research begun by slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.
The estimated death toll is one of the main findings of the much-anticipated report on Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine conflict, which was completed by allies of Nemtsov after his killing in February and released on May 12.
The report, titled Putin. War, asserts that at least 150 Russian military personnel were killed during a Ukrainian offensive in August 2014. A further 70 -- including 17 paratroopers from the city of Ivanovo -- were reportedly killed during fighting near the bitterly contested town of Debaltseve in January and February.
Families of those killed in 2014 were given 2 million rubles ($39, 000) by the government in exchange for signing a promise not to discuss the matter publicly, the report claims.
It says the families of soldiers killed this year were offered similar compensation but have not received it.
Also, according to the 64-page report, Russian service personnel are being compelled to officially resign from the military before being deployed to Ukraine in an effort by the Russian government to mask its involvement in the conflict.
President Vladimir Putin and the Russian military have consistently denied that Russian forces are involved in the fighting in Ukraine, saying that any Russians participating are there of their own accord.
"The most important thing is to tell the truth, " activist Ilya Yashin said at the report’s presentation at the Moscow headquarters of the opposition political party RPR-PARNAS.
"The purpose of this report is to tell people the truth. The leadership of our country bears responsibility for a crime. It bears responsibility for an enterprise that has victimized Ukrainian citizens and our fellow Russian citizens, " Yashin said.
Kyiv and NATO say there is incontrovertible evidence of direct Russian military involvement in the conflict between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists, which the United Nations says has killed more than 6, 100 civilians and combatants since April 2014.
The Nemtsov report is divided into 11 chapters, including sections on Russia’s overall policy toward Ukraine, the use of propaganda, the annexation of Crimea, and the shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet over eastern Ukraine in July 2014.
It documents the use of Russian budgetary funds to pay Russian citizens to fight as mercenaries in eastern Ukraine and asserts that the political leadership of the separatists in Ukraine is controlled by Putin aide Vladislav Surkov.
"As shown in this report, " the text reads, "the Russian government provided active political, economic, personnel, and also direct military support to the separatists."
The ultimate purpose of Moscow’s support for the separatists in eastern Ukraine was "to create an advantageous negotiating position with Western countries" in order to get them to lift sanctions imposed after Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea in exchange for an end to hostilities in eastern Ukraine.
The report also presents information from the Ukrainian government and military about the interrogations of Russian citizens captured fighting in Ukraine. This information has been scantly and skeptically reported by Russian state-controlled media.
Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister turned fierce Kremlin critic, was shot to death on February 27 in central Moscow, yards from the Kremlin, while he was working on the report.
Nemtsov’s friends and colleagues in RPR-PARNAS completed the research following his death, even though many documents were confiscated by investigators looking into his killing and many sources were no longer willing to speak to the researchers.
"If they shot Nemtsov right next to the Kremlin, then they can do whatever they want to our activists in Ivanovo and no one would notice, " the report quotes an unnamed lawyer representing the families of two killed paratroopers as saying.
The Nemtsov report also estimates that Russia has spent at least 53 billion rubles ($1 billion) on the war in Ukraine and a further 80 billion rubles supporting refugees from eastern Ukraine, where the rebels hold parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces.
The economic part of the report was written by economist Sergei Aleksashenko, a former deputy chairman of the Russian central bank.
The report has been placed online its entirety and published in an initial print run of 2, 000 copies. Organizers are collecting donations online to pay for an eventual mass printing and free distribution.
"Our audience is the entire Russian people, " Yashin said at the May 12 press conference. "We want to tell people the truth about what is happening in Russia, about what is happening in eastern Ukraine. We want to catch Putin in his lies. We want to tell people that the president of Russia -- a man who controls nuclear weapons and leads an enormous country -- is lying to the Russian people and to the entire world."
Key Allegations of the Report
The report alleges that Russia’s annexation of Crimea and interference in eastern Ukraine were planned in detail in advance. It says that Putin was looking for a way to reassert his authority in his third presidential term after large opposition protests in 2011-12. It points to opinion polls cited in the report that indicate Putin’s popularity rating was at 45 percent in February 2014 and in recent months has been consistently over 70 percent.
Citing the testimony of several paratroopers from the Russian cities of Kostroma and Ivanovo who were captured by Kyiv’s forces in eastern Ukraine and questioned by the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), the report says that Russian troops have been active in eastern Ukraine. The report also cites the testimony of soldiers from a tank unit who were captured in August 2014 near Ilovaysk, the site of major battles in the conflict.
The report says that at least 220 Russian soldiers have been killed fighting in eastern Ukraine. It says that at least 150 were killed near Ilovaysk in August 2014, in an offensive by Ukrainian forces, and that at least 70 -- including 17 paratroopers from Ivanovo -- were killed in January and February, when fighting intensified after a lull late last year. It says relatives of soldiers in the latter group approached Nemtsov for help because they could not get compensation from the government.
The report says that various types of Russian military hardware have been used by separatists who hold parts of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions even though they are Russian-made and not available for export -- and therefore not available to Ukraine. It says this debunks the claim that separatists are using Ukrainian military equipment. As an example, the report points to a Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air missile system photographed in Luhansk in February.
The report alleges that Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down by the separatists with a Buk missile system. Here and elsewhere, the authors say they have primarily "systematized" openly available information. Among other things, the report points to social-media statements picked up by Russian state news outlets in which rebels initially confirmed they had shot down a plane -- until the statements were deleted. It also cites investigations by Western media and a group of investigators from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, Netherlands, and Ukraine, which said MH17 -- whose downing killed all 298 people on board -- was most likely shot down by a Buk.
Volunteers Or Mercenaries
The report says that the legions of men dubbed "volunteers" by Moscow have in fact been hired "mercenaries." Speaking at the presentation, activist Ilya Yashin said that regional military enlistment offices and veteran organizations with official backing trained, armed, and paid mercenaries to fight in Ukraine and beef up the ranks of the separatists. Yashin said monthly wages have averaged 60, 000 rubles ($1, 180), while some received up to 90, 000 rubles.
The report claims that fighters from Russia’s Chechnya region, which is led by Kremlin-backed strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, have played a prominent role. It says they first appeared in May 2014, and that they filled the ranks of the rebel Vostok Battalion and took part in the long, deadly battles over the Donetsk airport. They were also the first to suffer serious losses: a Kamaz truck carrying Chechen fighters was hit, killing several and wounding several. The report says a second wave of Chechens arrived in August, when the tide of the conflict turned in favor of the rebels following government advances.
The report asserts that the unrecognized separatist entities, the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic, are under direct control of the Kremlin administration. It names Vladislav Surkov, an aide to President Vladimir Putin, as a key figure. The report lists prominent former and current separatist figures who are Russian citizens, and notes that several early separatist leaders hailed from Moscow and were linked to a Russian businessman. It quotes a former separatist leader as saying Surkov provided "serious support" and was "our man in the Kremlin."
The report says that in the first 10 months of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Russia spent 53 billion rubles ($1 billion) hiring mercenaries, supporting the separatists, and on the upkeep of military hardware used by the separatists. It says approximately 80 billion rubles has been spent from the federal budget on the massive inflow of refugees from eastern Ukraine into Russia -- which it terms a "humanitarian catastrophe." The report also estimates that Russians lost 2 trillion rubles in salaries and 750 billion rubles in savings due to the annexation of Crimea, which triggered sanctions, countersanctions, and inflation.