Putin’s Wars Come Home to Russia — Despite Moscow’s Efforts to Hide the Bodies

Russian combat losses in Ukraine are sufficiently large that they have already had an impact on demographic statistics, pushing up to anomalous heights the number of dead in three Russian regions in 2014-2015 and possibly prompting Moscow to send bodies to various places to conceal just how large these losses are, Tatyana Kolesova says.

Kolesova, who works with the Petersburg Observers group, told Radio Liberty’s Tatyana Voltskaya that the official figures were striking because the usual causes of mortality from accidents and alcoholism had not increased and yet the number of dead had soared in Voronezh, Nizhny Novgorod and Krasnoyarsk oblasts.

She says that the only conclusion she could reach was that “the appearance of this anomalous mortality in May 2014 was connected with the fact that a significant number of Russians were participating in military actions on the territory of other countries,” in this case Ukraine.

In these three oblasts alone, she says, there were 6312 “excess” deaths in 2014 and 2015 than one would have expected on the basis of figures for the pre-war year of 2013. Moreover, increases in the number of deaths was marked in every month and not in one or two as one might have expected from an accident or an epidemic.

And there is another problem: officials clearly registered these deaths in these three places even if it may not have been the case that the people who died were from there, Kolesova says. That leads to suspicions that officials in these regions but perhaps not in others were prepared to cooperate with Moscow in seeking to hide these combat losses.

Given how many problems there are with official statistics in Russia, no final conclusions can yet be drawn, although one other expert confirmed Kolesova’s findings that the death numbers she points to were truly anomalous.

There is no reason to assume that the Russian government isn’t continuing to do the same thing now to hide continuing losses in Ukraine and Syria lest Russians come to recognize what the true cost of Putin’s wars are for them, especially given Moscow’s denial of Russian involvement in the former and downplaying of its ground role in the other.

But there is another reason to suspect that Moscow is trying to hide these losses: It has a long tradition of seeking to cover up losses it doesn’t want anyone to talk about, not only in its reports about deaths from the Holodomor and the GULAG but in other far more recent events as well.

The author of these lines was exposed to a horrific example of this after the violent clashes between Armenians and Azerbaijanis in Sumqayit in February 1988 when Soviet officials shipped the bodies of victims to morgues across the USSR so that no one place would know just how many died and in this case how they died.

Over 2,000 Russian troops killed during Ukraine invasion

A Moscow newspaper reported that Russia had lost “no fewer than 2,000” dead in the fighting in Ukraine and another 3,200 serious casualties by February 1, 2015, a story that stayed up until Kremlin censors removed those lines from the article lest it call into question Vladimir Putin’s constant refrain that there are no Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine.

In an article about increased pay for Russian soldiers in 2015, Delovaya zhizn reported these numbers, but they didn’t remain on the site for every long, according to Konstantin Zelfanov of Novy Region-2 yesterday.

But the original uncensored article remained accessible in a cached version, and the key passage of that reads as follows, Zelfanov says. “The government of the Russian Federation has taken an important decision about the monetary compensation of military personnel who have taken part in military actions in the east of Ukraine.”

“For the families of those who have died in the course of military actions in the east of Ukraine, monetary compensation has been set at three million rubles [40,000 US dollars] and for those who have become invalids during the military actions at 1.5 million rubles [20,000 US dollars].”

Moscow had already paid monetary compensation “for more than 2,000 families of soldiers who had been killed

“In addition,” the original version said, Moscow plans to pay contract soldiers a supplement of 1,800 rubles [25 US dollars] for each day of combat. As of February 1, 2015, Moscow had already paid monetary compensation “for more than 2,000 families of soldiers who had been killed and for 3,200 soldiers who were seriously wounded and recognized as invalids.”

Given that six months of fighting have passed since that time, Russian losses, both killed and wounded, must now be much higher, although the Moscow authorities are doing everything they can, including censorship of this kind, to hide that fact lest Russians learn the tragic human costs they are paying for Putin’s aggression.

The Ukrainian Army is unprepared for war

The recent news in Ukraine, from the perspective of the government side, has been very positive. At least sixty settlements have been recaptured from the anti-Kyiv forces led by the Russian officers Vladimir Antyufeyev and Igor Girkin/Strelkov. The terrorists are now confined to two small pockets inside the two regional capitals of Donetsk and Luhansk. They are well provided with weaponsry but desperate for a full-scale Russian invasion to begin.

This picture, however, masks fundamental problems at the upper levels of Ukrainian army. Evidence is emerging of large-scale corruption among generals and lower-ranking officers, particularly in Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense. It is undermining the war effort and lowering the morale of rank-and-file. Many soldiers have come to the conclusion that it would be better to change the leadership in Kyiv before dealing with the separatists in the Donbas.

Command over troops in the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) is divided among several sectors, including the ministries of Defense and Internal Affairs, along with some volunteer formations. Minister of Internal Affairs, Arsen Avakov, announced on July 29 that at least 20,000 troops in the Donbas were needed to replace deserters and traitors. Almost 600 troops had been found collaborating with officials of the “Donetsk People’s Republic.” A further 242 people who had been on vacation “for a long time” were also under investigation.

After months of fighting the border with Russia remains open. Anton Herashchenko, an advisor to Avakov, notes that daily hundreds, and sometimes thousands of mercenaries cross from Russia to join the fighting in Ukraine. Some are influenced by Russian state propaganda, but others come as mercenaries. Some Ukrainian soldiers suspect that the border has remained open because some of their own leaders are making profits from the hiring of Russian troops and equipment.

Ukrainian soldier

One soldier (we have withheld his name) complained that ATO generals were ignorant of what is taking place in the war zone. They prefer to sit in hotels well away from the battle front “eating lobster” and cavorting with prostitutes. They remain restricted to the “Soviet mindset.” Leader of the Radical Party Oleh Liashko had visited them and provided cookies, chocolate, food, and sleeping bags, but the commanders had confiscated them and put such goods under lock and key. He quoted a border source that Russia was prepared to pay $100,000 for a truck loaded with weapons to cross and $10,000 for an individual mercenary. These funds fall into the hands of Ukrainian military leaders. The war, in his view, could be ended in a month using two battalions with twenty snipers in each, but people at the top are interested in prolonging it.

Parents of soldiers from Uzhhorod region complain of corrupt and irresponsible military commanders. About 280 soldiers were picked up at Luhansk airport and informed that their destination would be the Moscow-Luhansk highway, a virtual death sentence, since the road is the only remaining link between eastern Ukraine and Russia, and controlled by separatists and Chechens. The troops abandoned their mission; only 25 paratroopers from Zhytomyr were willing to take it on and suffered heavily. The Uzhhorod parents believe their Ukrainian commanders betrayed their whereabouts to the Chechens for cash and took vacations on the proceeds. Captured Chechens have also been suddenly released. The soldiers do not complain about shortages of food and water and are willing to defend Ukraine. But they believe also that the war is being prolonged for profits.

According to Dmytro Tymchuk, coordinator of the group “Information Resistance,” the main problem lies with army generals at ATO headquarters. They are, he reports, pathologically inclined to lies, are afraid to take on the slightest responsibility, unable to make simple decisions, and utterly incompetent. Military commanders of all units are psychologically unprepared for combat. Starting with the war in Crimea (March 2014), examples abound of middle and junior commanders refusing to obey orders or sabotaging them.

 

Treachery and corruption at the top is rampant. Both Svoboda leader Oleh Tiahnybok and commander of the “Aidar” battalion, Serhii Melnychuk, maintain there are traitors in the central office of the ATO. Tiahnybok has proposed a lie detector test to prevent the delivery of secret information to Moscow, end corruption, and facilitate the delivery of necessary military equipment. A volunteer from the “Wings of the Phoenix” from Mykolaiv region complained that: “The generals have saunas and fitness centers in the rear of ATO Staff. They have no idea what’s going on here, where our guys are dying.”

One soldier bemoaned the fact that in Kyiv the oligarchs have returned to power and “nothing has changed.” The generals do not care about soldiers, they remain in hotels and secure places, and are content to replace dead troops with new recruits. Even Ukrainian Minister of Defense, Valerii Heletei, acknowledged the depths of the problems of the high command, noting that the Ukrainian army has 20-30 generals who are quite adept at preparing battle plans on tablets and on paper. But they have no idea what is happening at the front. In order to understand the situation, he commented, “one should at least go there.”

Ukrainian army

 

The DNR’s defense leader Strelkov recently imposed martial law in Donetsk. Such options are not open to the Ukrainian side, complained deputy of the Kyiv Council, Ihor Lutsenko. Yet, he believes, its imposition would allow the military to detain suspected separatists. The front abounds in enemy agents and traitors, yet local police forces leave the separatists in peace. Lutsenko maintained that “The main problems with fighting the terrorists are located in the capital, and to overcome them will automatically ensure victory—at least over those enemies who are in our country right now. The ATO must start in Kyiv!”

The government of Ukraine proposes to allot about $1 billion for the ATO, the costs of refugees, and restoring the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk in the future in the 2014 state budget. It has also raised financial assistance to the families of dead servicemen in the ATO zone to around $50,000 per soldier. In reality, however, families do not receive such compensation since the soldiers are blamed for their own deaths—failure to follow instructions, misuse of weapon, improper behavior, etc., as the testimony of their widows reveals.

The failure to deal with fundamental problems of the army is undermining the war effort and alienating the troops conducting the main fighting. Not only does it endanger the future of Ukraine, but also it contributes to volunteer extremist paramilitary groups like the extremist “Azov” battalion taking over the war effort. The victims of high-level corruption in the current Ukrainian army are the rank-and-file troops who are neglected, betrayed, and often abandoned to their fate as “cannon fodder.” This fact is largely concealed in the Ukrainian and Western media amid reports of ATO successes and liberation of eastern towns and villages. But it will affect the future of Ukraine long after the demise of Girkin and the so-called People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.

[hr]

David Marples is currently Visiting Professor at the Slavic and Eurasian Research Center, Hokkaido University, Japan. He is Distinguished Professor and Dirctor of the Stasiuk Program for the Study of Contemporary Ukraine at the University of Alberta, Canada.

Myroslava Uniat holds an MA from the University of Alberta, Canada. Her sphere of research was contemporary Ukrainian political folklore. She was born in Kyiv and raised in Chernihiv region of Ukraine.

SBU: Wiretap proves terrorists possessed ‘Buk’ missile launcher

In response to Ukrainian allegations that pro-Russian terrorists had shot down the Malaysian Boeing they denied possession of weapons capable of doing it. However, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has published an intercept of the terrorists discussing in great detail a BUK-M surface-to-air system, another “gift” from Russia, capable of downing targets like #MH17.

Video with English Subtitles

Security service of Ukraine has investigated the circumstances of the July 17 terrorist act that took about 300 people dead. The data obtained indicates that the Boeing-777 plane was shot down by Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) terrorists using a surface-to-air missile complex Buk-M brought in from Russia. On July 14 the first information appeared on the terrorists possessing a Buk SAM complex capable of intercepting airborne targets at significant heights. However, the information of the Buk being in Ukrainian territory could not be confirmed back then.

The following is a transcript of the intercept between prominent pro-Russian terrorist leaders:

Oleg – Oleg Bugrov, Luhansk Republic chief of staff, deputy defense minister
Orion – Russian citizen, Main Intelligence Directorate officer probably called Andrey Ivanovich

Oleg: The plane bombed the settlement. It missed.
Orion: Awesome. That’s revenge for the planes we’ve downed today, but that will end in a couple of days.
Orion: We already have a f***ing Buk, we’ll shoot them down.

In the morning of July 17, 2014, the day of the tragedy, counterintelligence obtained trustworthy information of the DPR terrorists obtaining at least one Buk-M unit with a crew transferred across the Russian border near the town of Sukhodolsk around 1:00 AM.

Around 9:00 AM the complex reached the city of Donetsk and later was transported to the settlement of Pervomaiskyi.

Khmuryi – Sergey Nikolayevich Petrovskyi, 1964, Russian Main Inteligence Directorate, Igor Girkin (Strelkov’s) deputy on intelligence, was in Donetsk during the intercept
Buryat -DNR terrorist (name being investigated)
Sanych
-DNR terrorist, Khmuryi’s deputy

Khmuryi: Buryat, I hear you, go ahead.
Buryat: Where do we load this beauty?
Khmuryi: Which one? That one?
Buryat: Right, the one I’ve brought. I’m already in Donetsk.
Khmuryi: Is it the one I’m thinking about? The “B”… “M” one?
Buryat: Right. The Buk.
Khmuryi: Is it on a tow car?
Buryat: Yeah. It has to be unloaded and hid somewhere.
Khmuryi: Does it have a crew?
Buryat: Right. IT HAS.
Khmuryi: You don’t have to hide it anywhere, it’ll go there now.
Khmuryi: Have you brought one or two?
Buryat: Just one. There was a mishap there. They did not transfer our tow car. They unloaded it and it went here self-propelled.
Khmuryi: So did it come self-proppelled or on a tow car?
Buryat: it crossed the “stripe” (the border) self-proppelled.
Khmuryi: I see, and now you’ve brought it on a tow truck… Don’t take it anywhere… I’ll tell where it should go now, it will go together with Vostok batallion’s tanks.
Khmuryi: Sanych, you know… My Buk-M will go with your guys, it’s on a tow, where do I get it to put it into the column?
Sanych: Next to the “Motel”, right before Gornostayevka.
Khmuryi: Right after the motel, right?
Khmuryi: Listen closely: call Bibliotekar. You’ll see you know what right after the motel ring.
Khmuryi: Take only those who came back, whoever you need to guard it. Leave the others here. When you get there, Pervomaiskoye will be close, look at the map.
DNR terrorist: Got it.
Khmuryi: Set up around there, pull out those you have left. You’ll be in reserve. And guarding the thing you’re about to drive. Gyurza will be there too. Call me if you need anything.
DNR Terrorist: Ok.

It should be noted that on July, 17, apart from the Buk-M, DNR got three Hvozdyka howitzers from Russia. The terrorists also don’t hide their knowledge of artillery strikes at Ukrainian forces from Russian territory.

Khmuryi: Hello, Botsman. I hear you. Well, we aren’t doing good, we are near Marinovka right now and it isn’t too good there. But we’re holding our ground.
Botsman: Why is it so bad?
Khmuryi: Well, what do you think? We are under Grad fire, we’ve only got a breather now. We’ve also downed a Su-25 fighter-bomber. We’ve got a Buk-M now.
Khmuryi: They are trying to escape Zelenopolye and they can only go through me. Downed two Su-25’s yesterday and another one today.
Khmuryi: Thank god we got a Buk-M in the morning. It got easier. But it’s still quite hard.
Botsman: What can I say? If you need anything, call me, I’ll be right there.
Khmuryi: Thanks, brother. In a couple of hours I’m heading to Donetsk, looks like we got a breather after all. Three Hvozdyka howitzers waiting for me there. I’ll tow the Hvozdykas here because it’s really quite tough here.
Botsman: Listen, should we shell them with a Grad?
Khmuryi: You see, we’ve got a Grad, but no spotter. However, we’re waiting for Russia to shell them from the other side.