Russian president Vladimir Putin has decreed that all Russian casualties “in peacetime” be a state secret. In addition to criminal charges arising from divulging state secrets, families risk losing pensions and lump-sum payments if they reveal that their sons were killed in Ukraine. Mothers of soldiers’ associations have been branded “foreign agents” for collecting data on Russian casualties. Dissident Boris Nemtsov was murdered shortly before completing his study of Russian casualties in Ukraine. Russian civil rights organizations, working against the fog of official resistance, could confirm only several hundred battlefield deaths.
Business Life (Delovaya Zhizn) reports on markets, finance, entrepreneurship, finance, and leisure, scarcely an outlet for sensational information. Its innocuously entitled “Increases in Pay for Military in 2015,” however, reveals what appear to be official figures on the number of Russian soldiers killed or made invalids “in eastern Ukraine.” Russian censors quickly removed Novy Region (New Region). Here is the “top secret” material the censors removed (my translation):
“Compensation of military personnel taking part in military actions in Ukraine in 2014-2015.” In addition, the Russian government, in a decision about the monetary compensation of military personnel taking part in military action in eastern Ukraine, approved compensation for families of military personnel who were killed taking part in military action in Ukraine of three million rubles (about $50,000). For those who have become invalids during military action, the compensation is one and a half million rubles (about $25,000). A payment of 1,800 rubles is envisioned for contract “fighters” for every day of their presence in the conflict zone. In all, as of February 1, 2015, monetary compensation had been paid to more than 2,000 families of fallen soldiers and to 3,200 military personnel suffering heavy wounds and recognized as invalids (my italics).”
Sovietologists found many secrets of the USSR by digging into the Soviet press and technical and financial trade journals. That fallen and invalided military personnel are compensated must be reflected somewhere in budgets. As reported in Delovaya zhizn, compensation payments for those killed and invalided in Ukraine came to almost twenty million dollars, not a large share of the approximately $50 billion defense budget but large enough to appear in an appropriate budget subcategory.
The Delovaya zhizn inadvertent (or deliberate?) revelation of more than two thousand combat deaths in east Ukraine not only destroys the Putin myth of a small number of deaths of Russian patriots defending Russians in Ukraine from neo-Nazi extremists but also demolishes Putin’s cover story that no “active” member of the Russian armed forces is or has been in Ukraine. According to Putin, if there are Russian fighters in Ukraine, they had resigned and gone as volunteers. Note that contract fighters are paid for each day in the combat zone. In Russian military jargon, a contract soldier (kontraktnik) contracts to serve a specific period of time in the military (usually three years) in return for compensation and other benefits. The clause on payment for contract soldiers blows a huge hole through the cover story.
The Russian censors have removed the incriminating information. The Kremlin will claim that the webcached material is a forgery. The figures, however, make sense and confirm what should be obvious to all: Russian troops are in east Ukraine and are being supplied with heavy weapons by Russia. Deadly battles–such as those at Donetsk Airport and Debaltseve–have resulted in heavy casualties on each side. We also know how the Russian dead are secretly transported back to Russia for furtive burials.
Despite this mass of evidence, only one-quarter of Russians believe the Russia has troops in Ukraine. Will the presence of 3,200 war invalids and more than 2,000 grieving families erode the belief that Russia is not conducting a war with its own troops against Ukraine? It seems that time and events will raise the number of Russians who believe the truth.