Staunton, November 28 – Because Vladimir Putin continues to insist that there are no Russian military personnel in Ukraine, the Russian defense ministry has been forced to use ever more euphemisms in order to hide the reality that Russian soldiers are dying there. Now, the Russian dead will be called “those who died in exercises on the border with Ukraine.”
On Tuesday, Deputy Defense Minister Nikolay Pankov spoke to the Russian Council on Human Rights. In his remarks, he insisted in the words of Elena Racheva of “Novaya gazeta” that “Russian soldiers are not taking part in military activities in the east of Ukraine but all those who have died will receive compensation” (novayagazeta.ru/society/66279.html).
In the months since August when evidence began to mount about the deaths of Russian military personnel inside Ukraine, the journalist notes, “the defense ministry has never acknowledged that [Russian] forces have crossed the border of Ukraine. It has never apologized to their relatives, published lists of losses or indicated their number.”
“In general,” she says, officials have acted “as if they had forgotten about them.”
During his presentation this week, Sergey Krivenko, a member of the council and a coordinator of the Citizen and Army Movement, said, “Pankov did not mention the word ‘Ukraine’ once.” Instead, he and his colleagues repeated the official line that there are no Russian forces beyond the borders of the country.
When Pankov and those accompanying him were asked why there were so many dead soldiers if their loss was the result as claimed of maneuvers, he and they said that “they would not talk about that.” Pankov said he had a list “on his desk” of the losses but ‘for understandable reasons’ would not make it public.”
But ascribing the losses to exercises is becoming increasingly unsustainable, the “Novaya gazeta” journalist says. “Military personnel know that when more than four or five people die in exercises, this is a real emergency. There must be a commission, an investigation and the removal of commanders.”
The number of Russian losses in Ukraine is far larger than that, and ever more Russians are learning this in a most bitter way. While Moscow pays them up to five million rubles (100,000 US dollars) for their losses, it doesn’t return the personnel effects of the soldiers or tell the truth about how they died.
And there is yet another problem for Moscow. Russian television regularly talks about the heroes of the Donetsk and Luhansk “peoples republics,” but it doesn’t call the Russians who have lost their lives in Ukraine heroes or give them orders and medals. Instead, it lies about these losses, thus adding insult to the injuries the families have suffered.