Boris Nemtsov, the Russian opposition figure assassinated right outside the Kremlin earlier this year, is speaking from beyond the grave: a report he had been researching at the time of his death, on Russia’s involvement in Ukraine, was released today by his colleague Ilya Yashin.
Russia has anywhere between 8,000 and 10,000 troops in eastern Ukraine—a sizable percentage of the 37,000 rebel troops the reports cites as fielded at the height of the conflict, and Moscow has reportedly spent anywhere from $1 billion to $40 billion on the war thus far (depending how you count it). Bloomberg has more:
“Neither Putin nor any of his generals have the courage to admit the fact of military aggression against Ukraine,” they said in the report, estimating that at least 220 Russian soldiers have been killed in Ukraine. “Shallow lies and hypocrisy are being passed off as great political wisdom.”
Russian soldiers were sent to Ukraine with humanitarian aid convoys, according to the report. Russia has camps for combatants on its territory, tanks are regularly moving toward the border and separatist leaders coordinate their actions with the Kremlin, it said.
So-called volunteers, who are paid as much as 90,000 rubles a month for an ordinary soldier, are recruited via conscription offices and veterans’ associations, according to the report. There is “more than sufficient” evidence that Russia has been supplying weapons to the rebels, including tanks, Tornado-S missile systems and Pantsir-S air defense systems, it says.
None of this should come as much of a surprise to those who have been following the war in Ukraine closely at all. Putting specifics on the casualties and the estimates of the money spent are new, but the numbers on troops deployed is within the margins being estimated by Western analysts.
What’s different, of course, is that this is being published inside Russia by Russians. Before his murder, Nemtsov fought to make these finding public. It would be nice to say that now Russians can decide what to think about their leaders in the light of the truth. But sadly, as Nemtsov killers’ impunity showed, the Russian propaganda machine is sufficiently sophisticated to keep this key narrative as blurred as all the others.