Whilst Russia continues to deny that its troops are fighting in the ongoing Ukrainian conflict, a respected news site in Russia seemingly inadvertently published secret figures that detail deaths and causalities of forces on the ground.
According to Forbes, Russian news site Business Life (Delovaya Zhizn) revealed what seem to be official figures detailing the number of Russian troops killed and injured in “Eastern Ukraine.” The site, which generally focuses on coverage of markets, finance and leisure, posted a piece entitled “Increases in Pay for Military in 2015,” that at first glance would be uncontroversial.
But the article appears to detail the numbers of Russian deaths, as well as the figures for those injuried. The content was hastily removed, but it was webcached by the Ukrainian journal Novy Region (New Region).
Putin decreed in May this year that all military deaths are to remain state secrets. In the past, only deaths in wartime were classified. At the time, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied the decision was connected to fighting in Ukraine, simply stating that the law change was part of “the improvement of the state secret law.”
But this leaked information, subsequently translated by Forbes, reveals that families have been receiving three million rubles (£27,500) in compensation for an individual dying in military action, whilst those who are injured would be awarded one and a half million (£13,700).
“A payment of 1,800 rubles is envisioned for contract “fighters” for every day of their presence in the conflict zone,” Paul Roderick Gregory continues in his translation, “as of 1 February 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.”
James Nixey, the head of the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House, suggests this leak is just another “nail in the coffin” in proving Russia is engaged in military action.
“I don’t think it’s anything new, there is verifiable photographic, satellite, and personal testimony evidence that shows Russia is involved in military action in Ukraine.”
“Ultimately when you have a sustained campaign on this scale, errors slip out, and people do slip up. This is a mistake on the part of the Russian, more grist to the mill for people trying to get the word out that Russia is not a third party semi interested player, but is one party to a major international war.”
In February 2014, after months of protests in Ukraine, President Victor Yanukovych was forced out of office, and just a matter of days later armed men opposed to the Ukrainian Euromaidan movement, believed internationally to be Russian forces, entered Crimea, Eastern Ukraine.
Russia continues to deny military involvement in the area, although it supports the cause of the rebels in the Donbass region of Ukraine, but says none forces are involved in the fighting.
“This webpage will presumably be claimed to have been forged,” suggests Nixey, who is an expert on the conflict, “as has been the case with dog tags, passports, satellite imagery, prisoners confessing and other evidence seen. They argue it is Western propaganda.”
“Any country in a long term war that a state can’t extract itself from will see support start to erode at home; whether it’s an autocracy or democracy, and Russia is no different.”
When asked what this news meant for the long term strategy of Putin, with seemingly high figures of deaths and casualties, Nixey argues that over time, Russian involvement in the fighting “will become a lot less popular.”
“If you look at the polls, yes, Russians at first glance seem broadly supportive of the war, but that’s propaganda. If you ask more specifically, should Russia should become embroiled in a war that will cost lives in Ukraine, support drops dramatically below 50 per cent.”
“There is no exit strategy for Putin, he’s in a war that he can’t afford to lose, but is incapable of being won; an impasse for Russia as the economy declines as does the popularity of the war.