An Independent Expert Report
The assassination of Boris Nemtsov February 27, 2015 was both shocking and not shocking at the same time. To know that the life of someone whom you liked and respected so much was taken violently and suddenly was a shock. At the same time, knowing how the Putin regime has demonized Russian opposition ﬁgures and critics – describing them as part of a “ﬁfth column”, or enemy of the state, seeking to overthrow the government and using nationwide television to blacken their reputations – it is no surprise that Boris paid the ultimate price. Indeed, the environment that Putin has created condones, if not encourages, violence against anyone bold enough to criticize the country’s leaders. Few were more relentless and courageous than Boris in exposing abuses of the party in power. While we may never know who was behind his assassination, we do know that he persevered in reporting on the corruption and human rights violations of the Putin regime despite threats to his liberty and ultimately to his life. Some observers write off Boris, saying he had little impact on average Russians’ perceptions of Putin. But Boris was in pursuit of the truth, not a popularity contest, and he felt it his patriotic duty and responsibility to shine a light on the outrages of the Putin clique. Given the Kremlin’s control over the media, it is nearly impossible for critics to rise in the standings; if they were to do so, they would become the next target. Speaking out even with low popular support makes Boris’s determination even more admirable. How many of us would regularly organize opposition rallies or issue scathing reports critical of the host regime and exposing its corruption when it seemed that not many in the country cared? Doing the right thing when the government relentlessly attacks you and the population seemingly ignores you takes a strong character that few of us have. Boris’ report, “Winter Olympics in the Sub-Tropics: Corruption and Abuse in Sochi,” detailed allegations of rampant corruption in preparation for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. I had the privilege of appearing with Boris and several other brave Russians in a panel discussion on that report in May 2013 in Washington, DC. I participated knowing I lived in the safety of the United States; they were returning home to Russia, with an uncertain future ahead of them. Boris’ report, “Winter Olympics in the Sub-Tropics: Corruption and Abuse in Sochi,” detailed allegations of rampant corruption in preparation for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. I had the privilege of appearing with Boris and several other brave Russians in a panel discussion on that report in May 2013 in Washington, DC. I participated knowing I lived in the safety of the United States; they were returning home to Russia, with an uncertain future ahead of them. Boris’ last project was one, tragically, that he did not live to see come to fruition. “Putin. War” compiles information and evidence on Putin’s war on and in Ukraine (which the Russian leader, of course, denies). It exposes the involvement of Russian forces in the ﬁghting in Ukraine, tallies Russian casualties, calculates the economic and ﬁnancial costs of the war for Russia, describes the atrocities committed by Russian-supported ﬁghters, and reveals the role of forces sent by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. In other words, it unveils as total lies all of the Kremlin’s denials of involvement in Ukraine. It is not clear whether Boris’ plans to issue such a report played a role in his murder, but the possibility certainly cannot be ruled out. Filling Boris’ shoes is no easy task, but those who saw it as their mission to ﬁnish what Boris had started knew exactly how best to remember him. I can think of no better tribute to everything Boris stood for than for his friends and supporters to pick up the pieces and pull together this report. I am conﬁdent Boris would be very proud. Doing so, however, brings with it risks for those involved. We in the West have an obligation to demonstrate solidarity with Russian democracy and human rights activists and politicians who understand the threat posed by Putin’s authoritarianism. Their statements and reports will stand the test of time, and the least we can do is stand with them.
David J. Kramer, senior director for human rights and democracy at the McCain Institute for International Leadership in Washington, DC
«The task of the opposition now is education and truth. And the truth is that Putin equals war and crisis.»
Boris Nemtsov, Facebook post, January 31, 2015
Putin. War An Independent Expert Report Published: May 2015. City of Moscow Editors: Ilya Yashin, Olga Shorina Lay-Out and Art Work: Anna Puskal'n Photo Editor: Olga Osipova Cover Design: Pavel Yelizarov The electronic version of the report in the original Russian is available at: www.putin-itogi.ru E-mail email@example.com This is not a press report. The photographs published in this report are used in compliance with current intellectual property law. Cover photo: Pyotr Shelomovsky English Translation: Catherine A. Fitzpatrick The report has been translated into English with the support of Free Russia Foundation and is available at: http://4freerussia.org/putin.war
Preface Chapter 1 Why Putin Needs This War Chapter 2 Lies and Propaganda Chapter 3 How They Took Crimea 4 8 12
Chapter 4 Russian Military in the East of Ukraine 16 Chapter 5 Volunteers or Mercenaries? Chapter 6 Cargo 200 Chapter 7 Vladimir Putin's Army Depot Chapter 8 Who Shot Down the Boeing? Chapter 9 Who Rules the Donbass? Chapter 10 Humanitarian Disaster 24 32 39 43 51 56
Chapter 11 What Does the War with Ukraine Cost? 60 Conclusion
Photo by Denis Sinyakov
he idea for this report belongs to Boris Nemtsov. One day, he strode into the RPR-PARNAS party headquarters and loudly announced: “I know what we have to do. We’ll write a report, called Putin.War, publish a bunch of copies and hand it out on the streets. We’ll tell how Putin unleashed this war. It’s the only way we can beat the propaganda.” Nemtsov triumphantly looked around at everyone, the way he always did when a good idea came to him. “What do you think, Shorina? Do you like it?” he asked, hugging Olga. Starting in early 2015, Boris began collecting material for the report. He worked extensively with open sources, and found people who could share information. Nemtsov believed that only by attempting to stop the war could one display real patriotism. The war in Ukraine was a despicable and cynical crime for which our country was paying with the blood of our citizens, with an economic crisis and with international isolation. No one in Russia needed this war except for Putin and his entourage. Boris did not live to write the text of this report. On February 27, 2015, he was murdered on the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge, directly outside the Kremlin walls. His colleagues, friends and others who considered this work important joined together to complete Nemtsov’s project. The materials that Boris had prepared formed the basis for this report. The table of contents, hand-written notes, and documentation – everything that he left behind was used in the preparation of this text. Our task is to tell the truth about the Kremlin’s interference in Ukrainian politics which led to the war between our peoples. It led to a war that must be immediately stopped.
Why Putin Needs This War
Chapter 1. Why Putin Needs This War
Starting in the autumn of 2011, Vladimir Putin’s popularity rating began to fall noticeably. On the eve of the 2012 presidential election, the likelihood emerged that he would not be able to win in the ﬁrst round. Such a scenario created the risk of signiﬁcantly weakening Putin’s position and of undermining his legitimacy. Ruling the country in his customary authoritarian style as a “national leader” would become much more difﬁcult.
he election campaign required a maximum mobilization of resources by the authorities in order to ensure their victory in the ﬁrst round. However, the key conditions for Putin’s victory were that no real contenders be allowed to take part in the elections, contenders who were seriously prepared to campaign for the presidential post, as well as the authorities’ total administrative control over all important media. In the 2012 elections it proved impossible to avoid direct fraud, including stufﬁng the ballot box with false ballots, vote-rigging, re-writing of the records, and so-called “carousels” of voters[people who were bused from one district to another in order to vote more than once]. Upon his return to the presidency after the elections, Putin made a number of populist decisions in the hope of strengthening his popularity rating. Speciﬁcally, he signed the so-called “May decrees” of 2012, which a number of experts considered wasteful 1 and economically unfounded. However, even such populism couldn’t reverse the trend: after the elections, Putin’s ratings rapidly declined. Meanwhile, the “May decrees” were slow to be enforced, and a year later, Putin publicly criticized the government for ineffective spending on their 2 implementation. By the summer of 2013, it became obvious that the traditional methods used to secure Putin’s popularity in past years were not capable of increasing his popularity rating above 40-45%. By all appearances, the Kremlin was seriously concerned about the negative trend and began to work on a fundamentally new means of strengthening Putin’s electoral position.
The scenario of “the return of Crimea as a part of Russia” was undoubtedly planned and carefully prepared in advance by Russian authorities. Today, the scale of this preparation is obvious. Even before the invasion of Crimea by Russian Special Forces, Ukrainian army generals and ofﬁcers were recruited, together with directors and ofﬁcers of lawenforcement, the intelligence services and the military, who at a key moment renounced their oaths and defected to the side of the Russian Federation. Local separatist politicians and media actively supported Russia’s actions with ﬁnancing from Moscow. Crimean business also displayed its loyalty, receiving favorable loans from Russian banks on non-market terms.
The Kremlin began to work on a fundamentally new means of strengthening Putin’s electoral position.
Moreover, long-term efforts were deployed to weaken Ukraine’s economy and political system as a whole. “Gas wars” were launched regularly, food embargoes were introduced and then lifted. There was overt pressure on Ukrainian authorities to force Ukraine to take part in all kinds of “integrationist” projects of the Kremlin that limited the sovereignty of the former Soviet republics. The revolution in Kiev and President Viktor Yanukovych’s ﬂight from the country in early 2014 weakened the Ukrainian state for a time and created the ideal conditions for the Kremlin to take decisive measures for the separation of Crimea. With the support of Russian troops and intelligence services (which Putin himself publicly admitted a year later),3 a referendum was organized on the peninsula which then became the formal basis for its incorporation into the Russian Federation.
The full list of sources see on page 63
Chapter 1. Why Putin Needs This War
Electoral Rating of Vladimir Putin Before and After the Start of the War in Ukraine
Survey by FOMnibus, 14-15 March 2015, 204 population centers in 64 regions of the Russian Federation, 3,000 respondents. The annexation of Crimea to Russia with the active support of state propaganda enabled Putin to strengthen radically his own legitimacy. His popularity rating reached record levels.4 The ﬁrst interpretation is that the Crimean success convinced Putin of the readiness of the Russianspeaking regions of Ukraine to become part of the Russian state. Essentially, it was a question of the "aggregation of the Russian lands," and such a task attracted Putin with its historical sweep, despite the possible costs. In order to justify Russia's claims to these lands, local separatists were activated, with support from militants and political strategists who came to the Donbass from Moscow and other Russian cities. In fact, such efforts ensured no more than a local result: except for some districts of Donetsk and Lugansk Regions. After several upheavals, the rest of the Russian-language regions conﬁrmed their intention to remain part of Ukraine. The evolving situation motivated Putin to ﬁnd a political way out of the crisis, despite Russia’s obvious military superiority, and largely enabled the peace talks with the new Ukrainian government.
However, Putin didn’t stop at Crimea; soon a full-ﬂedged war had broken out in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.
The Ukrainian Armed Forces opposed the separatists, who were demanding the withdrawal from Ukraine of the territories under their control and their annexation to the Russian Federation following that of Crimea. As can be seen from the materials contained in this report, the Russian authorities provided active political, economic, personnel and even outright military support to the separatists. The reasons for which Putin effectively unleashed an armed conﬂict on the territory of a neighboring state enable us to suggest two possible interpretations of his actions.
Chapter 1. Why Putin Needs This War
The second interpretation is that from the outset Putin realized that the idea of forming a state structure in the Donbass with the prospect of its annexation to the Russian Federation had far more supporters among citizens in Russia than in Ukraine. According to this logic, Russia provoked a military conﬂict with the purpose of creating a favorable negotiating position in the dialogue with Western countries. The ceaseﬁre in the Donbass, which the Kremlin is capable of guaranteeing, could then become the basis for lifting the economic and political sanctions against Russia, which became inevitable following the annexation of Crimea. Furthermore, under this scenario, the question of the lawfulness of incorporating the peninsula into the Russian Federation is off the agenda, and while the Western countries do not formally recognize Crimea as Russian territory, they do so in fact.
A change in the political situation could end with Putin on trial before the International Criminal Court.
One way or another, the Russian-Ukrainian conﬂict is far from over. Though he reaps clear political dividends inside the country, Putin at the same time continues to run signiﬁcant risks. First of all, the Russian government is forced to continue its support of the separatists in the Donbass, despite the growing political and economic costs. A refusal of such support might be perceived as a betrayal of Putin’s current supporters (including those who gained combat experience in the east of Ukraine) and could provoke a wave of sharp dissatisfaction with the president inside Russia. Secondly, continued confrontation with the West, isolation and sanctions are capable of causing signiﬁcant damage to the Russian economy. This creates risks of social protests that could once again undermine the Russian president’s ratings. Finally, a weakening of Putin’s position on the world stage and an escalation of the RussianUkrainian conﬂict will create a real threat of criminal prosecution for the current president of Russia. A change in the global political situation could quite possibly end with Putin on trial at the International Criminal Court on an ofﬁcial charge of war crimes.
Photo by kremlin.ru
Lies and Propaganda
Chapter 2. Lies and Propaganda
Anyone attempting to describe the political career of Vladimir Putin will encounter an insoluble problem – the Russian president never had a political career. Putin's career is made for television, and all of its stages, from the threat that he would “rub out the Chechens in their outhouses” to President Yeltsin's admonition to him in handing over power that he “take care of Russia” – were no more than a series of TV shows.
ladimir Putin is a TV star. His presidential calendar is scheduled from one call-in show to the next. The exaggerated role of television in communication between the government and society was formed in Russia under Boris Yeltsin, but it was Vladimir Putin who managed to create a telecentric state in which all public institutions from the church to the army have been replaced by their televised images. Illustrative in that regard is the scandal in the spring of 2015 in which RBC 5 journalists discovered that the television shows of the latest working meetings of Vladimir Putin, shown on federal television channels, had in fact been taped long before they were aired on TV: Putin’s true whereabouts during that time were simply unknown. It’s likely that this practice began long before 2015, but no one paid any attention to it until now, and no one knows how many more pre-taped Putin videos are stored in the Kremlin’s video library, waiting in the wings.
The number of mentions of the Ukrainian nationalist organization “Right Sector” in the Russian media at a certain point signiﬁcantly exceeded mentions of Putin's United Russia party
Before the start of 2014, Russian propaganda seemed appalling to many people. It got to the point 6 that some of the television shows about the opposition were yielding real criminal cases and arrests. However, after the start of the political confrontation in Kiev in late 2013, it became clear that the Russian propaganda which society had encountered until now had been relatively benign.
In fact, the propagandists themselves did not hide the fact that they did not work at full throttle during "peace time." For example, in 2011, Margarita Simonyan, the head of the state channel “Russia Today,” which is aimed at a Western audience, openly explained7 the raison d’etre of her TV station: "When there is no war, it seems as if it (RT) is not needed. But damn it, when there is a war, it's (RT is) downright critical. You can't create an army a week before the war starts." For the Kremlin, the “War” began on Kiev's Maidan Square in the late autumn of 2013. In the portrayal by the ofﬁcial Russian media, the clash in the Ukrainian capital looked like this: descendants of World War II collaborators and radical nationalists joined together in favor of European integration (as only this was discussed), and they were practically ready to carry out ethnic cleansing. The number of mentions8 of the Ukrainian nationalist organization “Right Sector” in the Russian media at a certain point signiﬁcantly exceeded mentions of Putin's United Russia party-- despite the fact that “Right Sector” garnered less than 2% of the votes cast in the Ukrainian elections. After the departure of Viktor Yanukovych, Russian television channels began exclusively to refer to the new leaders of Ukraine as "the Kiev junta," and to label the military campaign against the separatists in the east of the country as -“punitive”. It is worth noting that for many years, Russian propaganda devoted tremendous attention to the Great Patriotic War. Vladimir Putin made this topic a key one in his own ideological system. In 2005, state news agency RIA Novosti created a new tradition for the May 9th holiday – the mass wearing of St. George ribbons with the slogan "I remember, I'm proud."
Chapter 2. Lies and Propaganda
Number of mentions of political parties and organizations in the Russian media (May 2014)
The St. George ribbon turned from a symbol of memory to an attribute of the current resistance -- if you wore the ribbon, you were an advocate of the separation of Crimea and the Donbass from Ukraine, and an enemy to the "Bandera-ites.»
The anti-fascist rhetoric, exploited by the ofﬁcial media, translated a political crisis into the language of a war for annihilation.
A landmark episode of this war was Channel 9 One's show about the "cruciﬁed boy" . A woman was shown on the main news program of the main news channel claiming that in Slavyansk, from which the ﬁghters of the separatist army had ﬂed, the Ukrainian National Guard had cruciﬁed a six-year-old boy to a bulletin board. No conﬁrmation was provided.10 What is more; it became known that the woman in question had never been to Slavyansk. Channel One was forced to apologize to viewers.11 Slavyansk is also the city involved in the harassment campaign against Russian musician Andrei Makarevich, who visited the city after Ukrainian forces arrived there, and who gave a concert for local residents and refugees in a neighboring town. In the interpretation of Kremlin media, the audience turned into "punishers" and the concert was "a dirty anti-Russian escapade." Government supporters referred to Makarevich as an “enemy of Russia” and demanded that he be stripped of his state awards. The war in Ukraine also demonstrated the diversiﬁcation of Russian propaganda, depending on the audience and the means of delivery of the information. Television is absolutely mainstream and the picture it provides should be as general and abstract as possible, without extraneous details. The consumer of television news is passive, so the producers try not to overload him with excessive details. Thus, for example, federal television channels provided a minimum of information about Igor Girkin (aka Strelkov), the commander of the Slavyansk separatists, who was already famous among Internet users.
The most humane Soviet holiday became the main national holiday of Putin's Russia, which at ﬁrst seemed like quite a good thing. But this also turned out to be strictly utilitarian, when it came to the conﬂict with Ukraine. The rhetoric of the war years was projected onto the current political situation. In the rhetoric of Kremlin propaganda, the Ukrainian government became the “Bandera-ite” [supporters of Stepan Bandera, leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists during WWII] and "Nazi" government, and, just as it had done from 1941 to 1945, Russia was once again ﬁghting fascism.
Chapter 2. Lies and Propaganda
Girkin, who took part in the annexation of Crimea, 12 is not in the ﬁlm “Crimea: Road to the Motherland” , in which Vladimir Putin ﬁrst admits the use of the Russian army on the territory of the Ukrainian peninsula. However, Girkin subsequently became a hero of the tabloids and news radio stations13, that is of those media outlets whose audience strives to receive information from various sources rather than simply from the ofﬁcial media. Such an audience will not believe fake stories about a "cruciﬁed boy" and requires a more sophisticated approach. This is why the correspondents Semyon Pegov of LifeNews, and Dmitry Steshin and Aleksandr Kots of Komsomolskaya Pravda reported to their viewers and readers about what Russian television failed to cover. They have quite openly told the story about the "army 14 depot" which supplies arms to the separatists, and about the conﬂicts among the leadership of the "People's Republics.” The scene shown by LifeNews in which a separatist commander nicknamed Givi 15 forces Ukrainian POWs to eat their chevrons would be too shocking for the program “Vremya.” Of all the shows broadcast on federal channels, it is likely that only the program Vesti Nedeli (News of the Week) on Rossiya-1 could compete with the tabloids and online media for its openness.
Created on the model of American evening news shows, it played a key role in widening the bounds of what is considered acceptable in Russian broadcasting. Host Dmitry Kiselyev was appointed as head of the former RIA Novosti at the onset of the Ukrainian conﬂict and is waging his own personal war with Ukraine. It was Kiselyev who publicly announced the readiness of our country to turn the U.S. into "radioactive dust."16 His colleague Vladimir Solovyov, the host of a similar show on the same channel, tries to pitch his rhetoric to the same level of “News of the Week,” but he traditionally lags behind Kiselyev, who has already been included in Russian sanctions' lists. This can be explained: Solovyov has a home in Italy,17 so falling into the sanctions list is not in his plans, although the infamous "atmosphere of hatred" ﬂourishes in his broadcasts on TV station Rossiya-1 and on Radio Mayak. In fact, all broadcasting of Russian state media now takes place in an atmosphere of total hatred without any quotation marks. When this all ends, it will take Russia a long time to come to its senses, and to rid itself of the ethical and behavioral standards of the propaganda of 2014-2015.
Russian state media now broadcast in an atmosphere of total hatred without quotation marks
Vladimir Putin awards the “Order of Honor” award to the television host Vladimir Solovyov in the Kremlin.
photo by kremlin.ru
How They Took Back Crimea
Chapter 3. How They Took Back Crimea
On March 4th, 2014, during a meeting with journalists, Vladimir Putin was asked by a Bloomberg correspondent about the identity of the people in the military uniforms that looked like Russian uniforms who were blocking the Ukrainian military bases in the Crimea. Putin replied: “These were local self-defense forces.” And he explained where they might get a Russian army uniform: “Look at the post-Soviet space. There are lots of uniforms that are alike...Go into a store here in our country, and you can buy any uniform.”
owever, six weeks later, on April 17th, 2014, during a televised call-in show, Vladimir Putin himself opened the doors of the "store" a little bit, from which the outﬁtted and armed "little green men" had emerged like Special Operations Forces: "I didn't hide (though until that moment in fact he did --Ed.) that our task was to ensure the conditions for the expression of the free will of the Crimean people... For this reason, our
military servicemen were standing behind the self19 defense units of Crimea." Subsequently, Russian servicemen themselves described in an interview for the site Meduza exactly who, and from what moment, was "behind the expression of the free will of the Crimean people."20
Oleg Teryushin, 23 years old, a sergeant in the 31st Ulyanov Guard Paratroopers Assault Brigade, which was fully deployed to Crimea: "We were among the ﬁrst on the Crimean peninsula, on February 24th . We were put on alert in the barracks two days earlier. We formed tactical battalion groups and were ﬂown to Anapa. From Anapa, we were taken in KAMAZ trucks and deployed to Novorossiysk, and from there we sailed to Sevastopol in a large paratroopers' ship. [...] As soon as we disembarked, we were ordered to remove all our state insignia and military insignia. We were all given green balaclavas, dark glasses, knee pads and elbow pads. [...] I think we were among the ﬁrst who were called "the polite people."We spent several days in Sevastopol. We were told to settle in and be prepared to carry out any assignment. Soon our brigade moved to the village of Perevalnoye, and pitched a tent camp next to it. It was mainly the Ulyanovsk paratroopers who lived in the camp-- about 2,000 men. This many men were necessary in order to demonstrate the force of Russian troops." Aleksei Karuna, 20 years old, a recipient of the medal " For the Return of Crimea," who was drafted into the aviation unit of the Black Sea Fleet in 20132014: "I ﬁrst heard about plans for the annexation of Crimea in early February . At that time, our military was actively moving into the territory of Crimea. They created reinforcements and organized patrols so that God forbid, no Maidan would begin there. On the eve of the referendum, we were warned that an alarm would be announced and that it would be necessary to be prepared. But everything happened extremely quietly because they had amassed such a quantity of troops from Russia onto such a tiny clump of earth! The Black Sea Fleet alone numbers 15,000. There are another 20,000 soldiers on land. Plus, there are the intelligence services in the city. Any resistance would be easily overcome.”