U.S. lawmakers have seen evidence of the extreme lengths that Moscow will go to in order to hide its involvement in the conflict in Ukraine.
Putin’s government is using mobile crematoriums to dispose of the bodies of Russian soldiers dying in Ukraine, in a desperate attempt to cover up the involvement of its troops. Officials from both the U.S. and NATO have long maintained that troops from Russia are fighting alongside separatist rebels in Ukraine, writes Josh Rogin for Bloomberg View.
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Russia losing battle to conceal involvement
U.S. lawmakers who visited the country this spring have now claimed that not only is Russia covering up the presence of its troops, it is also removing evidence of their deaths. “Russian leaders are less and less able to conceal the fact that Russian soldiers are fighting — and dying — in large numbers in eastern Ukraine,” said NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow.
Now it appears that Russia is attempting to do so by any means possible. “The Russians are trying to hide their casualties by taking mobile crematoriums with them,” said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry. “They are trying to hide not only from the world but from the Russian people their involvement.”
Thornberry claims that both U.S. and Ukrainian sources have shown him evidence of the crematoriums. “What we have heard from the Ukrainians, they are largely supported by U.S. intelligence and others,” he said.
Russian public increasingly restless
Representative Seth Moulton, a former Marine Corps officer and a Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, is also confident of the veracity of the reports, and believes that Putin is struggling to hide Russia’s involvement.
He says that a domestic backlash is growing against the deaths of Russian soldiers in Ukraine, which has even seen the formation of organizations representing soldiers’ families in order to refute the official version of the story. Bloggers have also been publishing lists of deceased soldiers which includes details of the way in which they died.
“Russia is clearly having a problem with their home front and the casualties they are taking from the war,” Moulton said. “The fact that they would resort to burning the bodies of their own soldiers is horrific and shameful.” Families have even appealed to Valentina Melnikova of the well-known Soldiers’ Mothers Committee for her help in uncovering the truth.
U.S. weighing response to mounting evidence
Leaked videos brought the mobile crematoriums to light months ago, but this is the first time that U.S. lawmakers have confirmed that officials believe the reports. Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, head of Ukraine’s security service, claimed as far back as January that seven truck-mounted crematoriums had entered Ukraine. “Each of these crematoriums burns 8-10 bodies per day,” he said.
In February President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine showed a collection of passports belonging to Russian soldiers and intelligence officers captured or killed in Ukrainian territory, as Moscow denied sending troops over the border.
Some U.S. lawmakers believe that the Russian casualties present the perfect opportunity for Washington to send weapons to the Ukrainian military. European politicians are opposed to the idea, which has strong support across political lines in the U.S.
President Obama has been considering sending defensive arms to Ukraine since March, but no decision has been made and so far aid has been non-military in nature. Thornberry believes that U.S. arms in Ukraine would make Putin reconsider his aggression.
Lawmakers pushing President Obama to take action
The House version of next year’s national defense authorization act allows for defensive lethal weapons to be provided to Ukraine. The recently passed legislation would set aside money to be spent on the arms, as well as increasing production of items being used by the Ukrainians, such as Javelin anti-tank missiles. Both the House and Congress have passed bills allowing for arms to be provided to Ukraine, but President Obama has not acted on them.
“We’re doing anything we can possibly think of to get at legislatively forcing it to happen. How do we force the president to provide weapons to a country if he doesn’t want to?” Thornberry said. “I can’t find anyone who is against this except for President Obama.”
Moulton says that as it stands the Ukrainian military doesn’t stand a chance against Russia’s heavy weapons, and the West has a moral obligation to help Kiev. He also believes that Putin will only become more aggressive if no action is taken now.
On the other hand, Obama presumably takes the view that arming Ukraine risks escalation, but he has not been clear enough in letting the world know. Pressure is growing to take action against Russia, especially now that hard evidence has surfaced of the lengths that Moscow will go to to conceal its involvement in the conflict.