While the world is evaluating the risks of a possible war between Russia and the West, there have recently been a few reports that indicate that Russian troops are indeed present in Ukraine.
Reuters has recently reached out to five Russian soldiers, who had just left the military service along with their fellow Russian soldiers. Two of them admitted that the reason for such a decision was the fact that the Kremlin sends its troops to fight in eastern Ukraine alongside pro-Russian rebels.
One of the solders, who is a former military that served in the elite Kantemirovskaya division, currently lives in Moscow. On the condition of anonymity, he told Reuters that he was sent to the Rostov region in summer 2014 to take part in the ‘drills’. However, he ended up being taken to Ukraine on the Russian T-72B3 tank along with other military hardware.
“Right after crossing the border, some general told me that soldiers can be sent to prison for the disobedience to orders. That’s why some us refused to stay there any longer,” the young man tells Reuters. He added that he heard of a great number of soldiers who refused to fight in Ukraine.
“I saw two soldiers who refused to fight with my own eyes. They were taken somewhere. The general said that criminal charges were filed against them. But as it turned out, we called them later and they said that they were home, they simply quitted,” the former trooper said.
According to the young man, he was in Ukraine from August to the beginning of September 2014, and then came back to Russia during the first peace talks.
“(Back in Russia) we were lined up and told that everyone would get a daily allowance, extras for fighting and medals,” he said. However, he said that they did not get the awards they were promised. “We decided to quit. There were 14 of us.”
Russia’s military leadership refused to let the soldiers go
Reuters have studied an exchange of letters between Viktor Miskovets, the head of the human resources department of Russia’s Western Military District, and Valentina Melnikova, who runs the Alliance of Soldiers’ Mothers Committees, in which there were names of the soldiers who left the Kantemirovskaya division mentioned.
In the letters, the two human rights activists asked to lay off the soldiers who wanted to quit. According to one of the soldiers, Russia’s military leadership was not so eager to let them go. However, eventually the soldiers were laid off.
Three soldiers from the list confirmed that Russia’s military leadership allowed them to let go. However, they declined to talk about Ukraine, while Miskovets and his deputy didn’t answer the Reuter’s calls. Meanwhile, one of Russia’s Ministry of Defense representatives refused to comment on the fact about laying off soldiers from the division and their deployment to Ukraine.
Another soldier, 21 years old, told Reuters on the condition of anonymity that he navigated the multiple-launch rocket system ‘Grad’ and that he left the service over the Ukrainian conflict. In summer 2014, his machine was positioned in the Rostov region, approximately 2 kilometers away from the Ukrainian border.
“We were driving without any signs. We took off all of our badges, tabs and chevrons. Everything. They told us that nobody wears all that in field conditions,” he said.
In the beginning of September, his unit received the order to open fire with the target about 17 kilometers away. He assumed that they were targeting Ukraine.
The prove of the death of 220 Russian troops
Meanwhile, the colleagues of Boris Nemtsov, a top political nemesis of Vladimir Putin and the leader of Russian opposition who was murdered just outside the Kremlin on February 28, have issued a report that indicates that during August 2014 and the beginning of 2015, no less than 220 Russian soldiers died in eastern Ukraine.
The report entitled “Putin. The War,” which Nemtsov worked on and was about to issue before his death, was finished by his colleagues and published on Tuesday.
The report indicates that in August 2014, in Ilovaisk and other hot spots of the eastern Ukrainian conflict, no less than 150 Russian soldiers were killed, while in the beginning of the year – around 70 Russian troops died in Debaltsevo.
The report, which has been published on the ‘Open Russia’ website, is based on the open facts and information obtained by Nemtsov from the relatives of the dead soldiers.
Sergey Alexashenko, a journalist who worked on the report, estimates that Russia has spent around 53 billion rubles ($1.04 billion) on Ukrainian war in just 10 months.
John Kerry and Vladimir Putin: What is there to discuss?
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin during his first visit to Russia since the Ukraine conflict began in early 2014.
Kerry will also hold talks with Sergei Lavrov, his Russian counterpart.
Putin’s spokesman called the visit a “positive step” and said the Russian president was prepared for “extensive” discussions at the meeting that takes place in Sochi.
“This trip is part of our ongoing effort to maintain direct lines of communication with senior Russian officials and to ensure US views are clearly conveyed,” state department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a written statement.
Russian authorities have repeatedly refuted any claims about the Russian troops’ presence or any involvement in the eastern Ukrainian conflict. During the ‘direct line’ on April 16, 2014, Vladimir Putin said: “I’m telling you directly and unequivocally: there are NO Russian troops in Ukraine.”