Extended excerpts of Nemtsov's report on Russia's war against Ukraine

Editor's Note: The following are excerpts of a report released on May 12 detailing the extent of Russan involvement in the war against Ukraine. The investigation was undertaken by Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. He was shot and killed near the Kremlin on Feb. 27. Many suspect that people close to Russian President Vladimir Putin are responsible for the assassination. The report was finished by Nemtsov's supporters.

Read Allison Quinn's related story here

Volunteers or mercenaries?

The regular divisions of the Russian army in many ways determined the military success of the separatists in eastern Ukraine, according to the report. However, so-called “volunteers” also played a prominent role for the armed forces of the self-proclaimed separatists' organizations, with a constant stream of them coming into the conflict zone from Russia.

Russians began traveling to Ukraine from the very beginning of the conflict — both self-formed groups and individually – to join fighters already on the ground. These were often former members of Russia's security services and military staff, including ex-convicts.

Such individuals became key figures in the separatist forces: Igor Girkin, who served in Russia's special services; a veteran of the Chechen war, Arseniy Pavlov, known as "Motorola," Aleksandr Mozhaev ("Babai"), who has faced charges for an earlier murder attempt.

Russian authorities often took part in the recruitment, arming and financing of such "volunteers."

The report quotes pro-Russian rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko, who in 2014 admitted that there are some 3,000-4,000 Russian volunteers in Ukraine's east. According to Vyacheslav Tetekin from Russia's State Duma, the real number is much higher - up to 30,000.

The gathering points for the volunteers are often public organizations that are loyal to the Kremlin and local military agencies.

According to the information revealed by Russian "volunteers" serving in Donbas, the average salary of those militants is 60,000 rubles ($1,200), while the average salary in Russia is only 31,000 rubles ($610).

The paper quotes Vladimir Efimov, a recruiter from Yekaterinburg, as saying that "the average soldier with equipment and salary costs 350,000 rubles per month ($6,800)." 

Efimov also confirmed that so-called 'humanitarian operations' are one of the methods used to get Russian militants into Ukraine.

All of this is done despite the fact that sending volunteers to Ukraine's Donbass can be seen as violating Russia's Criminal Code, which has a law against mercenaries.

Russia's Investigative Committee pursues only those Russian citizens who are involved in fighting on the side of the Ukrainian security services, the report says.

A significant role in the separatist forces is also played by militants who arrive to Ukraine's east from the Chechen Republic of the Russian Federation. In late 2014, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said he was ready to take part in the fighting personally.

The report notes that the first Chechen fighters joined the separatists' Vostok Battalion in the spring of 2014. After heavy losses in fighting near Donetsk Airport, almost all of them left Ukraine in the summer of 2014. At the end of the summer, the Chechen fighters came back, and even formed their own battalion "Smert" (Death). There is also a separate squad of Chechen fighters, known as Dikiy (Wild), the report notes.

Cargo 200

The amount of casualties on both sides of the armed conflict in Donbas increases every day. As of April 2015, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs put the death toll at 6,108 people in the conflict zone.

Russia went to great lengths to hide the information about Russians who died in Ukraine's east,especially about the killed soldiers. But it failed to hide the evidence completely. The first report about a truck marked as "Cargo-200" (a term used in reference to dead soldiers) was published in June 2014. The truck carried 31 bodies to Russia.

Russia's Defense Ministry declared that the soldiers had died during military exercises in the Rostov Oblast. Families of the killed soldiers also tried not to draw attention to the case. Yet Nemtsov's sources were cited in the report as saying the families received large financial compensation for their silence in 2014.

Lev Shlosberg, a Russian deputy from Pskov, was one of the first to publish the information about Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine. He was severely beaten after publishingthe information, the paper notes.

Despite the numerous reports and messages on social media about the death of Russian soldiers in Ukraine, Russian authorities have maintained that none of these reports were true.

Nemtsov sent a formal request to Russia's Prosecutor General on Janl 27, 2015, asking to verify the information about Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine. One month later, Nemtsov was shot dead. He never got a response to his inquiry.

The commissary of Vladimir Putin

Speaking to reporters on March 4, 2014, Putin denied Russia's military involvement in blocking Ukrainian military units in Crimea. He said at that time that those actions were performed by "local defense forces," and that the uniform of the armed men, though strikingly similar to Russian military uniform, was available in many shops.

A year later, the Russian president publicly denied his own words and confirmed the participation of Russian troops in blocking Crimean objects ahead of the referendum on the peninsula's annexation.

Russian authorities continue to deny the fact that Russia has supplied military equipment to Donbas. Separatists say the arms were taken from Ukrainian forces during earlier battles.

The Minsk agreements signed on Sept 19, 2014 include the request to withdraw from the contact line all artillery systems with a caliber of more than 100 mm, in particular Tornado-G, Tornado-U and Tornado-S. The Tornado-S system was also mentioned in the second Minsk agreements, which were developed as a resultof talks between the leaders of Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia in February 2015.

According to the report, Russia actually admitted to providing military supplies to Ukraine's Donbas by signing the agreements, because the Tornado system was designed in Russia and has never been exported to any other country.

The same is true for the T-72 B3 tanks seen in Donbas - the most recent upgraded version of an old tank produced in Russia, which also has never been exported.

Who shot the Boeing down?

The fact that the airplane was shot down above the war zone and did not crash due to human or technical error became evident in the first hours after the crash, and comments made by rebel leaders immediately led much of the international community to blame Russia for the tragedy that claimed 298 lives.

On July 17, the day of the catastrophe, Russian state-owned media ITAR-TASS and RIA Novosti announced that the rebels had shot down an AH-26 Ukrainian military plane near the town of Tores, in the Donetsk Oblast. The same day, Igor Girkin (Strelkov) confirmed on a social network that a plane had been shot down. The time and place of the shooting was voiced by both the media and separatists and coincided with those of the Boeing catastrophe.

Shortly before the crash, Russian media said separatists had Buk anti-aircraft missile systems, which their leader Alexander Khodakovsky also confirmed to Reuters.

Russia's representative in the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, later said that the rebels had “made a mistake” while aiming at a military, not passenger, plane. Thus, he indirectly confirmed their guilt.

Who covered their tracks?

Right after the MH17 crash, Russian media launched a propaganda operation, offering various versions of the tragedy to create a “smokescreen” around the investigation – ultimately to cover up the fact that separatists had fired the Russian missile. Several versions blamed a Ukrainian fighter jet, but such versions were quickly debunked.

A journalistic investigation by CORRECT!V published in January , based on photo and video information, witness evidence, and expert opinions, suggests that the MH17 was shot down by a Buk system brought from the Russian city of Kursk to protect Russia's unmarked tank divisions fighting in Ukraine. The report by CORRECT!V also claimed the missile was fired by a Russian officer, as separatists would not have been able to operate it.

In March, several other news agencies published investigations supporting this version, including Germany's WDR, ТВК, and Süd Deutsche Zeitung.

One key piece of evidence is a photo of a missile launch trail taken by a Tores resident four minutes after the launch, a photograph recognized as authentic b ythe Bellingcat investigative journalism group. A setailed analysis of the photo also helped identify the site of the missile launch, which was plowed over soon after the catastrophe.

On March 30, the International investigation team comprised of experts from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine, made a statement saying that the most likely version is that the Boeing was shot down by a Buk system from Russia, which was under the control of separatists.

Who is ruling Donbas?

In April 2014, separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts announced their independence from Ukraine. De facto, they are ruled from Moscow, which still does not recognize the “republics’”sovereignty de juro and refers to them as part of Ukraine. In fact, these are pseudostates governed by Moscow and used as a mechanism of pressure on official Kyiv.

This can be seen in the fact that many official leaders in the rebel-controlled territories are actually Russian citizens.

The May 2014 “independence referendum” brought Russian citizens to power in Donetsk and Luhansk self-proclaimed republics, making Aleksandr Boroday and Marat Bashirov, a political strategist working with the Russian government, the heads of respective Councils of Ministers.

Igor Girkin (Strelkov) is another Russian citizen who was key in organizing the Donbas war and Crimea annexation. Boroday and Girkin knew each other long before the conflict began, since the former worked as a consultant for the “Marshal-Kapital' investment fund owned by Russian businessman Konstantin Malofeev, and the latter – as the fund’s security chief. Malofeev is considered one of the rebels' main sponsors.

Boroday confirmed his affiliation and that he had been coordinating his actions with the Kremlin. He described Putin’s assistant Vladislav Surkov as “our man in the Kremlin.” Surkov is top Kremlin manager of the people's republics, although he is officially only responsible for cooperation with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. According to Aleksey Kolesnikov, a reporter for the Kommersant publishing house, it was also Surkov who was the main intermediary between separatist leaders and the Normandy group at the table on Feb. 12.

Any appointments or dismissals of separatist leaders are made in theKremlin, the report says, citing the example of Denis Pushilin, the chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the “Donetsk People's Republic.” Pushilin signed his resignation in Moscow on July 18, 2014. Girkin and Boroday also confirmed that they had to resign from leading positions under pressure from the Kremlin.

The management from abroad fosters corruption, chaos and internal conflicts among the separatists, the report says, and they are often connected with the distribution (embezzlement) of Russian humanitarian assistance.

The Luhansk leadership is also known for its people's courts, including one that imposes the death penalty and another that sends individuals to the front lines of the war.

Many of those appointed as separatist leaders are directly affiliated with the Kremlin, such as:

Deputy Energy Minister of the Donetsk People's Republic, Leonid Simunin, previously involved in the pro-Kremlin organization “Mestnye” (locals) and the neo-Nazi group BORN.

Leader in Luhansk, Pavel Karpov, a Russian citizen who worked with Putin’s administration in monitoring nationalistic organizations.

Other Russians, organizers and participants in the war against Ukraine:

Arseniy Pavlov, “Motorola,” Sparta Battalion leader, Russian citizen.

Sergey Petrovsky, intelligence service, Russian citizen.

Igor Bezler, Russian citizen, served in Russian army.

Aleksandr Zhuchkovsky, Russian National-Democratic party, volunteer bringing ammunition to “strelkovaya gvardia”

Aleksey Milchakov, Rusich commander, Russian citizen

Humanitarian disaster

Throughout 2014 and 2015, Ukraine's Donbas witnessed murders, the plight of hundreds of thousands of refugees, destroyed infrastructure and the collapse of the social system. Ukrainian and Russian authorities, as well as representatives of the international community, characterize the situation in Donbas as a humanitarian catastrophe.

According to official statistics of the Federal Migration Service of Russia, from April 2014 to January 2015 more than 800,000 Ukrainian citizens moved to Russia.

More than 900,000 residents of Donbas were forced to flee from the shelling and starvation to safe territory controlled by Ukrainian army, according to local authorities.

Ukrainian authorities estimate the scale of destruction in the Donbas region to be in excess of Hr 4.6 billion ($223 million). About 104,000 residents of Ukraine's Donbas were left without water, gas and electricity – if they were lucky enough to not be homeless altogether.

The lack of humanitarian corridors often results in mortal risks for those willing to move from the war zone to safe Ukrainian territory.

Residents of the territories controlled by separatists are frequently subjected to violence by militants.The separatists in eastern Ukraine also tend to fire from densely populated areas, provoking return fire against civilians.

Separatist leaders have also failed to provide a fair distribution of humanitarian aid, admitting that much of it is being stolen.

Food prices in rebel-controlled territory are also significantly higher than in Ukrainian territories, while the number of available jobs in the region has been steadily falling. Businesses are fleeing, trying to escape looting, and those that remain are unable to attract investment.

Separatist authorities have also failed to provide clinics and hospitals with essentialmedicine, at the same time prohibiting volunteers from taking sick patients to Ukrainian territory for better treatment.

The costs of the war against Ukraine

There are two main components of the price of Russia's war against Ukraine: the cost of the military participation of Russian soldiers and arms supply; and the indirect price stemming from Western sanctions against Russian banks and companies.

The direct cost consists of the soldiers' salaries, the cost of their maintenance (food, accommodation, medical care, etc.), the cost of maintenance and repair of the equipment used in the combat zone, as well as ammunition.

According to the report, as of early spring of 2015, there have been 35,000-37,000 separatists fighting in Ukraine's east. The amount of Russian militants has climbed from 3,000-5,000 to 8,000-10,000.

Vladimir Efimov, a recruiter from Yekaterinburg, said that the average soldier costs 350,000 rubles per month ($6,800). Therefore, $6,800 for each of 6,000 Russian "volunteers" for the last 10 months would total about $408 million. If assuming that the monthly maintenance of local "volunteers" is three to four times less - their cost for 10 months is about $487 million, the report says. That means that in the past 10 months, Russia has spent about $900 million. The report's authors also add the cost of the maintenance of the military equipment (15 percent of $900 million) - $135 million.

That means Russia has spent about $1.3 billion on the war in Ukraine's Donbas over the past 10 months.

It seems like a small amount compared to Russia's total annual expenditures - $295.5 billion. But, on the other hand, during 2015, Russia plans to spend $1.8 billion on a program of cultural and tourism development, and another $591 million on environmental protection.


According to the United Nations, about 1 million people have fled Ukraine's east. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the amount of the refugees that moved to Russia equals those, who moved to the territories, controlled by the Ukrainian army. Apparently, the Russian governors from the Kremlin established a unified standard of the cost of the refugees' maintenance - 800 rubles ($14) per day. 

Therefore, from July 2014, Ukrainian refugees have cost about $1.4 billion.


In 2014, the Russian government approved the federal target program of the social and economic development of the Crimea until 2020 year.

It will cost Russia about $12 billion. Russia has also spent about $1 billion for the pensions in Crimea in 2014. In 2015 the Russian Pension Fund will spend about $1.8 billion on this purpose.


Kremlin’s foreign policy resulted in Western sanctions against Russian officials, businessmen, companies which are proving damaging for Russian economy. Consequences of some measures like ban on supply of arm-producing equipment are hard to estimate, but those will hamper production capacity, quality and technological level of enterprises, decreasing wages, raising costs and budget expenses. 

Personal sanctions led to assets freeze of Putin friends, but those losses were often compensated. Some got new (state) contracts (like Arkday Rotenberg’s company constructing Kerch bridge for over 240 billion rubles ($4.7 billion), others enjoyed administrative market redistributions like state bank support programs for sanctioned banks that are actually not eligible according to criteria of Finance Ministry and Central Bank.

Financial sanctions, ban on any type of U.S. or EU credit to Russian banks or state structures, affected the Russian economy the most. As a result Russian borrowers had to buy foreign currency in internal market in autumn 2014 which led to ruble devaluation and inflation. Putin’s ban on products from the West from Aug. 6 also contributed to inflation through contraction of market supply,as Russian agriculture is not capable of feeding its own population.

Food prices in Russia rose by 15.4 percent (7.3% in 2013) in 2014, non-food products by 10.5 percent (8% in 2013) and services by 8.1 percent (4.5% in 2013).

Price leap takes 147 billion rubles ($2.8 billion) a year, 1,000 rubles ($20) per capita.

Over 12 months since Crimea annexation, inflation sped up to 17 percent.

Not only sanctions but also oil price plunge contributed to ruble devaluation.

Since the Crimea annexation Russian citizens paid a price of additional 5.5 percent inflation,o r 2 trillion rubles ($39.4 billion) in wages and 750 billion rubles ($14.7 billion) in savings, for conflict with Ukraine.

Source https://www.kyivpost.com/content/kyiv-post-plus/extended-excerpts-of-nemtsovs-report-on-russias-war-against-ukraine-388415.html


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