by Gordon M. Hahn
As noted in a recent piece, U.S. analysts are falsely claiming that a strategy on annexing Crimea after the coup in Kiev drafted by a private group was drafted “in the Kremlin” in order to somehow claim that the Kremlin lied when it supposedly claimed that it had gotten the idea of annexation only after the March Crimean referendum, which was never said by any authoritative Russian official (http://gordonhahn.com/2015/02/20/another-rusological-fail-u-s-experts-continue-to-lie-about-russia-and-ukraine/). The scenario and its development were covered in an article published in the opposition, anti-Putin Novaya gazeta newspaper and since the first false characterization of Novaya gazeta’s version of scenario as having been written ‘in the Kremlin’, it has been repeated by writer Catherine Fitzpatrick, among others (www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/03/09/putin-s-usual-suspects-the-bullshit-chechen-charlie-hebdo-connection.html). Thus, some Russian media reports in more precise fashion than the densizens of democracy in the U.S. media.
Oddly, no Western media reported on a no less interesting Novaya gazeta article on Kiev’s and NATO’s claims that there are 13,000 Russian troops fighting in Ukraine and that, according to Kiev, at least 4,500 have been killed as of February 2014. The new article “War. Feedback” published on March 2 consists of a response from the Ukrainian Defense Ministry to Novaya gazeta queries on this and other issues the paper sent to the ministry. The paper then subjected the Defense Minisry’s claims to analysis by a Russian General Staff expert and one of its own military experts. Novaya gazeta concludes in a closing editorial note that Russian casualty figures trumpeted by Kiev are not realistic (www.novayagazeta.ru/politics/67467.html).
Among other things, the General Staff military expert consulted by the opposition, anti-Putin newspaper convincingly debunks the Ukraine Defense Ministry’s claim that there are 13,000 Russian troops, 300 Russian tanks, up to 800 Russian armored personnel vehicles, more than 200 artillery pieces, and hundreds of other pieces of Russian heavy military equipment. However, he never denies that there are some Russian troops in Ukraine. He first notes that by mid-January the number of Ukrainian military killed was 3,754 with 241 tanks, 289 combat vehicles, 259 artillery, and another 282 vehicles of varous types had been lost Kiev began its ‘anti-terrorist’ offensive in April of last year. He notes also that the typical casualty and materiel`-destruction ratio between offensive versus defensive operations is 4:1. This would put the number killed on the defending Donbass side overall – including Donbass insurgents, Russian volunteers, and any Russian troops – at perhaps 1,000 at the high end of the deviation from the ratio. It should be added that Kiev puts the number of killed Ukrainian soldiers much lower than 3, 754 at below 2,000. According to the standard ratio, this would put the number of pro-Donbass combatants of all kinds killed at approximately 500 (www.novayagazeta.ru/politics/67467.html).
The Russian General Staff analyst also notes that given the numbers of Russian troops that Kiev claims is in Ukraine and the high number of soldiers captured, killed and wounded, Kiev has been unable to recover and show the media the body of even one dead soldier. Nor has it shown or given over in prisoner exchanges even one wounded or captured Russian soldier beyond the ten captured in one event just over the border from Russia early last summer before the heaviest fighting began (www.novayagazeta.ru/politics/67467.html).
Other arguments of the General Staff analyst are less convincing. For example, he claims that since the 300 tanks claimed by Kiev to be in Donbass constitute a whole tank division and since a tank division would not be broken up because it is tightly integrated organism of military, communication and intelligence, therefore a tank division cannot be in Donbass (www.novayagazeta.ru/politics/67467.html). But his argument about the impossibility of breaking up integrated combat units is belied by a previous Novaya gazeta interview with a wounded Russian soldier, who states precisely that his battalion was removed from its division and sent to Donbass and that other units were cobbled together from widely dispersed units, as I discussed in: http://gordonhahn.com/2015/03/04/putins-hybrid-war-and-ukraines-nationalist-war-through-one-russian-soldiers-eyes/.
Novaya gazeta’s own military correspondent Vyacheslav Izmailov notes that the figure of some 4,500 Russian soldiers killed claimed by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry in less than a year of fighting exceed those of any single year in the Soviet-Afghan war by a factor of two, adding: “This is an improbable figure, and I do not know of examples of such losses among contemporary troops or in the course of modern military conflicts” (www.novayagazeta.ru/politics/67467.html). It is even more improbable when one considers the Ukrainian army’s poor training, the even poorer training of the volunteer battalions that led Kiev’s fighting, and the repeated defeats to which the Kievan forces were subjected, for example at Ilovaisk and Debalsevo.
It is interesting to note that although Kiev and NATO were claiming in early summer that Russian troops had ‘invaded’ Ukraine, the earliest evidence of a Russian military presence in Ukraine that Kiev’s Defense Ministry could muster was from late August 2014.
NATO and other Western sources are relying on Ukraine’s false data to produce equally inaccurate data on the ‘Russian invasion.’ Thus, German officials have been increasingly expressing concern regarding the false intelligence being advertised by NATO, including General Philip Breedlove, head of NATO Command in Europe. (“Breedlove’s Bellicosity: Berlin Alarmed by Aggressive NATO Stance on Ukraine,” Der Spiegel, 6 March 2015). Another example is the recent report from Britain’s Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) (www.rusi.org/downloads/assets/201503_BP_Russian_Forces_in_Ukraine_FINAL.pdf), which lists tens of Russian motor rifle regiments, tank regiments and brigades, and other units – the whereabouts of which would be tightly kept state secrets under such circumstances – but relies solely on Ukrainian and NATO sources that rely on Ukrainian sources.
In reality the number of Russian soldiers, advisors, and intelligence officers assisting the Donbass rebels has probably never exceeded or even approached 1-2,000.