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Why Putin no longer conceals Russian casualties in Ukraine

Why Putin no longer conceals Russian casualties in Ukraine

By allowing discussions about casualties in Ukraine, the Kremlin is attempting to control protests against the war and gradually to prepare society for new shipments of “cargo 200” from the Donbas.

After several days of silence and secret burials of the Pskov paratroopers, a number of individuals in Russia have finally begun to declare publicly that Russian soldiers are dying in Ukraine. Although official Moscow still stubbornly refuses to admit the obvious — that regular Russian military troops are fighting in Ukraine — members of the Russian Presidential Council on Human Rights Ella Polyakova and Sergey Kryvenko have spoken openly about the “non-existent Russian military.”

They report that, based simply on one day and only on the battle for Snizhne, already at least 100 Russians have been killed and 300 wounded. It is worth noting that the two are on the Presidential Council on Human Rights — therefore, they are human rights defenders paid by Putin. Why would the dictator who, as recently as two days ago, did everything possible to hide from Russian society  shipments of “cargo 200”  (Russian code for military casualties — Ed.) from Ukraine, now allow the Russians to talk about war and its inevitable consequences?

im578x383-tmpG4pwsjTo hide anything, especially the massive deaths of their own citizens in a neighboring country in the era of the Internet, is practically impossible, and sooner or later the Russian authorities would have to admit to a war with Ukraine, as they did regarding the “green men” in Crimea. However, Putin could talk about Crimea with open pride since the annexation of the peninsula was almost bloodless, which led to the euphoria over “Crimea is ours.” In the Donbas, the situation is completely reversed. Russians are dying there and they will continue to die if Putin does not give up the idea of saving his quasi-republics at any price. However, even Putin’s own polls show that only 5% of Russians support Russia’s war with Ukraine. With each new corpse in a zinc coffin, there is no way this figure will increase.

It seems that Putin does not yet know how to respond to the protests of the soldiers’ mothers, so he has decided simply to wait and see how society reacts to the war. Permission to speak about the dead is, first of all, supposed to help society to let off steam and, secondly, to gradually accustom Russians to the idea that Russia is, in fact, conducting a secret war in Ukraine for high imperial goals and that there will be victims. In fact, Russians had somehow survived two Chechen wars with thousands of killed soldiers-conscripts. Therefore, Putin is hoping that society will accept another batch of “Cargo 200.” If the outrage of the population reaches a certain point, it will always be possible to blame the war on ineffective generals and to punish them publicly. And on TV screens, (Dmitry) Kiselev  (TV presenter and Russia’s chief “spin doctor” — Ed.) will explain that the good tsar is not to blame for anything.

As for those who protest the deaths of Russian boys in Ukraine too actively, they will be given the explanation that dying for “tsar and fatherland” is the main function of a soldier and that anyone who is against the God-sanctioned cause of helping the “Novorossiya compatriots” is a national traitor. Concurrently, Russians will be warned about  the “Kyiv Avengers,” “Ukrainian Fascists,” “Banderites” and other propaganda fabrications designed to prove that the “secret war in Ukraine” is completely unavoidable for Russia and Russians. And again, the question will be posed to activist Russians — “so you want Putin to betray Novorossia, you worry about the dead when Putin is rescuing Novorossiya?”  Therefore, the choice is “either, or.”

At the same time, it is clear that Russian authorities are not prepared to acknowledge the invasion of Ukraine officially and will continue to issue absurd and ridiculous explanations about “lost paratroopers,” “volunteers,” “soldiers on leave,” etc.

im578x383-449286It is also possible that Putin personally still does not know about the protests of the soldiers’ mothers. Often, the authoritarian power pyramid is built in such a way that the “head honcho” is protected from unpleasant information. In that case, Putin may be completely convinced that Russians are ready to sacrifice their own children to be slaughtered for the high ideals of the “Russian world.” Thus,  if the protests continue, they may become an unpleasant surprise for the Kremlin dwarf.

According to official Russian statistics alone, during the first and second Chechen wars, close to 10,000 Russian soldiers were killed. Given the long-standing Russian habit of hiding real losses in all wars, we can predict that the actual losses were somewhat higher. The scale of the possible war with Ukraine is also somewhat larger than in Chechnya. Will the Russian dictator be able to keep the love of his subjects if coffins from the Donbas start arriving at a steady stream and all this happens as the living standards keep falling because of increasing sanctions? Perhaps Putin himself is not sure he has the answer.

[hr], August 29, 2014, translated by Anna Mostovych


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