'Putin. War" is the bracing title of a report on the Russian military's deep involvement in the Ukrainian conflict. The principal author is the late Russian dissident Boris Nemtsov, who was shot and killed in February, a short distance from the Kremlin.
The content of the 64-page report will hardly be a surprise to many people in the Western world, but President Vladimir Putin has been successful in concealing the facts – and the costs – from most of the Russian public.
Mr. Nemtsov and his colleagues concluded that at least 220 Russian soldiers had been killed in battle in Ukraine, and their families had been pressured into concealing the cause of their deaths – and paid handsomely for doing so.
Last August, according to the report, 150 Russian soldiers died in battle in Ilovaisk in eastern Ukraine, and another 70 were killed in a two-month battle near Debaltseve in January and February.
The report's authors estimate that, at its height, in January, there were 35,000 to 37,000 combatants in Ukraine on the pro-Russian side – and they believe a large number of them came from the Russian military.
A concealed war has to be an awkward affair. The soldiers of a conventional, professional army are not well suited to clandestine roles. Last year, the families of Russian military personnel who died in Ukraine were prevailed upon not to disclose what had happened, in exchange for two millions rubles, and the funerals were kept private. The same promise has been given to soldiers who died this year – but the Russian military has recently reneged on the compensation.
In other instances, Russian soldiers were nominally discharged, so they could fight in irregular warfare in Ukraine.
The report's authors estimate that the war has cost Russia more than 53-billion rubles, about $1.25-billion Canadian, plus another 80-billion rubles for resettling refugees from eastern Ukraine. Russian taxpayers, take notice.
"Putin.War" is unlikely to reach most Russians, at least in the short term. Mr. Putin keeps careful control over most of Russia's official media. Let's hope that the proverb "the truth will out" comes true, sooner rather than later.