Email
Password
Remember meForgot password?
    Log in with Twitter

article imageLone Russian activists battle to prove Kremlin troops in Ukraine

By Max Delany (AFP)     Jun 25, 2015 in World

Ruslan Leviyev clicks through the evidence on the computer in his Moscow flat that he says helps prove Russian President Vladimir Putin is lying when he denies his troops are fighting in Ukraine.

Showing photographs of fresh military graves, posts from social media sites, interviews with the relatives of soldiers -- Leviyev is one of a tiny number of opposition activists collating data aimed at convincing Russians that their government is waging an undeclared war in Ukraine.

"Our work is important because the legacy of this war will damage the Russian people for a long time," Leviyev, a 28-year-old freelance video editor, told AFP.

"It will affect not just our generation but our children's generation and even grandchildren, so it is crucial to stop this war now as the longer it lasts the worse the impact will be."

Districts around Donetsk and Lugansk have witnessed the return of intense fighting that has claimed ...
Districts around Donetsk and Lugansk have witnessed the return of intense fighting that has claimed more than 50 lives this month
, Graphics/AFP

To help him, however, Leviyev only has a team of five -- anonymous -- Internet sleuths he recruited via social media to scan the web daily for evidence to post on Twitter or in online reports.

Arrayed against them is the vast might of the Kremlin and the slavish Russian state media that sticks vociferously to the line that the Ukraine conflict is a civil war that has more to do with Western interference than Moscow's meddling.

"Our opponents -- those who say there are no troops -- have far more power and resources than us," the tattooed activist said.

For Leviyev, as for Kiev and many Western governments, the evidence of Russian involvement is overwhelming.

Last month Leviyev -- who funds his own investigations and has received threats for his work -- travelled to provincial towns in Russia to investigate the mysterious burials of three special forces troops that he says were killed in Ukraine.

Russian activist Ruslan Leviyev says the evidence of Kremlin involvement in the conflict is overwhel...
Russian activist Ruslan Leviyev says the evidence of Kremlin involvement in the conflict is overwhelming 
, AFP

Beyond that, the modern armoury the rebels possess, sudden battlefield reverses suffered by Ukrainian forces and confessions from captured alleged Russian troops, all point to the Kremlin's guilt.

Putin has already admitted he lied about sending troops in to annex Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in March 2014.

But Moscow point-blank dismisses any claims its troops are in east Ukraine and says that if thousands of Russian government soldiers were fighting there, it would be obvious.

- Public not convinced -

And -- despite the certainty felt by Leviyev and other opposition activists -- most Russians seem to be buying that line.

In a recent opinion poll from independent Levada centre only around 20 percent of people said they thought Russian soldiers were deployed in Ukraine.

Putin admits he lied about sending troops in to annex Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in March 2014 ...
Putin admits he lied about sending troops in to annex Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in March 2014, but Moscow dismisses claims its troops are in east Ukraine
Alexander Nemenov, AFP/File

Far more, some 72 percent, said they believed Russians were fighting there but accepted the government explanation that they had all joined the rebels as volunteers out of conviction or for money.

Experts say there is one overriding reason for this breakdown of public opinion.

"The propaganda is very effective and so total in its volume and the censorship eradicates any other sources of information," said Lev Gudkov from the Levada centre.

That means that even if more people believed Putin was not telling the truth about Ukraine, many would feel he was justified in protecting Russia's national interests.

"People accept Putin and the Kremlin's interpretation of events and even if they don't understand fully what is happening in Ukraine they support the Kremlin," Gudkov said.

- Putin decree -

As they are already fighting an almost unwinnable battle to be heard, life just got harder for the activists probing Russia's alleged involvement in Ukraine.

The conflict between pro-Russian rebels and government troops in eastern Ukraine has claimed more th...
The conflict between pro-Russian rebels and government troops in eastern Ukraine has claimed more than 6,500 lives since the conflict began more than a year ago
Anatolii Stepanov, AFP/File

Last month Putin issued a decree classifying Russian military deaths in peacetime "special operations" as state secrets.

While the Kremlin denies this decree is connected to Ukraine, activists say the move, which could see anyone accused of divulging information on troop deaths face a long jail sentence, is designed to stop them.

Opposition activist Olga Shorina helped edit a report on Russian involvement in Ukraine based on research that her former boss Boris Nemtsov was carrying out at the time he was gunned down in Moscow.

The investigation -- "Putin. War." -- claimed that hundreds of Russian soldiers have been killed in the fighting. After a struggle to find a printer, it has been published and will be handed out in public by activists.

Now the new decree -- which is being challenged in court by Russian journalists and activists -- makes trying to uncover the truth more perilous.

"The authorities treat any alternative information as a threat to the regime, so they react harshly," Shorina told AFP.

"So far the decree hasn't been applied but it could be at any moment, so, yes, the situation has got more dangerous."

More about Ukraine, Russia, Crisis, Activists
More news from
Latest News
Top News