Information Warfare: An Inconvenient Truth In Ukraine

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September 3, 2015: Since Russia first invaded Ukraine in early 2014 they have insisted that no Russian troops are involved. This was not true and embarrassing evidence kept coming from Russia. Earlier in 2015 Russia passed a new law that made data about soldiers killed in peace time a state secret. That meant any Russian who revealed these statistics or discussed them could be prosecuted. That sort of worked for a while.

Despite all those precautions a Russian business magazine (Delovaya Zhizn) recently published an article on pay for military personnel and one of the charts showed the number of soldiers who died (over 2,000) or were wounded (nearly 4,000) in Ukraine. This was part of a discussion on benefits paid to the families of dead soldiers or living but wounded ones. Russian government officials soon found out about this and the article (in Russian) disappeared from the visible Internet. But Google, as part of its effort to make everything quickly available to its billions of users worldwide keeps copies of just about everything in severs (caches) worldwide. Reporters asked Google to retrieve one of the cached copies of the Delovaya Zhizn article and now the Russian government is quite embarrassed.

What is surprising about these numbers is that they are larger than earlier estimates based on fragmentary data from some families of Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine and complaining on the Internet about how the Russian government is trying to keep the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine a secret. Suffering over 6,000 casualties in 18 months indicates a large force and an unusually high casualty rate. For example the Russians lost 15,000 troops during the 1979-89 Russian fighting in Afghanistan. This was out of a force that averaged 150,000 troops. During that time at least 1.5 million Afghans also died from the Russian violence. Total deaths in eastern Ukraine so far are under 10,000, most of them civilians and largely because of indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas by Russian or pro-Russian rebels. Now we know that, as many had already suspected (because a lot of the rocket and howitzer firing was from weapons across the border in Russia) that most of these casualties were the result of Russian efforts.

Note that during 14 years of American operations in Afghanistan fewer than 2,200 American troops died and fewer than 100,000 Afghan civilians (most at the hands of the Taliban and various outlaws). The American force in Afghanistan averaged fewer than 50,000 troops.

Since early 2014 Ukraine and the West have complained about the growing number of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine (Donbas) and the growing number of attacks by the Donbas “rebels” (often very obviously Russian soldiers wearing uniforms with national insignia removed). These accusations and the growing body of evidence was ignored by the Russian government and, if addressed at all, said to be fabricated. The official Russian line has always been that there are no Russian troops in Donbas except maybe some Russian volunteers and all those aerial and satellite photos of Russian weapons (especially stuff Ukraine never had) in Donbas are Ukrainian and Western fabrications.

The Delovaya Zhizn revelations will also be denied.  Opinion surveys show that Russians, exposed to more and more pro-war propaganda are still supporting their government but that majority is shrinking. The government needs an economic victory or they will be undone by privation, not military conquest (which is put forward as the NATO goal in East Europe, to succeed where Napoleon and Hitler did not). Meanwhile more Russian troops and heavy weapons arrive on the Ukrainian border and, in small numbers, drive into Donbas. But the Delovaya Zhizn news spread inside Russia as well and that’s one audience the Russian government is having a more difficult time controlling.

 

 


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