August 13, 2015:
The Russian bureaucracy is a wondrous thing, revealing all sorts of secrets and items that are supposed to be kept hidden. It’s been this way for centuries and recently there was another example in a Russian military court near the border with eastern Ukraine. This area (Donbas) is where Russian troops have been operating (illegally) since 2014. Despite all the evidence, including some Russian troops captured inside Ukraine by Ukrainian troops, Russia denies that any of their troops are in Ukraine. But recently official (public) records of the local military court (tribunal) showed that there were 62 prosecutions of soldiers for refusing to serve in a combat zone (in this case Ukraine) compared with 35 cases for the previous five years (2010 to 2014). Before Russia went into Ukraine in early 2014 most prosecutions of soldiers for not going to a combat zone involved service in the Caucasus. That is still a dangerous place, but now largely handled by locals or paramilitary units of Interior Ministry. The Russian Army is largely responsible for keeping the undeclared war in Donbas going and a growing number of Russian troops refuse to cooperate.
The Russian government has been working to eliminate all this public access to court records that became common after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. At that point most Russians were fed up with the decades of paranoia, secrecy and government terror practiced by the ruling communists. The communists are largely gone but not many of those communist era veterans (especially KGB officers, like president Putin and many of his key officials) who are now running the country and trying to turn back the clock.
The big reveal here is not that Russian troops are in Ukraine, everyone down there knew that. The prosecutions show that the new Russian policy of spending a lot of money to recruit highly paid “contract soldiers” (“kontracti”) was not resulting in highly trained, disciplined and resolute warriors. A lot of the kontracti sent to Ukraine decided the higher pay was not worth it and refused. During the communist period any military information revealing how ineffective the troops actually were was considered a state secret. Thus until the Cold War ended the true extent of the World War II casualties Russia suffered (nearly 30 million dead) was considered a state secret and the number admitted to was less than half the real number. The unreliability of highly paid and carefully (but not carefully enough) kontracti is now considered worthy of being something kept secret.