There’s no difference in the way Russia treats its civilians or its soldiers and it’s this aspect of Russia that makes it a true successor of Soviet tradition, Ramūnas Bogdanas argues.
© Reuters/Scanpix

Continued from Russian Soldiers - cheap and luckless (I)

No military honours

In September 2014 in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian soldiers were surrounded near Ilovaisk. The Russian officers promised them that they would free them in exchange for prisoners. They also agreed to exchange the wounded when the Russians promised that they would then hand them over to Ukraine. Subsequently, when the Ukrainians carried out the conditions, the Russians changed their minds and ordered them to surrender. Fighting then ensued. The Russians also failed to deliver when it came to the wounded who stayed prisoners of the Russians. The Russian officer’s promise was a sham.

How then can military honour exist if nobody in the Russian officer corps says anything about the unlawful operation of the army in another country? On the contrary: The Russian officer corps hides what’s happening and is criminally involved and untouchable. For the soldiers and their families what’s happening during the maneuvers is one huge blur. A group of 150 anxious relatives waited for several hours in Kostroma near the gates of the airborne regiment so that someone could explain to them where their young men had disappeared to. None of those in charge came out to talk.

The Spartans used to cheer their men as they went off to war with the words “come back with your shield or on it”. Ukrainians who have perished for their country in battle are buried with honour and those from their native land bow their heads to them. As an example they’re shown on television news. The hapless Russian soldiers are dispatched in stealth and buried in stealth.

Unlike the Ukrainians they don’t come back on their shields but in meat refrigerators. Unlike Ukrainians soldiers from war zones who are considered heroes, the unfortunate Russian soldiers who elude death are forced into silence about what they have been through.

Pskov region deputy and journalist Lev Shlosberg managed to find out from the soldiers that on 20 August in eastern Ukraine practically the entire band of the Pskov air regiment division – around 80 – were killed. Shlosberg was attacked near a house and savagely beaten up after he announced that around two Pskov paratroopers had been buried in secret.

A blasphemous deception takes grip. The sprightly voice of the widow of a murdered sergeant answers the phone. A man takes over the handset is that very same sergeant, alive and well. Afterwards, the journalist meets the officer of his unit near the freshly filled grave of the sergeant. When the secret comes to light, the plaques and wreathes disappear from the graves of the paratroopers because naturally the memorial ribbons bear the names of those who lie there. Young men have been used and disposed of. And others are going off to replace them.

What do you see when you see the light?

Mothers of soldiers committees in Russia are now gathering information on soldiers that have been killed or who have disappeared and which now number in the hundreds. The story of the Pskov paratroopers investigated by a committee in St Petersburg was condemned outright as an article written by “foreign agents”. That was because in 2011, long before the article, the committee received support from a fund in the United States.

This is how television propaganda impacts people. The mother of slain Anton Tumanov from the Republic of Mari in the Volga region said that she believed that the Russian army was fighting in Ukraine only when she was informed in a telephone call that her son had been killed near Luhansk. 19 year-old Anton Tumanov went off on contract in the middle of June to serve in the No.18 Rifle Division deployed in Chechnya. The salary of up to 50 000 roubles (2 100 litas) that he was promised was not paid. And that was only after a probation period of a few months. Anton was killed just before his first payment.  

When he left he said to his mother that he was being taken to go and “help the rebels”. For her the stories on television seemed true. The more the light is seen, the more the risk to the regime increases. It’s impossible for grieving mothers to be forced into silence and their voices have far more impact than the fools on the television. Thanks to a statement of the committee of mothers, it was established that the young man from the Volga region was one of 120 who had been killed on 13 September when the Ukrainians fired on a column of 1200 invading Russian soldiers. The beaten unit returned to Russia with 450 wounded.

Those Russian soldiers who are now being shown in Ukraine as carrying out their “duty to the motherland” or earning some money will one day realize that they had been dragged into an international crime for which Russia will be blamed. It’s already abundantly clear to other countries.

The United Nations General Assembly resolution Nr. 3314 has endorsed what constitutes an aggressive act, irrespective of a declaration of war. When reading it, remember Luhansk and Donetsk, Ilovaisk and Novoazovsk, the armed Russian gangs “Grad” and their rounds of ammunition and artillery shooting from Russia across the border into Ukraine.

Aggression is:

Article 3
(a) The invasion or attack by the armed forces of a State of the territory of another State, or any military occupation, however temporary, resulting from such invasion or attack, or any annexation by the use of force of the territory of another State or part thereof;
(b) Bombardment by the armed forces of a State against the territory of another State or the use of any weapons by a State against the territory of another State;
[…]
(g) The sending by or on behalf of a State of armed bands, groups, irregulars or mercenaries, which carry out acts of armed force against another State of such gravity as to amount to the acts listed above, or its substantial involvement therein;
Article 5
1. No consideration of whatever nature, whether political, economic, military or otherwise, may serve as a justification for aggression.
2. A war of aggression is a crime against international peace. Aggression gives rise to international responsibility
(bold by Bogdanas).

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