Thursday, November 13, 2014

Russia Invades Ukraine -- Investigating the Kremlin's Hybrid War (Updated)

Has the world's second-most powerful military invaded Ukraine? From secret Russian troop burials to photos and soldiers speaking out, the evidence that Moscow has invaded Ukraine is overwhelming.

My Russian invasion timeline continues from my earlier post chronicling events of Aug. 25 to Nov. 3, 2014. I'll update the timeline as new details emerge. Latest update: March 4 (all times in GMT).

NOVEMBER 5, 2014
Fifty percent of Russians say their government should focus on social and economic problems at home, "and not interfere in events in Ukraine," a 1,600-person survey in late October by Russia's Levada Centre reports.

Only 36 percent agree that "Russia's geopolitical, strategic interests are more important than internal social and economic problems of Russia itself."

The findings jive with earlier surveys. In August, the Russian daily newspaper Kommersant reported only 5 percent of Russians believed Moscow should send troops to help gunmen in Ukraine fighting the government.

And in September, a Levada survey found 40 percent of Russians said the combat deaths of Russian troops in Ukraine are "unacceptable and unjustified insofar as Russia is carrying out a hidden, undeclared war." Thirty percent said the deaths were "inevitable and justified."

Two convoys with 49 unmarked tanks, troop carriers and artillery-towing trucks are seen moving west toward the front lines in Ukraine through areas held by Moscow-backed militants, observers of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe say in a report.

Two additional convoys with 34 unmarked military trucks, half towing artillery, are seen moving west the next day, the OSCE reports.

Also this day, AP journalists report seeing three convoys of 80 unmarked military vehicles moving through militant-held areas of Ukraine, mainly trucks, some towing artillery with other carrying troops.

Only 13 percent of Russians say they would support their son volunteering to fight alongside Moscow-backed fighters in Ukraine, according to a survey by Russia's Levada Centre polling firm.

Sixty-eight percent would try to stop them or convince them not to go.

Also, 41 percent say they support Russian activist groups that are investigating combat deaths of Russian soldiers in Ukraine "because we need to know the truth." Only 9 percent denied Russian troops are fighting in Ukraine.

"I'm answerable only to president Putin and our Lord."
- Nikolai "Daddy" Kozitsyn, a commander 
of Moscow-backed gunmen in Ukraine

4:12 p.m.: Ukrainian Jewish leaders strongly support the Kyiv government and reject Kremlin claims that Ukraine is anti-Semitic, the BBC reports.

Prominent Ukrainian Jewish businessman Ihor Kolomoisky, the regional governor of Dnipropetrovsk, is a leading financial backer of Ukraine's military effort, while the murder of a Jewish businessman in militant-held Donetsk in August has prompted the exodus of Jewish families from areas controlled by Moscow-backed forces, the story notes.

(See here for more Ukrainian Jewish community responses to Kremlin claims that it has intervened in Ukraine because of anti-Semitism.)

Also this day: "I'm answerable only to president Putin and our Lord," Nikolai "Daddy" Kozitsyn, a commander of Moscow-backed gunmen in Ukraine, tells AP.

7 a.m.: Six hundred and thirty people in "military clothing" crossed a Russia-Ukraine border point in the previous week, "mostly to Ukraine," while another 35 crossed at a second border point, OSCE observers say in a report.

The observers are stationed at two crossing points controlled by Moscow-backed militants in eastern Ukraine where militants and military hardware have previously crossed from Russia into Ukraine.

"The OM (observer mission) observed the highest number of persons in military-style clothing crossing the border in both directions since the beginning of its mandate. The OM observed them crossing the border more often in groups than previously. They were formed also of a higher number of people, in one instance of 24 persons," the OSCE says.

Observers also noted a van marked "Cargo 200" (a Russian term for military combat deaths) crossing into Ukraine on Nov. 11 and then back out again a few hours later.

The 665-person total was far higher than in the OSCE's previous report on Nov. 5, which said 386 people in military-style dress had crossed at the two border points in the prior week.

"We were given maps of Russia with coordinates 
and targets. We didn't even know these were 
populated communities of Ukraine."
- Russian officer sent to Ukraine

Also this day, NATO commander Gen. Philip Breedlove confirms reports of a growing Russian military buildup in eastern Ukraine.

"Across the last two days we have seen the same thing that OSCE is reporting," he says. "We have seen columns of Russian equipment, primarily Russian tanks, Russian artillery, Russian air defense systems and Russian combat troops entering Ukraine."

"They sent 600 of us. Twenty-four came back. 
Where are the rest? Nobody is interested."
- Russian officer sent to Ukraine

Also this day, Russian activist Elena Vasilieva, who is investigating Russian combat deaths in Ukraine, publishes excerpts of letters on her blog that she says she got from Russian officers sent to fight in Ukraine.

"Nobody cares about us. Meat is meat. But we're people," one writes. "A breakdown is happening. Nobody wants to go to this Ukraine. They sent 600 of us. Twenty-four came back. Where are the rest? Nobody is interested."

"These DPRists (a reference to militants of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic) are on a lot of drugs and shoot at everybody," another says. "They've killed more of us than the Ukrainians have."

"We were initially sent on training," an officer writes in a letter in a second post. "We were given maps of Russia with coordinates and targets. We didn't even know these were populated communities of Ukraine. After the shelling we found out these were towns, with people.

"Those who come back from this hellhole are angry like dogs. They wait for our media to report this, but they are silent and push some nonsense about Novorossia (the Kremlin's term for areas of eastern and southern Ukraine). There is no Novorossia. There are just a bunch of criminals with automatics... Everybody's lying. Why are we shooting at peaceful people?"

"(Russian) soldiers are doing anything 
they can to avoid getting sent to war."
- Russian activist Elena Vasilieva

Also this day, Valentina Melnikova, secretary of the influential Russian Union of Soldiers' Mothers Committees, tells the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta that 250 Russian conscripts refused to sign contracts agreeing to fight in Ukraine.

When their commander said he'd send them anyway, several got in touch with Melnikova. She says only her complaint to the Russian defense ministry saved the men from being forcibly sent to Ukraine.

Melnikova has previously said Russian soldiers have been sent to fight in Ukraine against their will.

She says nearly 4,000 Russian soldiers are presently fighting in Ukraine. They are promised combat pay equivalent to $3,000 USD, but no one has received the payouts, she says.

Soldiers and families of those killed in action can't complain because Russia denies sending troops to Ukraine, she says.

8 a.m.: The war in eastern Ukraine "will end within a month, not later, because (Russian president Vladimir) Putin will soon run out of troops," says Russian activist Elena Vasilieva, citing information from Russian military contacts.

"They tell me there's nobody left to send to Donbass (eastern Ukraine). Soldiers are doing anything they can to avoid getting sent to war," she tells Ukraine's news site.

"Contract soldiers in Donbass will be replaced with conscripts, but these are inexperienced boys who could die right away or surrender."

Vasilieva is in Kyiv working on a documentary about Russia's covert war in Ukraine. She says Russian authorities have launched a criminal case against her.

11 p.m.: In an interview with Germany's ARD TV network, Russian president Vladimir Putin confirms what he denied last March -- that he moved troops into Ukraine's Crimea peninsula before staging a rigged referendum on independence there last March on accession to Russia.

"I make no secret of it, it is a fact and we never concealed that our Armed Forces, let us be clear, blocked Ukrainian armed forces stationed in Crimea, not to force anybody to vote, which is impossible, but to avoid bloodshed," he says according to a transcript on the Kremlin's website.

Asked whether Russia sends weapons and soldiers to militants in eastern Ukraine, Putin didn't deny it. "Nowadays people who wage a fight and consider it righteous will always get weapons," he said, adding that Ukraine wants to "annihilate everyone" in the eastern part of the country.

"We won't let it happen," he said.

Last March, Putin insisted to reporters that the thousands of heavily armed soldiers with no insignia who had flooded into Crimea -- much like is currently happening in eastern Ukraine -- were "local self-defence units."

When a reporter asked Putin if the troops wearing what appeared to be Russian army uniforms were indeed Russian, he said such uniforms could be bought in a store.

"But were they Russian soldiers or not?" a reporter asked.

"Those were local self-defence units," Putin said.

Over 20 Russian-made models of tanks, armoured personnel vehicles, missiles and other weapons not known to be in the possession of the Ukrainian military have been documented in the hands of Moscow-backed militants in eastern Ukraine, Australia-based consulting firm Armament Research Services says in a report detailing weapons used in the conflict in Ukraine.

The report contradicts militant claims that all their weaponry was captured from Ukrainian forces.

Weapons systems photographed in militant hands include two different models of T-72 tanks, the sophisticated 1RL239 battlefield surveillance radar system and an anti-tank missile captured with paperwork indicating it was in a Russian military stockpile as recently as April 2014.

3:02 a.m.: The UK embassy in Ukraine tweets a guide for the Kremlin to spot its T-72BM series tanks in Ukraine. These tanks, which aren't used by Ukrainian forces, have been photographed several times since August in the hands of Moscow-backed militants in Ukraine.

Moscow-backed militants were close to defeat and preparing to flee to Russia in mid-August when Russian soldiers -- supposedly "on leave" -- entered Ukraine and reversed the tide of the war.

So acknowledges Igor "Shooter" Girkin, a former colonel in Russia's FSB security agency (successor to the notorious KGB) and the militia's former "defence minister," in an interview with Alexander Prokhanov, the anti-Semitic editor of far-right Russian newspaper Zavtra ("Tomorrow").

"The last days were quite desperate," Girkin says. "We were so spread out that even the military police was sent into battle... We were down to our reserves -- supply and headquarters staff, which mostly consisted of the elderly and untrained people."

Girkin says the "vacationing" soldiers led the attack on the Ukrainian city of Mariupol that opened a new front in the war in late August, far to the south of the previous fighting.

"Militant units were subordinated to them. But mainly it was 'the vacationers' who attacked toward Mariupol," he says.

A Russian activist said in September  Russian soldiers were being forced by commanders to sign a contract saying they were going "on leave" and then were sent to fight in Ukraine.

A militant leader said in August his ranks included 3,000 Russian "volunteers."

Girkin, who now lives in Russia, also takes credit in the interview for starting the war in the first place.

"At first nobody wanted to fight... I pulled the trigger that started the war. If our unit hadn't crossed the border, everything would have ended like in Kharkiv and Odessa -- a few dozen people dead, burned, arrested.

"I am personally responsible for what is happening there."

Also this day, a UN human rights report says areas of eastern Ukraine under the control of Moscow-backed militants have seen a "total breakdown in law and order" and "serious human rights violations" against civilians, including torture, disappearances, executions, forced labour and sexual violence.

"The continuing presence of a large amount of sophisticated weaponry, as well as foreign fighters that include servicemen from the Russian Federation, directly affects the human rights situation in the east of Ukraine," the UN says.

People have been held and tortured in secret detention facilities, the report says. "Thousands of individuals remain missing. Ad hoc graves continue to be found and exhumed."

Five Russian military aircraft entered Ukrainian airspace in the eastern Luhansk region, the Russian-language site reports, citing Luhansk residents.

Nearly 7,500 Russian soldiers are presently stationed in eastern Ukraine, Ukraine's military intelligence chief Stepan Poltorak says.

A Russian woman tells Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta that her boyfriend, Sergey Andriyanov, a paratrooper with Russia's 106th Guards Airborne Division, was killed in combat in Ukraine in late August.

Asked where he died, the woman says, "It's not a secret for anybody. Everyone knows very well that he died in Ukraine."

Andriyanov had told his girlfriend he was being deployed to the Russian city of Rostov for training.

When his body was sent home, the woman and Andriyanov's mother were shocked to find it covered in dirt, with open eyes and mouth and blood on his lips and teeth.

"It's very frustrating for me that he gave his life, and they brought him like that."

Also this day, eyebrows are being raised in France over a 9-million-euro Russian bank loan to the far-right National Front party, which strongly backs Putin's policies in Ukraine.

"The loan has the Kremlin's fingerprints on it," Bloomberg View reports, noting that it was orchestrated by National Front legislator with close ties to the Kremlin.

The loan is one of several Russian loans to Europe's growing far-right or fascist parties -- Greece's Golden Dawn, Belgium's Vlaams Belang, Italy's Northern League, Hungary's Jobbik and the Freedom Party of Austria, UK's The Week magazine reports.

Like the National Front, these parties support Putin's foreign policy, including in Ukraine, and conservative domestic policies, such as anti-gay legislation.

The loans occurred amid "growing evidence of a secret Kremlin campaign to buy influence in European politics," the magazine said, citing The Times of London.

The campaign belies Kremlin claims that it has intervened in Ukraine because its new government is fascist.

The Interpreter Mag website, which analyzes Russian media, provides a more detailed report on the close Kremlin connections to the Russian bank that provided the loan to the National Front in France as well as Kremlin ties to Europe's far right.

Also this day, Germany's Bild newspaper reports that the country's rightist eurosceptic AfD party is secretly financed by the Kremlin through covert gold sales.

The financing is part of a Kremlin campaign to influence European governments. Details of the campaign are contained in a strategy paper from a Moscow think tank titled "Putin: the new leader of international conservatism."

The EUObserver site carried an English report on the story (see also this report).

Also this day, Ukrainian security officials say Russia has resumed artillery shelling of Ukrainian positions from across the border.

The U.S. State Department said last July that Russia had shelled Ukraine from across the border. In September, OSCE observers at a Russia-Ukraine border post reported hearing artillery fire originating in Russia. (See the reports in my earlier Russian invasion timeline.)

Also this day, OSCE parliamentary assembly president Ikka Kanerva says "Russia must withdraw all forces and equipment from Ukraine and away from its border and end its support for separatist forces.

"The ball is clearly in Russia's court."

In a statement, Kanerva also rejects Russia's insistence that Ukraine not join NATO, noting that the first core principle in the OSCE's 1975 founding act says OSCE member countries have the right to belong to any international organization or alliance they choose.

"Simply put, it's up to Ukraine and no one else," Kanerva says.

The Independent of London carries more details of Russia's growing links to the European far-right.

The newspaper notes that the Kremlin-owned Russia Today news channel launched a German version of its broadcast earlier this month, which has already been criticized in Germany media for using journalists with far-right views.

One was sacked recently by German public channel RBB for making anti-Semitic comments.

Russia's so-called "humanitarian aid" convoys, which the Kremlin has repeatedly sent into militant-held areas of Ukraine without Kyiv's consent or verification, have supplied fuel for tanks, Victoria Nulland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, tells the Meduza Project, an Russian independent news site.

"Since the Minsk peace deal was signed, hundreds of tanks, howitzers, artillery systems, 'Grad' (rocket) launchers have entered eastern Ukraine from Russia. How can this be called respect for the agreement, which calls for the withdrawal of foreign soldiers and equipment?"

Also this day, a Russian mother, Olga Korneyeva, says in a YouTube video that her son Mikita Zhiltsov, a Russian army conscript, is being forcibly sent to fight in Ukraine.

Zhiltsov was initially told he was being sent for training near the Ukrainian border, but he wound up in a border village and was informed he'd be sent into combat in Ukraine, the mother says.

"I am against this as a mother. I support my son's position. He isn't afraid to die or defend his country... But he doesn't understand why. Me too. This is my position as a citizen, as is my son's. He is against war activities on foreign territory."

Russian families of soldiers killed in so-called training exercises -- a euphemism for combat deaths in Ukraine -- will get the equivalent of $100,000 in compensation, Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reports, citing Russia's deputy defence minister, Nikolai Pankov.

Pankov made the announcement at a meeting of a Russian human rights commission. When asked where the soldiers were killed, "military officials made round eyes and said they wouldn't discuss that," the newspaper said.

The circumstances of soldier deaths are "personal information," a human rights worker said she was told.

Also this day, Taras Kuzio, a research associate at the University of Alberta, says in a Financial Times blog piece that Russian combat deaths in Ukraine -- estimated by one Russian activist at nearly 4,000 in September -- were at that point about the same after five months of conflict as in the nine-year U.S. war in Iraq and about a third of the combat death toll of the Russian military in the 1980s war in Afghanistan.

A newly released video on YouTube shows dozens of unarmed people wounded and some apparently dead in downtown Kyiv as riot police stroll by on Feb. 18, 2014, the day security forces of Ukraine's then Moscow-backed government opened fire on demonstrators with live ammunition in an attempt to crush pro-democracy protests.

Earlier-released videos show government snipers moving to attack demonstrators and numerous unarmed protesters and medics being gunned down, some while withdrawing.

The crackdown was part of a failed plan involving over 20,000 police to assault the Maidan mass protests against Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, Ukrainian parliamentarian and former security official Hennady Moskal later said.

Over 100 protesters were killed and more than 1,000 were injured before Yanukovych fled from Kyiv on Feb. 21, eventually escaping to Russia.

Thirty members of Russia's FSB security agency (successor to the KGB) helped Yanukovych's government plan the assault on the mass protests, a Ukrainian investigation found.

"At least 30,000" Russian citizens have gone to Ukraine to fight the Kyiv government, Russian communist member of parliament Vyacheslav Tetekin tells Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta.

"It's clear that it's not hundreds but tens of thousands," he says.

Tetekin says he will propose legislation to grant veteran's benefits to Russians who have fought in Ukraine, including a pension, cheaper utility rates and the equivalent of about $100,000 USD in the event of death.

The goal is to motivate more Russians to fight in Ukraine. "I welcome the increase of the flow of volunteers to go there," he says.

Only 30 percent of Russians approve of Russian military intervention in Ukraine, while just 6 percent are ready to lose social benefits, pensions or income to finance the takeover of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula and Russia's hybrid war on Ukraine, Russian polling firm Levada-Center says.

A 30-year-old woman working with Russia's GRU
military intelligence agency was arrested on St.
Nicholas Day in Kyiv after leaving this explosives-
filled handbag in downtown Kyiv's busy Maidan
square, Ukraine's SBU security agency says.
Russia's GRU military intelligence agency plotted to set off a five-kilogram bomb in downtown Kyiv's busy Independence Square (known in Ukrainian as the "Maidan," site of anti-government protests that toppled Ukraine's previous pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych), Ukraine's SBU security agency says.

The attack was to occur yesterday, on St. Nicholas Day, when the capital's downtown is full of shopping families.

A 30-year-old woman who had arrived in Kyiv from the militant-held eastern Luhansk region was arrested after leaving a handbag with the explosives in the square, the SBU says.

She is said to have been working for Kremlin-backed militants in coordination with the GRU.

Up to 8,000 Russian Federation soldiers are presently deployed illegally in militant-held areas of eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian defence minister Stepan Poltorak is quoted saying by BBC-Ukraine.

Just 15 to 20 percent of the 30,000-some people fighting with the Kremlin-backed militia in eastern Ukraine are local residents, Poltorak said.

JANUARY 15, 2015
A new type of machine gun used only by the Russian military, the PKP Pecheneg,  has been photographed in the hands of Kremlin-backed forces in Ukraine, the British embassy in Kyiv says in a Twitter post -- "further proof of Russian military involvement in Ukraine," in the embassy's words.
Over 100 Russian airborne and infantry soldiers were killed in combat in eastern Ukraine today, bringing the total Russian military death toll in Ukraine to 5,600, Russian-language blogger Oleh Yarchuk writes on his blog chronicling Russian combat deaths in Ukraine.

Russian combat deaths totalled nearly 300 in the past three days, according to Yarchuk's data.

That number coincides with the estimate of Ukrainian officials of approximately 300 killed among Kremlin-backed forces in Ukraine in escalated fighting in the last several days, most notably around the Donetsk airport.

Russian activist Elena Vasilieva, who publishes her own tallies of Russian combat deaths in Ukraine, offers a slightly higher estimate of 382 Russian military combat deaths and up to 500 injured in the past three days, including among special forces, paratroopers and marines.

Over 6,200 Russian soldiers have died fighting in Ukraine or disappeared since the Russian covert war began last spring, she estimates based on her sources in Russian military families.

Also this day, The Guardian publishes a story quoting Russian rights activists and opposition politician Lev Schlossberg saying thousands of Russian soldiers have been sent to fight in Ukraine, in some cases after being pressured to go.

One mother said her son told her his unit was being sent to Ukraine. He was killed there in an artillery strike, his comrades later said.

The mother said her son told her commanders offered a 400,000-ruble (USD$6,000) bonus to soldiers who agreed to fight in Ukraine, "then simply ordered them forward when volunteers weren't forthcoming.

Families of killed soldiers are threatened with cut-off benefits if they speak out, rights advocates say.

Two thousand Russian soldiers have crossed illegally into eastern Ukraine in recent days, including two Russian army battalion tactical groups, Ukrainian officials say.

The deployments bring the total Russian military presence in Ukraine to "about 9,000" troops, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko says.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov denies the accusations. "Please present proof," he told reporters in Berlin. But he acknowledged Kremlin-backed militants hold more territory than agreed to in the Minsk ceasefire agreement signed in September.

Ukrainian officials say the militants have seized over 500 square kilometres of additional land since the deal.

And despite the ceasefire, Russia has doubled its quantity of military equipment deployed in Ukraine since December, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of U.S. Army forces in Europe, says.

"It is irrefutable that they [militants] are getting direct support from Russia," he said during a visit to Kyiv.

An Associated Press reporter observed nine Gvozdika self-propelled howitzers, six anti-tank cannons, four Grad multiple rocket launchers, four trucks carrying ammunition and 15 "pristine-looking tanks" in militant-held areas headed toward an embattled checkpoint held until recently by Ukrainian forces, The New York Times reports.

Also this day, blogger Oleh Yarchuk reports over 80 Russian soldiers from various tank, airborne, artillery and other units were killed in combat in Ukraine in the past two days.

Also this day, Boris Vishnevsky, a Russian politician in St. Petersburg, tells Russian newspaper Novy Region that Russian army conscripts "are being strongly pressured and forced to sign contracts and are being sent to Ukraine."

The Russian army's 138th Guards Motor Rifle Brigade is being deployed to Ukraine in coming days, Vishnevsky says.

New evidence of Russia's invasion of Ukraine: Ultramodern Russian 2B26 Grad-K multiple
rocket launcher filmed in militant-held eastern Ukraine. 
New photos have emerged confirming Russia's covert (or not-so-covert) military intervention in eastern Ukraine.

An ultramodern Russian-made 2B26 Grad-K multiple rocket launcher was videotaped deep inside Ukraine in a militant-head area near the embattled Donetsk airport, blogger Conflict Reporter writes.

The system was delivered to Russian forces only in 2012 and isn't in possession of the Ukrainian military, meaning it couldn't have been captured from Ukraine, the post says.

Also near Donetsk, a powerful Russian-made BM-33 Smerch multiple rocket launcher was said to be filmed yesterday -- a system that is also in Ukrainian military hands but that hasn't been stationed anywhere near front lines and thus couldn't have been captured by Kremlin-backed militants, Conflict Reporter says.

Also this day, Russian soldiers' rights activists say Russian army conscripts are being tricked and forced to fight in Ukraine under threat of criminal prosecution, the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reports.

The Russian newspaper Komersant carries a similar report several days later.

Former militant commander Igor "Strelkov" Girkin, who says he was a colonel in Russia's FSB intelligence agency, acknowledges on Russian TV that Moscow-backed militants in Ukraine's Crimea peninsula forcibly gathered regional deputies to stage a fraud-riddled referendum on joining Russia last March.

"I did not see any support from (Crimea) state authorities in Simferopol (the regional capital)," he says. "It was the militants who gathered the deputies so they would accept this (the referendum)." (See an English account of Girkin's remarks here.)

Google Earth images show multiple vehicle tracks crossing
the Russian border in the area where a Ukrainian military
advance was pushed back last August, the
Ukraine@war blog reports.
Satellite images on Google Earth show how "50 to 100" Russian artillery units crossed the Ukrainian border last summer in the area where Ukrainian forces were subject to massive artillery barrages that killed dozens of retreating Ukrainian soldiers offered safe passage last August, the Ukraine@war blog reports.

The images show military vehicles lined up in rows and multiple vehicle tracks crossing the border, then heading toward a staging area from where Ukrainian forces were attacked.

A widely watched video falsely claimed that U.S. heavy weapons have been shipped to Ukraine, reports the StopFake website, which investigates media claims about the conflict in Ukraine.

In fact, as the site demonstrates, the video was filmed in Latvia and shows equipment being shipped to Lithuania.

The Obama administration has yet to send any arms to Ukraine but started deliberating the idea after Moscow-backed militants escalated attacks on Ukrainian forces in recent weeks.

The Russian military suffered one of its worst casualty tolls in combat today in eastern Ukraine, with 182 combat deaths and 249 wounded, according to Russian-language blogger Oleh Yarchuk, who chronicles Russian military combat deaths in Ukraine using various open sources.

Today's death toll brings total Russian military combat deaths in Ukraine to 6,214, with another 2,897 missing in action, according to Yarchuk's calculations. His death toll includes only casualties of Russian regular soldiers, not those of Moscow-backed militants in Ukraine.

Also this day, the StopFake website debunks a story on the site LiveLeak that claims the U.S. "has deployed 400 mercenaries on Ukrainian soil." The story say the U.S. government hired the mercenaries from the security firm Academi.

In fact, a photo of heavily armed men accompanying the story shows contractors from another company, GK Sierra Security, taken not in Ukraine but in Afghanistan in 2010.

Academi says on its site the claim is "completely false" and it "has no personnel in Ukraine."

The LiveLeak report echoes earlier debunked claims last March that 300 contractors from the Blackwater firm and other security companies had arrived in Ukraine. The claims originated from state-controlled media in Russia and Iran and cited a video of a group of armed men running around in Donetsk in Ukraine.

In fact, as StopFake said at the time, the video most likely shows Ukrainian security personnel attempting to protect an ex-Donetsk governor who was being attacked by a crowd.

The StopFake report links a Russian-language report on the news site, which covers eastern Ukraine. That report included another video taken from a different perspective that shows a crowd carrying a Russian flag beating the ex-governor, who the story said escaped with the help of Ukrainian security personnel.

These BPM-97 armoured vehicles, used only by Russia's
border guards, were photographed alongside forces of
Moscow-backed militants in eastern Ukraine, The
Interpreter Mag reports.
Updated variants of the T-72 tank and BMP-2 armoured vehicle, both known to be in use only in the Russian military, have been spotted in use by Kremlin-backed forces in Ukraine, The Moscow Times reports.

Also this day, The Interpreter Mag site publishes photos of BPM-97 ("Vystrel") armoured vehicles, used only by Russia's border guards, in use by Moscow-backed forces in eastern Ukraine.

The Bellingcat investigative journalism site geolocates the photos in militant-held Luhansk in eastern Ukraine.

Also this day, Oxford University political scientists Paul Chaisty and Stephen Whitfield report that in a survey of eastern and southern Ukrainians in December, less than 5 percent favoured the breakup of the country (the option favoured at various times by Moscow-backed militants), while 28 percent favoured federalism (the option reportedly espoused by the Kremlin at this month's peace talks in Minsk).

Slightly more than 50 percent backed the current unitary form of government.

Only six percent believed the Donbass region, where fighting has raged, should become independent, while four percent wanted it to join Russia.

Russia's military isn't prepared for protracted conflict with Ukraine and faces personnel shortages, forcing it to deploy conscripts to the battle and bring in units normally deployed in Central Asia, writes Russian newspaper editor Alexander Golts in The Moscow Times.

"That is why Russia's military leaders might have concluded that they need to force or trick conscripts into signing on for longer stints," writes Golts, deputy editor of the online newspaper Yezhednevny Zhurnal.

9:44 a.m.: Moscow-backed militants in eastern Ukraine "always seem to have new weapons" to replace those lost in battle, and these weapons "must come from the other side," meaning Russia, says Lamberto Zannier, secretary-general of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which has hundreds of monitors observing the conflict in Ukraine.

"What we see is that as weapons get destroyed during the military operations, the separatists' side, they always have new weapons at hand, so these weapons must come from somewhere," Zannier says.

"We are present in larger numbers on the Ukrainian side and we have never seen weapons from there going into the East, so our conclusion is that they must come from the other side."

Asked if he meant Russia, Zannier said, "Obviously that's the Russian border, yes."

"There are multiple rocket launchers and there are heavy artillery including howitzers, heavy howitzers on tracks and tanks, of course, and various artillery systems of many calibres. They seem to have plenty of ammunition, so the conflict is really continuing and the availability of weapons and ammunition and fuel doesn't seem to be a problem."

Ukrainian forces shoot down a Russian-made Orlan-10 drone operated by Moscow-backed militants over government-held territory near the city of Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine.

The recently developed Orlan-10 is only in use by the Russian military, Australia-based Armament Research Services reports.

An Orlan-10 drone was first shot down by Ukrainian forces last May, the firm says.

Also this day, Russian students posted a YouTube video apologizing to Ukrainians for their government's covert war in Ukraine and annexation of the Crimea.

"We are ashamed by this undeclared criminal war, in which many of our countrymen are taking part. We are ashamed that our country violated the territorial integrity of Ukraine, which we had pledged to respect, and annexed the Crimean peninsula. We are ashamed that Ukrainian citizens are illegally being held in Russian prisons. Please forgive us," the students say.

"In the information war, it is criminal not to be on the side of the truth. The flow of lies on TV doesn't end. The degree of hatred and aggression in society grows each day. Not everyone wants to think, verify and question.

Also this day, the Bellingcat citizen investigative journalism website publishes the results of the first week of its Ukraine Conflict Vehicle Tracking Project.

The effort seeks to document illegal cross-border movement of Russian military vehicles into Ukraine. It collects information from public sources on sightings of military vehicles on both sides of the border and includes 165 entries at the end of its first week.

Among them are sightings of equipment used only by the Russian military, such as the Pantsir-1 air-defence missile system (photographed three times in Ukraine in the past month and three other times in Russia near the Ukrainian border) and BPM-97 "Vystrel" armoured vehicles (photographed seven times in Ukraine since December).

One hundred and five Russian soldiers have died in fighting in Ukraine in the two days since the Minsk II peace agreement was signed, bringing the total Russian military combat loss to 6,856, blogger Oleh Yarchuk reports on his blog chronicling Russian combat deaths in Ukraine.

About 1,500 of the Russian soldiers were killed since mid-January, according to Yarchuk's data, which he says is based on open source information such as social media. The total doesn't include deaths of Moscow-backed militants.

Also this day, Russia's TV Dozhd channel reports nearly 20 Russian soldiers in Murmansk are refusing to be deployed to the Russian city of Rostov, from where their commander said they may be sent to fight in Ukraine.

The soldiers refused to go in the absence of a written order, Dozhd reports, quoting Serhiy Krivenko, a member of the Kremlin's human rights committee who travelled to Murmansk to interview the soldiers. Krivenko says the soldiers are voluntary contracted members of the Russian military, not conscripts.

The soldiers' commander threatened to relieve the soldiers from the military if they refused to go to Ukraine, Krivenko told Dozhd.

In the same story, a Russian rights activist in Murmansk, Irena Paykevich, says 23 other Russian soldiers in the region were told in late January they were about to be sent to the border with Ukraine, also for possible deployment into Ukraine.

Also this day, a Finnish report on the Minsk II peace deal notes that the agreement mentions the Tornado-S multiple rocket launcher system as one of the heavy weapons that must be withdrawn from the front lines.

The Tornado-S entered into service with the Russian military in 2012 "and is operated by no other state," the report says.

"If Tornados are to be withdrawn from the conflict zone, they could not have originated from anywhere but Russia."

A Canadian government tweet, citing the Finnish report, says, "Oops: Putin has unwittingly acknowledged his own forces' involvement in the war in Ukraine."

The U.S. releases satellite images showing what it says are a number of Russian artillery units deployed near Debaltseve, a government-held city under fierce militant attack in eastern Ukraine.

Moscow-backed forces in Ukraine are now better armed than some NATO countries, U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt says, noting that Russia is preparing a large supply shipment to the militants.

The European Union says for the first time in its official documents that the Russian military is involved in combat in Ukraine, the EUObserver site reports.

The EU official journal says two Russian deputy defence ministers, Arkady Bakhin and Anatoly Antonov, are "involved in supporting the deployment of Russian troops in Ukraine."

It says a third top Russian military commander, Andrei Kartapolov, is "involved in shaping and implementing the military campaign of Russian forces in Ukraine."

All three men are added to the EU's list of individuals facing visa bans and freezes of their assets in the EU due to Russia's covert war in Ukraine.

An EU official says the explicit language isn't an accident. The EUObserver says it is based in part on a confidential EU intelligence document circulated among European capitals in late January.

It "is a clear and understandable message against Russian propaganda and all the lies about non-Russian engagement in the military conflict," an EU diplomat says.

The EU also slapped sanctions on several entities associated with the Moscow-backed forces, including the so-called Novorossiya group run by Igor "Strelkov" Girkin, who the EU says is a staff officer of Russia's GRU military intelligence service.

Also this day, one of Poland's leading daily newspapers, Gazeta Wyborcza, reports that Russian soldiers in an artillery unit based in Murmansk secretly recorded one of their officers telling them they would likely be sent to fight in Ukraine.

The soldiers were initially told they were being sent on a training mission, but they learned there was no training planned and that they were actually being sent into combat in Ukraine, the newspaper says.

"I'm not going to deny there is a possibility of crossing into the Donetsk and Luhansk regions (of Ukraine) with the goal of giving direct support," the soldiers' officer was reportedly recorded saying.

"We have to help because it's our personal, moral and military duty."

The soldiers gave the recording to Serhiy Krivenko, a member of the Kremlin's human rights council.

Eight soldiers who refused to go to Ukraine were locked in barracks and told if they didn't go they would be kicked out of the army and lose their housing and pension benefits, the newspaper says.

Other soldiers in the unit wound up in Ukraine without even realizing it, the story says. "We got orders to go straight across an open field," one soldier is quoted saying.

"We could see signs of a shoot-out, destroyed Kamazes (Russian-made military trucks). We went to ask someone for cigarettes and asked where we were.

"We heard we were just outside Luhansk. We were in shock. Nobody had told us we were going to cross the border."

The Bellingcat investigative journalism site uses Google
Earth to trace evidence of Russian artillery attacks
on Ukrainian forces from across the border.
Ukrainian officials accused Russia of shelling its forces from across the border last summer more than 100 times, which they said forced Ukraine to withdraw troops from many border areas, allowing Russian arms and fighters to stream across.

The Bellingcat investigative journalism website used Google Earth to study 1,355 artillery impact craters in eastern Ukraine and possible firing locations in Russia and compared them with other evidence, such as videos of artillery firing in Russia.

"There is compelling evidence that artillery attacks on Ukrainian territory and against Ukrainian armed forces originated from the territory of Russia," the site says in a report today.

In one attack last July, the site studied a field in Ukraine with 330 impact craters and determined the trajectory of the shells by studying the shape of the craters.

Tracing back the trajectory led the team to a site 14 km away just across the border in Russia, where there were burn marks on the ground consistent with artillery firing. Multiple vehicle tracks were visible on satellite images at the probable firing location, originating from deeper in Russia.

The tracks were consistent with BM-21 Grad or 9K51M Tornado-S multiple rocket launchers, the site says.

"There is documentary proof that the Russian 
army is present there (in Ukraine)."
- Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov,
hours before he was gunned down outside
the Kremlin

The UK embassy in Ukraine tweets photos of sightings of Russia's advanced Pantsir-1 anti-aircraft missile system in eastern Ukraine. The system is not used by Ukrainian forces and thus couldn't have been captured by Moscow-backed militants in Ukraine.

Russian army soldiers from an unnamed motor rifle brigade, stationed near the strategic city of Debaltseve which saw fierce combat in recent weeks, say their commanders encouraged them to go to fight in Ukraine to "defend their homeland" and advised them when and where to go in Ukraine, reports the Russian newspaper Kommersant, a leading business-oriented daily.

Moscow-backed militants in Ukraine conceal the presence of Russian soldiers by manning roadblocks with miners when journalists are around, the story says.

Top Kremlin aide Vladislav Surkov, sometimes known as Putin's foreign policy architect and mastermind of Russia's policies toward Ukraine, directed snipers who killed protesters during last year's Maidan demonstrations in Kyiv that drove Ukraine's former pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych from power, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko says, citing police evidence.

"Special forces operatives gave evidence that the Russian presidential aide Vladislav Surkov led the organization of groups of foreign snipers on the Maidan," Poroshenko says.

Phone records showed evidence of regular conversations between Yanukovych and Russia's security services that revealed a "clear Russian link" to the shootings, Poroshenko says.

"They prepared for the shooting together in advance."

Over 100 protesters were killed and more than 1,000 were injured in February last year as the Yanukovych government attempted to disperse the protest encampment in downtown Kyiv's Maidan square and surrounding areas, which at various times were estimated to have held up to one million protesters.

Videos show numerous unarmed protesters and volunteer medics being gunned down, some while attempting to withdraw, and government snipers moving to attack demonstrators.

Sniper killings of protesters in February last year
were directed by Kremlin aide Vladislav
Surkov, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko
says. The killings were part of a failed plan to
disperse mass protests against the former pro-
Moscow government of Ukraine, another
Ukrainian official said.
The attack was part of a failed plan involved over 20,000 police to forcibly disperse the protesters, Ukrainian parliamentarian and former security official Hennady Moskal later said.

Thirty members of Russia's FSB security agency (successor to the notorious KGB) helped Yanukovych's government plan the assault on the protests, a Ukrainian investigation found last April.

Russian human rights groups have received "dozens" of complaints in the past month alone from Russian conscripts who say they were "strong-armed or duped" into signing on to become professional soldiers, after which they were sent to participate in drills in the southern Rostov region near Ukraine's border and many in fact wound up fighting in Ukraine, Associated Press reports.

"Those who have been there (to the Rostov region) before know that in actual fact it means Ukraine," says Valentina Melnikova, head of the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, which protects soldiers' rights.

Former Russian deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov, a vociferous critic of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, was shot and killed outside the Kremlin yesterday because he planned to reveal evidence of Russia's military involvement in Ukraine, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko says.

Poroshenko says Nemtsov told him a couple of weeks ago he had proof of Russia's role in Ukraine and would reveal it.

"He said he would reveal persuasive evidence of the involvement of Russian armed forces in Ukraine. Someone was very afraid of this... They killed him," Poroshenko says.

Yevgenia Albats, editor of Russia's New Times political weekly and an old friend of Nemtsov, also says Nemtsov told her about two weeks ago he wanted to publish an exposé of the Kremlin's military involvement in Ukraine, to be called "Putin and the War," The New York Times reports.

On Feb. 10, Nemtsov told Russia's Sobesednik news website that he feared Putin would have him killed because of his opposition activities.

Just hours before the killing, Nemtsov in a radio interview called on Russians to join a March 1 march in Moscow and other Russian cities opposing the Kremlin's covert involvement in Ukraine.

"There is documentary proof that the Russian army is present there (in Ukraine)," Nemtsov said.

He noted that Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula violated the 1994 Budapest agreement, in which Ukraine agreed to give up its large nuclear weapons force in exchange for guarantees of territorial integrity from Russia, the U.S. and UK.

Nemtsov put out this video last summer with evidence of Russia's involvement in Ukraine.

His report on the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, showed how Russian businesspeople and companies close to Putin were the main beneficiaries of the $50-billion spent on the event -- four times over-budget and more than the cost of sports facilities of all previous Winter Olympics combined.

The cousin of murdered Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov believes Russian leader Vladimir Putin ordered Nemtsov's assassination last week because he planned to release information about Russia's military involvement in Ukraine.

"He (Putin) got rid of him so the truth about the war wouldn't get out," Igor Eidman, a Russian sociologist, tells the Russian-language Gordonua news site.

Eidman says Nemtsov was also killed to "scare society. Putin sent Russians a clear message: If I can openly kill a world-known opposition leader in the middle of Moscow, a few steps from the Kremlin, it'll be easy with you."

Putin also didn't appreciate Nemtsov's personal attacks. "Putin has the mentality of a mafia boss... If someone openly insults an organized crime member, he is obliged to kill the offender or he will lose his status," Eidman says.

Russian security services have tried to disrupt the Dutch investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over a militant-held area of Ukraine last July, even as Dutch investigators have become increasingly certain that the plane was shot down by a Russian-made Buk anti-aircraft missile very likely operated by Russian military personnel, the Dutch public broadcaster NOS reports.

"The research findings point in one direction. MH17 was brought down by a Buk missile that was fired from a Russian system, highly probably operated by the Russian military," NOS reports.

"The Buk system was transported shortly before the disaster from Russia to Ukraine. This is evident from various videos that have surfaced on the Internet. But Dutch investigators in Ukraine also spoke with eyewitnesses."

Complicating the criminal investigation is the whereabouts of the Russian missile crew, the story says. "The soldiers have become untraceable because they have received new identities from Russian security services in an attempt to erase all traces of Russia's involvement."

The story says Russian security services are also trying to hack into Dutch police computers. See more evidence of Russia's involvement in the MH17 disaster, which claimed 298 lives, in my MH17 timeline.

Russia has 14,400 troops inside Ukraine aiding over 29,000 Moscow-backed militants, says Stephen Blank, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, in Congressional testimony.

"These units are well equipped with the latest main battle tanks, armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles, plus hundreds of pieces of tube and rocket artillery," he says.

Another 85,000 Russian troops are massed in Russia near the Ukrainian border or in the annexed Crimean peninsula, Blank says.

Russian military strategy revolves around massive shelling of Ukrainian positions, "typically placed adjacent to kindergartens, hospitals or apartment buildings, so that Ukrainian units are unable to launch any strikes against them without causing unacceptable and horrific collateral casualties," he says.

"The numbers of shells being expended periodically forces Russia to accept truces in order to replenish its forces in Ukraine who are in full command of this operation."

The Russian military has incurred massive combat losses in Ukraine, and the Kremlin is "reputedly very afraid of media reports of the true extent of what evidently are sizeable numbers of Russian casualties," Blank says.

4 Myths About the Ukraine Crisis, Crimea and NATO
- Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 -- the Definitive Whodunit
- Russia Invades Ukraine -- Chronicling the Covert War and Cargo 200 (Aug.-Nov. 2014)

Monday, September 8, 2014

Russia Invades Ukraine -- Investigating the Kremlin's Hybrid War (Aug.-Nov. 2014)

A T-72BM tank photographed in eastern Ukraine
as part of a tank convoy. Only Russia operates
this type of tank, BBC reports.
Has the world's second most powerful military invaded Ukraine? From secret Russian troop burials to photos and soldiers speaking out, the evidence is overwhelming. 

My Russian invasion timeline chronicles the latest stage in Russia's covert war on Ukraine. This post covers events from Aug. 25 to Nov. 3, 2014. For more recent events, see this post.

8:40 a.m. (all times in GMT): Morgues in the Russian city of Rostov, near the border with eastern Ukraine, are full with bodies, Russian social activist Elena Vasilieva writes on the site of Russia's Echo Moscow radio.

She advises families of missing Russian soldiers to look in the Rostov morgues for their bodies and, failing that, to contact Ukrainian security officials.

She says Ukrainian authorities have been forced to bury bodies of Russian conscripts and mercenaries killed fighting in Ukraine because they have gone unclaimed.

8 p.m.: Only 5 percent of Russians believe the Kremlin should send Russian soldiers to help the pro-Russian gunmen fighting the Kyiv government in Ukraine, says Russian daily Kommersant citing a survey of 1,000 Russians on Aug. 16 and 17.

Also this day, nine Russian paratroopers of the 98th Guards Airborne Division are captured in Ukraine near the village of Dzerkalne, 20 kilometres from the Russian border, Ukrainian authorities announce.

Russia's defence ministry says the soldiers were on border patrol and crossed the border "likely by mistake."

Russia's RBK TV later reports that two other Russian soldiers in the same unit were killed in Ukraine, while 10 others were wounded and are being treated in hospitals in Russia's Rostov region, which borders Ukraine, according to soldiers' families.

Families of the captured soldiers angrily lashed out at Russian authorities for not disclosing information about their fate (see English subtitled video here).

12:46 p.m.: Eleven Russian soldiers from the 18th Guards Independent Motor Rifle Brigade were killed while fighting in Ukraine on Aug. 9 and 11, the head of a group of soldiers' mothers, Lyudmila Bogatenkova, tells Russia's news website (see English summary here).

The soldiers were killed near the Ukrainian city of Snizhne, not far from where Kremlin-backed militia are thought to have shot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on July 17.

Two members of Russian president's human rights council, Ella Polyakova and Sergey Krivenko, have called for an investigation. The official explanation was the soldiers died while training in the Rostov region, which borders war-torn eastern Ukraine.

1:44 p.m.: The Russian government is fooling its soldiers into committing "criminal acts" by secretly sending them to fight in Ukraine as part of "illegal armed groups," Russian opposition politician Lev Schlossberg tells Russia's independent TV Dozdh.

Schlossberg is a member of the regional council in Pskov, the city where two Russian paratroopers were buried who he says were killed fighting in Ukraine.

3:08 p.m.: One hundred wounded Russian soldiers have been flown for medical treatment to St. Petersburg, Russia, says Ella Polyakova, a member of the Kremlin's human rights council and head of a group of soldiers' mothers, in a story for Russia's TV Dozhd (see English summary here).

Officials said they were injured while training in the Rostov region. Polyakova has asked for an investigation.

6:37 p.m.: Dozens of heavily armed men with Russian accents, no insignia and carrying military rations with Russian writing have arrived in Kolosky, a Ukrainian village 10 km from the Russian border, Reuters reports.

Local residents tell Reuters the men arrived with a column of 38 armoured personnel carriers, artillery, anti-aircraft systems and "numerous" other military vehicles.

Also this day, reports that it tagged along with a group of far-right Russian nationalists who drive across the border through a field to fight in Ukraine.

"Ideologically we are all Russian imperialist nationalists," their recruiter says. They're given AK-47s and bullets after crossing the border.

The report also shows a column of Russian armoured military vehicles parked on a highway leading to Ukraine, just a few kilometres from the border.

"The silence and vague official comments 
only increase the atmosphere of suspicion."
- Editorial in Russia's Vedomosti daily

9:37 a.m.: Russian soldiers in Dagestan who agreed to fight in Ukraine got one-time payments of up to $7,000 (250,000 rubles), Ella Polyakova, a member of the Kremlin's rights council and leader of a group of soldiers' mothers, tells Russia's TV Dozhd.

Injured soldiers are dismissed from military service on their return, she says.

10:15 a.m.: Two Russian journalists looking into secretive burials of Russian paratroopers killed in Ukraine were attacked, threatened and told to leave town, the Moscow Times reports.

A YouTube video shows two men in hooded jackets trying to block the journalists' car and banging its windows.

Other journalists reported similar incidents this day, the story says.

12:57 p.m.: Nearly 400 Russian soldiers have been killed or wounded fighting in Ukraine, Lyudmila Bogatenkova, head of a group of Russian soldiers' mothers, tells TV Dozhd (English version here).

The casualties are from three Russian military brigades and don't include those of other units, she says.

2:25 p.m.: A Russian soldier killed fighting in Ukraine was delivered to his family without his head and no official explanation about how he was killed, TV Dozhd reports.

The family eventually learned he was killed in Ukraine, along with 60 other Russian soldiers.

8:43 p.m.: About 15,000 Russian soldiers are presently fighting in Ukraine, Valentina Melnikova, head of a group of Russian soldiers' mothers, tells TV Dozhd.

"We're sending you to Luhansk (in eastern Ukraine)," she quotes one colonel telling his unit's members. "If you don't sign (a contract agreeing to go), I'll sign it for you."

11:09 p.m.: A T-72BM tank photographed in eastern Ukraine could only have come from Russia, the BBC reports, citing UK military expert Joseph Dempsey.

Russia is the only country that operates this model of tank, the report says. The tank is not known to have been exported or operated outside Russia.

The T-72BM was photographed as part of a tank convoy of the Kremlin-backed militia in Ukraine.

Also this day, Russian business daily Vedomosti asks in an editorial, "Is Russia at war with Ukraine?" "The number of unanswered questions about dead and captured Russian soldiers in Ukraine has reached a critical mass," the editorial says.

"The silence and vague official comments only increase the atmosphere of suspicion and recall unfortunate examples of Russian and Soviet times," it says, referring to past official denials about Russian combat deaths in Afghanistan and Chechnya.

1:19 p.m.: Nearly 1,000 Russian paratroopers based in the the city of Pskov were sent to fight in Ukraine, one soldier's wife tells Russia's TV Dozhd.

The last time she heard from her husband, he had called from a Ukrainian phone number and said his unit had been under bombardment for a week and was about to go on the attack.

He had previously won a medal for his actions in the "reunification of Crimea."

1:49 p.m.: Twelve wounded Russian paratroopers from the 160th Guards Air Mobile Division have been flown for treatment to St. Petersburg's Kirov Military Medical Academy, Russia's TV Dozhd reports.

The hospital has treated nearly 180 wounded troops so far, the story says.

Wounded troops are being brought to St. Petersburg because hospitals in Rostov and Volgograd, nearer to Ukraine, are full, the story says.

"When masses of people, under commanders' 
orders, on tanks, APCs and with the use of heavy 
weapons, (are) on the territory of another 
country... I consider this an invasion."
Ella Polyakova, member of the 
Kremlin's human rights council 

4:07 p.m.: The head of a group of Russian soldiers' mothers, Lydia Sviridova, advises families to track down their soldier-relatives to find out where they are stationed and make sure they're safe, Russia's Svobodnye Novosti reports.

She vows to push for an investigation of how Russian soldiers wound up in Ukraine and punishment of those responsible.

11:46 p.m.: More than 100 Russian soldiers died in a single battle in the city of Snizhne, Ukraine, on August 13, two Kremlin human rights council members, Ella Polyakova and Sergey Krivenko, tell Reuters.

"When masses of people, under commanders' orders, on tanks, APCs and with the use of heavy weapons, (are) on the territory of another country, cross the border, I consider this an invasion," Polyakova says.

About 3,000 Russian "volunteers" are fighting in Ukraine, a Kremlin-backed militia leader, Alexander Zakharchenko, says in the story.

Three hundred soldiers were wounded in the Snizhne battle, another Reuters story on the incident reports.

Also this day, Valentina Melnikova, the head of a group of Russian soldiers' mothers, says in The Daily Beast that she was "personally humiliated as a citizen of the Russian Federation by our commander-in-chief's pure, direct crime."

Russian conscripts are being forced to sign contracts agreeing to fight in Ukraine, she says.

As Russia invades Ukraine, she says, president Vladimir Putin is "violating not only international laws, not only the Geneva Convetion, (he) also is breaking Russian Federation law about defence... and as for Vladimir Shamanov (commander of Russian airborne troops), we should be too disgusted to even mention his name -- he forces his servicemen to fight in a foreign state, Ukraine, illegally, while mothers receive coffins with their sons, anonymously."

Melnikova also tells Russia's RBK TV this day that 250 Russian conscripts in the city of Ryazan have been forced to sign contracts agreeing to fight in Ukraine and are about to be shipped off across the border.

Also this day, NATO releases satellite photos of what it says is Russian self-propelled artillery operating in Ukraine.

The artillery is part of a "significant escalation" of Russian military involvement in eastern Ukraine in the previous two weeks, NATO says, including "well over" 1,000 Russian troops.
One of several NATO satellite photos said to show
Russian self-propelled artillery operating in Ukraine.

7:26 a.m.: "The war in Ukraine is a crime," writes Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov in a letter to Russian soldiers published on the site of Russia's Echo Moscow radio.

"At any moment you may be sent to fight with Ukraine (and some of you have already been sent)... This is not your war. This is not our war. This is Putin's war for his power and money," Nemtsov writes.

12:24 p.m.: Apart from over 1,000 regular soldiers, Russia has sent to Ukraine up to 100 main battle tanks, 80 armoured personnel carriers, 100 shoulder-launched missile weapons, 500 anti-tank weapons and more than 100 artillery pieces, The Guardian of London reports, citing UK's ambassador to the UN, Mark Lyall Grant.

9:32 p.m.: Soldiers now guard the graves of soldiers buried in the Russian city of Pskov, preventing anyone from approaching or photographing them, Russian opposition politician and journalist Lev Schlossberg tells Ukraine's

8:11 a.m.: Lev Schlossberg, a Russian opposition politician and journalist, was attacked from behind, knocked unconscious and hospitalized for 10 days due to his injuries, Reuters reports.

He believes he was attacked because he revealed information about Russia's military intervention in Ukraine and resulting Russian casualties.

Units of two Russian airborne divisions, three regular army brigades, a special forces brigade and a special combat unit of the FSB security agency (successor to the notorious KGB secret police) are operating in Ukraine, the Ukrainian military analysis site Burko News reports.

1:24 p.m.: Russian conscripts in the Tula region have been forced to sign contracts agreeing to leave service and fight in Ukraine, Russia's TV Dozhd reports citing soldiers' parents.

Also this day, Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta gives harrowing details of the decimation of the Russian unit in Snizhne and the death of another Russian soldier, Anton Tumanov.

In early July, members of Tumanov's unit were asked if they want to fight in Ukraine. "What am I, stupid? Nobody here wants to," he is quoted telling his mother. Volunteers were promised over $10,000 (400,000 rubles) to fight a certain length of time in Ukraine.

At the end of July, Tumanov suddenly told his fiancée that members of his unit were going to fight in Ukraine "as rebels." He was sent twice for short periods of time, then told his mother on Aug. 10 by phone he was being sent to Donetsk in Ukraine for two or three months.

The unit was ordered to cross the border on Aug. 11, the story reports, citing members of Tumanov's unit. Those who didn't want to go were threatened with criminal prosecution.

They were told to turn in documents and phones. Vehicle insignia and registration numbers were painted over. They were told to tie white ribbons around their legs and arms to identify each other.

The unit of 1,200 crossed the border the night of Aug. 12 and made its way to Snizhne. That day, Ukrainian rocket strikes killed 120 members of the unit and wounded 450. The troops immediately returned to Russia.

"It's not a covert war. It's a f--k up. Our guys 
are dying, and we are being silent about it."
- Russian paratrooper

Just as Ukrainian forces had encircled the two main enclaves of Kremlin-backed militia in Donetsk and Luhansk, Russia attacked them from the rear with paratroopers and special forces supported by artillery starting on Aug. 24 and 25, writes Russian defence analyst Pavel Felgenhauer in Russia's Novaya Gazeta newspaper.

Russian troops -- including conscripts forcibly sent to Ukraine -- are now leading the counterattack against Ukrainian forces, while the Kremlin-backed militants who had fought Kyiv are playing "support roles," he writes, saying the latter are "poorly organized" and led by "incompetent commanders."

Russian fighters in this "secret and lying war" will have a hard time getting injury and other benefits, while the dead are being buried covertly "like terrorists," he writes.

The Russian attackers captured the Luhansk airport, where Felgenhauer writes drily that the militants can now base their "newly formed air force," claiming it was created from "trophy" planes captured from Ukraine -- the same kind of trophies they purport make up their armoured columns.

If Ukraine doesn't agree to settle with Russia, he predicts an even larger-scale Russian military assault, including air strikes.

Also this day, the Pskov Gubernia newspaper prints a transcript (see here in English) of grisly conversations it says took place between Russian soldiers about how an entire company of Russia's 76th Guards Air Assault Division was nearly wiped out in a battle on August 20 in Ukraine.

Only 10 men out of about 90 in the unit survived, says one of the surviving soldiers, who was injured. He says higher commanders have "banned" soldiers from talking about the incident. "No talking at all about this."

The unit's members were told they were going on exercises, but were actually sent to Ukraine as part of a battalion of Russian troops. The soldier says Russian T-90 tanks are also being sent into Ukraine.

After the losses, he says Russian soldiers won't agree to sign contracts agreeing to fight in Ukraine. "Of course not, after they found out all this shit," he says. "There's almost no f-----g conscripts left."

The soldiers also complain that they and their families are being ordered to stay silent about the war. "It's not a covert war. It's a f--k up. Our guys are dying, and we are being silent about it," the second soldier says.

The New York Post picks up on the story with an account on Sept. 21.

"We didn't experience such big losses 
in Chechnya. Up to 50 percent (of a unit) 
end up injured, killed or as deserters."
Ex-Russian soldier

7:58 a.m.: More than 2,000 Russian soldiers died while fighting in Ukraine in August alone, Russian social activist Elena Vasilieva says.

Vasilieva created the "Cargo-200" Facebook page, which chronicles Russian combat deaths in Ukraine. ("Cargo 200" is a Russian military term for the transport of a killed soldier.)

A Ukrainian security official later concurs that about 2,000 Russian soldiers have died fighting in Ukraine. Another 8,000 have been wounded, he says.

Also this day, a YouTube video shows a huge column in Ukraine of what are said to be Russian tanks, armoured personnel vehicles and military trucks -- more than 100 vehicles in all.

The Ukraine@war blog geolocates the column near Krasnodon, by the border with Russia -- the same area where a Russian Buk anti-missile system is believed to have crossed into Ukraine that Kremlin-backed militants used to shoot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on July 17.

Also this day, observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe report "a net increase in activity of young people dressed in military style crossing back and forth at the border crossing point" in the previous week at a Russian border post in Donetsk, Russia.

Observers also report hearing artillery fire originating east and south-east of the border post, areas within Russia.

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly said Russia is firing artillery from within Russia at Ukrainian forces -- a claim backed in July by the U.S. State Department, citing intelligence reports.

"If somebody told me earlier about the truth, 
none of us would have signed up for $1,000 
month to get fried alive in Ukraine."
- Russian paratrooper

Also this day, an ex-Russian soldier who has fought in Ukraine describes "huge losses" in the fighting. "We didn't experience such big losses in Chechnya," he tells Russia's Novaya Gazeta newspaper.

"Up to 50 percent (of a unit) end up injured, killed or as deserters. Many really don't understand where they're going. There's a real, full-scale war.

"One unit with 300 men had 200 injured or killed in the first week... In another unit, out of 82 people, in the first days 30 were wounded, 19 dead."

Many of the dead are buried in Ukraine without identification, he says.

The ex-soldier says the Ukrainian populace is more favourable to Russian soldiers than the Kremlin-backed militants because they loot less from civilians. "They say, 'You ask, but they steal.'"

The ex-soldier depicts the Russian intervention as "a mess," rife with incompetence and corruption.

He says columns of armoured military vehicles are being sent across the border to fight in Ukraine "practically every day." But poorly trained militants end up wrecking them or losing them in the first battle.

He says some commanders stole money meant for payments to soldiers.

The ex-soldier says Russia's FSB security agency and defence ministry are coordinating the intervention.

More than 3,000 Russian soldiers and hundreds of armoured vehicles are now fighting in Ukraine, a senior NATO official tells UK's Sky News.

Russian soldiers are "unprepared" and "taking huge losses" while fighting in Ukraine, says Lev Schlossberg, an opposition Russian politician and journalist, in an English-language interview.

"They've been not only deceived, but humiliated. Many officers I talk to are outraged by exactly that," he says. "When they're fighting and the whole chain of command is publicly lying -- that's humiliating.

"The soldiers know they are outlaws... They know the basics of the criminal code and know that taking part in military actions abroad without a lawful order is a criminal offence punishable by up to seven years of jail."

Schlossberg says he first heard about Russian combat losses in Ukraine in the first half of July among special forces troops.

On Aug. 16 and 17, the first combined brigade of the Pskov-based 76th Guards Air Assault Division, numbering 1,000 men, was sent to Ukraine.

"Several days later rumours of losses started circulating," he says. The exact number wasn't known, but casualties were said to be "heavy" and in the dozens.

The Kremlin's lies about the war in Ukraine are worse even than during the war in Chechnya, when Russian officials initially covered up losses only to admit them later, Schlossberg says.

"The scale of lies has grown several orders of magnitude in 14 years. Back then it was bureaucratic lies fed by the officials' fear for their posts, but now it's global political lies."

Schlossberg made similar comments in a story by Germany's Deutsche Welle on Aug. 29.

9:14 a.m.: Germany parliamentarian Marieluise Beck, a member of the Bundestag foreign affairs committee, tweets from Luhansk, a Ukrainian city held by Kremlin-backed militia: "We realize what the real situation is. The city is full of Russian military."

One of several satellite photos Amnesty
International says show Russian artillery
in Ukraine "fuelling separatist crimes."
Amnesty International publishes satellite photos it commissioned of Russian artillery in Ukraine and accuses Russia of"fuelling separatist crimes."

"Our evidence shows that Russia is fuelling the conflict, both through direct interference and by supporting the separatists in the East. Russia must stop the steady flow of weapons and other support to an insurgent force heavily implicated in gross human rights violations," the group says.

Ukraine's security and defence council publishes other satellite photos it says show Russian artillery in Ukraine.

7:48 a.m.: The Russian site, created to chronicle Russian combat deaths in Ukraine, says on Facebook it has to move to an internet host outside Russia "because of constant threats from the secret services and the constant attempts to 'kill' our site with DDoS (denial of service) attacks."

3:23 p.m.: A Russian paratrooper's wife describes the secrecy around her husband's deployment to Ukraine as "a trap created by a schizophrenic" in a Newsweek story on Putin's secret war in Ukraine.

"I had no idea we were to go to Ukraine," says a paratrooper officer from Russia's 98th Guards Airborne Division. "We all believed they brought us to a base for the usual routine exercises. If I knew it was for war, I'd have quit back in Kostroma, as I have two little children at home.

"I never volunteered for this; but any attempts to quit would be useless -- they are sending us back to the meat grinder tomorrow; if somebody told me earlier about the truth, none of us would have signed up for $1,000 a month to get fried alive in Ukraine."

8:32 p.m.: Russia has withdrawn 70 percent of its troops from Ukraine in recent days, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko says, but about 1,000 Russian soldiers remain in Ukraine, with another 20,000 massed at the border, a NATO military official tells CNN.

5:38 a.m.: A Russian soldier tells Reuters he was "two or three steps away" from two soldiers in his unit -- Russia's 18th Guards Independent Motor Rifle Brigade -- when they were killed in rocket fire in Snizhne, Ukraine, on Aug. 13.

The soldiers were among more than 100 Russian troops killed in the battle, Russian human rights workers told Reuters, citing accounts from Russian soldiers.

3:27 p.m.: An armoured personnel carrier with the symbol of the Russian army's "peacekeeping forces" is photographed by The Guardian newspaper well within Ukraine near the city of Luhansk, the newspaper reports.

12:29 p.m.: Over 3,500 Russian soldiers have died in combat in Ukraine, says Russian social activist Elena Vasilieva, who compiles information on Russian combat deaths in Ukraine, on her Facebook page (in English here).

That includes only those about whom reports have surfaced, she says. About 600 corpses of those killed were disposed of in mine shafts in Ukraine, her post says.

4:35 p.m.: Two assailants severely beat Ksenya Batanova, a host and producer at Russia's TV Dozhd, as she approached her apartment in Moscow, the independent Russian channel reports on its site.

Without saying a word, the attackers struck Batanova more than 10 times in the face. She is recovering in hospital with a fractured skull and concussion.

The channel is one of the country's few media outlets to report on Russian combat deaths in Ukraine.

Also this day, Ukrainian defence minister Valery Heletey said 3,500 Russian troops are now operating in Ukraine -- up from 1,000 just three days earlier.

"They are commanding the insurgents and operating the high-precision weapons and artillery that requires specific technical knowledge," he said.

"It's not the (local) militia here any more, 
it's mostly Russians who take part in
combat... It's the professionals here now."
- Fighter in Russian paratrooper 
attire in Ukraine tells Reuters

11:03 a.m.: Writing on the site of the Echo Moscow radio station, Russian human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov publishes letters from parents of three Russian conscripts saying their sons were forced to sign contracts agreeing to be sent to fight in Ukraine.

"Return our sons," one father writes. "We don't want our son to be seen as an occupier, to shoot people and to see soldiers' corpses, which is traumatizing."

Writes another parent: "As a mother, I categorically oppose my son being sent (repeatedly, as it turns out) to take part in combat on the territory of another nation."

2:53 p.m.: A fighter in Ukraine wearing the trademark blue beret and blue-and-white striped undershirt of a Russian paratrooper said he left the Russian armed forces to fight in Ukraine and will return to the Russian military afterward, Reuters reports.

"It's not the (local) militia here any more, it's mostly Russians who take part in combat... It's the professionals here now," he said.

"The locals are mainly farmers, miners who have no combat experience. And the guys who are coming in -- they are experienced people who have been through more than one war."

The fighter said these "professionals" were behind the recent militia advances against Ukrainian forces.

The Reuters reporter says he passed through 14 militia-controlled checkpoints on the road between Donetsk and Luhansk, mainly manned by fighters dressed in Russian paratrooper's attire.

11:57 a.m.: Russian forces in Ukraine still number "elements of probably four battalion task groups," NATO commander Phil Breedlove says.

The number is down from its peak of "well over 10" battalion task groups several days ago, but the forces remain poised by the border with Ukraine -- "close enough to be quickly brought back to bear," he says. "None of it has departed."

1:27 p.m.: The Sept. 14 assault on TV Dozhd host and producer Ksenya Batanova in Moscow was one of 42 separate attacks on independent journalists, activists and opposition politicians in Russia in the first nine months of the year, Russian internet news outlet reports.

The attackers tend to be members of ultranationalist groups, the report says, and the trend is reminiscent of the government-backed titushki thugs who beat, kidnapped and tortured dozens of Ukrainian activists and journalists under the regime of ousted president Viktor Yanukovych.

12:24 p.m.: A BBC crew investigating the death of a Russian soldier seemingly in Ukraine was attacked and had a camera smashed and stolen by several "aggressive individuals," the BBC reports.

Police then questioned the journalists for more than four hours, and upon their departure, the news team found that a computer hard drive and memory sticks in their car had been wiped clean.

Before he was killed, the soldier had called his sister and told her he was about to go to Ukraine, the report says.

4:43 p.m.: More than "hundreds" of Russians with military experience organized in their own separate battalions are fighting in Ukraine against the Kyiv government, Reuters reports, citing Alexander Khodakovsky, a commander of Kremlin-backed militants in Ukraine.

"I think there aren't just hundreds (from Russia), there are more," he told Reuters, noting they come from virtually all of Russia's armed forces branches -- infantry, motorized infantry, airborne, the navy and border guards.

Russia's sophisticated Pantsir air defence system,
which Germany's Bild newspaper says Russia
has given Kremlin-backed militants in Ukraine.
"They fight better than us... If specialists from the Russian army volunteer and get involved in the process and pass on their experience... We will accept it."

Also this day, Germany's Deutsche Welle news service reports that Russia has supplied militants in Ukraine with its sophisticated Pantsir air defence system (in English here).

Citing a report in the newspaper Bild that referenced Germany's BND intelligence agency, the story says militants got training in Russia to use the equipment.

Russian opposition parties published a video documenting "five facts that prove Putin is behind the conflict in Ukraine" (now subtitled in English by the Ukrainian group EuromaidanPR).

"Better to be active today... than radioactive tomorrow."
Protesters at Moscow's "March for Peace" on Sept. 21
against the Kremlin's actions in Ukraine.
Chanting "Ukraine without Putin," "Putin - criminal" and "The junta is in the Kremlin, not Kyiv," 10,000 to 25,000 people in Moscow join a "March for Peace" to protest Russia's actions in Ukraine.

Russia's TV Dozhd estimated the number at 10,000 to 15,000, while the Associated Press estimated 20,000 and a Russian vote monitoring group calculated 26,000.

Police gave a lower figure of 5,000.

Protests against the Kremlin's covert war were also held this day in other cities across Russia (including estimates of 5,000 to 30,000 in St. Petersburg, where authorities refused to issue the march a permit), Ukraine, Europe and the U.S.

3:13 p.m.: Journalists in Russia investigating the deaths of Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine have faced violence, threats and arbitrary detention, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based press freedom watchdog.

"Readiness for a strategic offensive can be 
expected this winter... This will be the time to 
'reconsider' the Minsk (ceasefire) agreement."
- Kremlin-backed militia social media post

9:30 p.m.: Top Putin foreign policy advisor Vladislav Surkov, said to be an architect of the Kremlin's covert war against Ukraine, "celebrated victory" over dinner in a Moscow restaurant with leaders of the Kremlin-backed militia fighting in Ukraine, writes former militia commander Igor Girkin in a social media post.

The diners were celebrating Ukrainian legislation that gives militia-held areas autonomy for three years, reported Russian online news outlet

In other versions of this post, Girkin goes on to call Surkov a "modern-day Midas -- except that everything he touches (and that touches him) instantly turns to shit."

"The influx of volunteers from Russia and 
other countries hasn't weakened. Through 
various 'methods,' Russia legalizes its help."
- Kremlin-backed militia social media post

Also this day, The New York Times reports that Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine are often secretively buried at dawn or early in the morning to limit public attention.

"Their bodies have been returned in recent weeks  to loved ones who in many cases had no idea where they were sent to fight, have received little information about how they died and, in any event, are being pressured not to talk about it," says the story, which investigates how Russia is hiding the deaths of troops killed in combat in Ukraine.

"Some families have even been threatened with losing any compensation if they do."

Kremlin-backed militants plan to "reconsider" the Minsk ceasefire agreement this winter and launch an offensive against Ukrainian forces when rivers are frozen and "can't be an obstacle to the attacking side," says a post from the militia on its VKontakte social media page.

That's thanks to a constant influx of "volunteers" and unspecified "help" from Russia and "the possibility of virtually unlimited ammunition and fuel," says the post, titled "Perspectives of the army on a winter campaign."

"The army yearns for an attack on Kyiv...

"The influx of volunteers from Russia and other countries hasn't weakened. Through various 'methods,' Russia legalizes its help. Moreover, this help will be permanent through 'rotations,'" the post says, seemingly a reference to recently reported rotations of some Russian military units out of Ukraine and their replacement with fresh units.

"Readiness for a strategic offensive can be expected this winter... This will be the time to 'reconsider' the Minsk agreement."

Despite reports that the Kremlin has withdrawn some soldiers from Ukraine, nearly 300 Russian soldiers have died fighting in Ukraine since the Minsk ceasefire agreement came into effect on Sept. 5, Russian social activist Elena Vasilieva reports.

That brings the total Russian combat death toll in Ukraine to nearly 4,000, she says.

The total includes over 20 Russian soldiers from the 21st Motorized Rifle Brigade killed in artillery fire near the Ukrainian-held city of Debaltseve on Sept. 17, Vasilieva says on her blog. Nearly 40 members of the unit were wounded in the incident.

More details on how Russia is covertly sending soldiers to fight in Ukraine. Soldiers being sent to Ukraine are forced to sign an agreement saying they're voluntarily going on leave, without a specified starting date, Russian activist Elena Vasilieva tells Germany's Deutsche Welle.

"If they die, the commanders have a document they can backdate to say the person was on leave in an unknown location, and that's why the commanders aren't responsible for his whereabouts," she says.

Some soldiers also aren't told they're being sent to Ukraine, she says.

"Paratroopers returning from Ukraine told us they thought they were on a training exercise in Russian territory. They were tossed into a field, and it turned out they were in Ukraine, in the cauldron of a war."

Two blasts rocked Ukraine's second-largest city Kharkiv last night, The Interpreter Mag reports. The explosions -- one at the office of a local politician, the other at a bank ATM -- follow a grenade attack the previous night in Ukraine's largest port city, Odessa.

Both cities are well outside the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine. But The Interpreter Mag, which translates Russian-language media articles, reports videos and posters have appeared in recent days calling on Kharkiv residents to rally against the Ukrainian government.

Also this day, masked men calling themselves "Kharkiv partisans" appear in a YouTube video threatening the families of Ukraine interior minister Arsen Avakov and other government officials.

Putin's "strategic goal" is to partition Ukraine, a
former Putin aide says.
Meanwhile, Kremlin-backed militants vow to seize more territory from Ukrainian forces in coming weeks, including the cities of Mariupol and Sloviansk, despite the Minsk ceasefire agreement.

And Russian far-right leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the deputy speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament, candidly tells Germany's Bild newspaper that Ukraine "has no future" and will be largely partitioned by its neighbours by 2019.

Russian economist Andrei Illarianov, a former Putin advisor, says Zhirinovsky's prediction should be taken as a window into Putin's "strategic goals."

Meanwhile, only 3 percent of Odessa and Kharkiv residents say they want their regions (where there are large Russian-speaking populations) to join Russia, versus 87 percent who want to stay in Ukraine, according to a recent Russian survey (English story on the results).

Also this day, Russian activist Elena Vasilieva says Russia used its so-called humanitarian convoys to transport back to Russia some of the bodies of the 4,000 Russian soldiers and mercenaries she believes were killed fighting in Ukraine.

At a press conference in Kyiv, she also says 8,000 Ukrainian soldiers died in the fighting -- far more than the confirmed death toll that Ukraine has reported.

At the height of the Russian intervention in late August, up to 30,000 Russian soldiers were in Ukraine, she says.

"Despite the ceasefire... the Russian army 
has been shelling Mariupol for several 
hours. Commander-in-chief Putin is a liar."
- Russian activist Elena Vasilieva

Also this day, a survey in September finds 42 percent of residents of Ukraine's war-torn Donbass say separatists there "represent only a small proportion of the people." Just 16 percent say they represent "a majority" of the population.

In eastern Ukraine outside Donbass, 61 percent say separatists represent only a small minority, while 9 percent say they represent a majority.

Ukrainian journalist and political analyst Dmitro Potekhin, freed after 49 days of detention by Kremlin-backed gunmen in Donetsk, says one of his interrogators "was presented to me as an officer of the FSB."

Russia's FSB security agency is a successor to the notorious KGB.

The FSB officer, Potekhin says, asked him about various events he had attended. "It was obvious they had collected information about me."

7:51 p.m.: Forty-two Russian special forces troops were killed in a battle in Ukraine near the city of Mariupol the night of Sept. 26, Russian activist Elena Vasilieva reports.

"Despite the Minsk ceasefire... the Russian army has been shelling Mariupol for several hours. Commander-in-chief Putin is a liar," she says.

Also this day, a study by Harvard University internet researcher Bruce Etling finds much more support for Ukraine's Maidan revolution than expected among Russian speakers in both Ukraine and Russia.

Seventy-four percent of Russian-language social media posts in Ukraine from Nov. 2013 to Feb. 2014 supported the Maidan protests against Ukraine's former president Yanukovych. 

Fifty-two percent of social media posts in Russia backed the protests.

Forty percent of Russians say the deaths of Russian soldiers while supporting militants in Ukraine are "unacceptable and unjustified insofar as Russia is carrying out a hidden, undeclared war," according to a survey of 1,600 Russians Sept. 19 to 22.

Thirty percent say the deaths are "inevitable and justified."

Forty-two percent say they believe reports of Russian combat casualties in Ukraine, while 31 percent say they don't.

"My husband died, and he died through
the fault of our government."
- Wife of Russian officer killed in Ukraine

Also this day, two Ukrainian soldiers just released from militia captivity tell Reuters their unit was attacked near Ilovaisk, Ukraine, by troops from a Russian airborne assault battalion stationed in Kostroma, Russia, on Aug. 25.

That's the same day Ukrainian forces captured nine Russian paratroopers from Kostroma near Ilovaisk (see above).

"Hundreds of Russian troops, including special forces, still remain inside Ukraine," a NATO spokesman says.

No reduction has been seen in the past week, and 20,000 Russian troops still remain deployed near the Ukraine border, he says.

8:08 a.m.: Russia is fostering close ties and providing "generous financing" to Europe's quickly growing far-right groups, says the news site of Russian chess master and Putin critic Garry Kasparov.

"It's not hard to see what the right likes about Putinism... homophobia, militarism, nationalism, xenophobia."

Also this day, the wife of a Russian military officer says her husband was killed in combat in Ukraine on Aug. 13 "through the fault of our government," Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reports

Irena Timinu, wife of second lieutenant Zachar Timinu, says her husband "was not a volunteer" in Ukraine, but rather an active-duty officer.

"He was just following orders because there was no other choice, you understand," she says.

When a Russian TV channel called her saying they were investigating "Ukrainian media lies" about captured Russian soldiers who were actually alive at home, Timinu says she told the journalist: "I'd help you, but about the subject about Russian media lies... You've confused me with someone else. My husband died, and he died through the fault of our government."

Also this day, Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemiliev says "there is open discussion about the imminent start of military action against Ukraine from Crimea," the peninsula that thousands of Russian troops seized from Ukraine in March.

"We have observed a huge cluster of Russian military forces on the Crimean territory," he says.
Source: The Washington Post.

"Threats are also circulating that with the beginning of military action, the first step will be to destroy the 'fifth column' in Crimea -- starting with the Crimean Tatar people, who don't recognize the legality of Russia's takeover of Crimea. And this is nothing else but a threat of the repeat of the deportation and genocide of the Crimean Tatar nation."

Also this day, The Washington Post publishes a map showing Russian-backed gunmen made substantial land gains in the four weeks after the Sept. 5 ceasefire.

4:01 a.m.: Elements of 11 Russian airborne and motorized units have been deployed to fight in Ukraine, according to an investigation by Russia's RBK TV (English translation here).

RBK compiled the list using reports of deaths of Russian servicemen in Ukraine. "There are a lot of holes in the official story that paratroopers died during training in (Russia's) Rostov district, while only volunteers went to (Ukraine's) Donbass," the story says.

"Russian soldiers on leave must inform their command where they will be, and going into a war zone in another country is illegal," RBK quotes a Russian human rights worker saying.

8:33 a.m.: Russian "howitzers, armored combat vehicles and multiple rocket launchers, which we believe may be destined for separatist forces, are continuing to depart from a deployment site near the Russian border," Geoffrey Pyatt, U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, tweets.

Pyatt tweets satellite photos showing the heavy equipment at what is said to be a Russian training facility on Sept. 26, then gone two days later.
12:39 p.m.: Russian military officers are indeed present in Donetsk, but they are there as "mediators," Andrei Purgin, self-styled prime minister of the "Donetsk People's Republic" group of gunmen, tells the BBC.

"The warring parties cannot talk with mediators, so please see the Russian officers in this capacity," he says.

9:55 p.m.: Russian-backed militia are experiencing large losses in their near-daily attacks on the government-held Donetsk airport, one gunman tells Russia's URA online news site.

"A hundred went in (on the attack), 60 came back. The rest are dead or wounded," he says, blaming "ignorant commanders" in the militia for many of the losses.

Ninety percent of the gunman's unit is from Russia -- half from Siberia, the other half from the Ural mountain region. Only 10 percent are local residents.

Also this day, Russian airborne soldiers and other newly arrived troops from Russia participated in a massive attack on the government-held Donetsk airport today, a Donetsk resident says in a Russian-language discussion forum after returning from speaking with wounded Russian troops in the hospital.

The assault involved nearly 500 soldiers and gunmen, including a 60-man special forces unit, dozens of tanks and a huge artillery barrage launched from Makiyivka, a city 16 km to the east, he writes. 

The first wave of attackers was beaten back with two tanks destroyed. In a second, larger attack, the paratroopers managed to seize the airport's old terminal, hotel, garage and part of a new terminal. 

None of the paratroopers survived a Ukrainian counterattack, which managed to reestablish government control over the airport, the resident writes. "Not less than 200" attackers died. "No one returned alive from the new terminal. No one saw any of the special forces after that (their commander's body was later returned)."

Ukrainian forces have held the airport since the spring, fighting off near-daily attacks during the Minsk ceasefire.

Also this day, the OSCE reports that it discovered a Russian military officer impersonating an OSCE personnel member at a monitoring centre in Ukrainian government-held territory in the city of Soledar.

"One military officer from the Russian Federation was wearing an OSCE patch on his uniform as well as carrying an ID card with the OSCE logo. The SMM (special monitoring mission) made the necessary demarches in response to this unauthorized use of OSCE insignia."

Also this day, the OSCE also acknowledges "a breach of our internal security regulations" in early September in militia-held Donetsk. "The (special monitoring mission to Ukraine) regrets the incident where two uniformed individuals boarded our vehicle," the OSCE says in a terse statement.

The statement doesn't give details about who the individuals were or why they were allowed in an OSCE vehicle or acknowledge whether they were armed.

The statement was issued after a U.S. blogger tweeted photos of two armed men climbing into an OSCE car. The blogger says the OSCE briefly blocked his account after he posted the photos.

8:59 p.m.: Russian families looking for missing soldier relatives can contact a new Russian-language hotline set up by Ukraine's SBU security agency.

Meanwhile, Russian activist Elena Vasilieva advises Russians looking for missing soldier relatives to contact Ukrainian authorities and provide DNA to help identify their bodies in Ukrainian morgues. 

Hundreds of unidentified bodies and body parts from the combat zone are being kept in the morgues or have been buried with DNA information preserved.

Russian military rations that Ukrainian
volunteers say they found near
Ilovaisk, Ukraine.
7:30 p.m.: Ukraine's Information Resistance website publishes photos taken by Ukrainian fighters near Ilovaisk showing what they say is evidence of Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine, including Russian military ration packets.

Also this day, Russia's Novaya Gazeta newspaper reports on a dramatic rise in traffic accidents involving military vehicles that have flooded into Russia's Rostov district neighbouring Ukraine's war-torn Donbass region.

Thirteen have died (including seven civilians), and another 20 have been injured in the accidents. In a recent incident, on Sept. 21, drunken soldiers in an armoured vehicle fled from police for 4 km through the city of Rostov-on-Don, killing two local residents and damaging nine civilian vehicles.

Relatives have turned to social media for witnesses because the military hasn't investigated previous such accidents, RBK reports.

"A huge number of military vehicles" has appeared in the area, says a Russian taxi driver who lives on the border with Ukraine. 

"Tanks, armoured vehicles, Urals and Kamazes (military trucks), artillery-towing vehicles, Grads (multiple-rocket launchers). Where it went and where it is now, I don't know. But almost every day from morning to evening you can see army vehicles going in both directions -- from the border and to the border."

Also this day, activist Oksana Gorelova from the group "Cargo 200 from Ukraine to Russia" publishes an updated list of 179 Russian soldiers killed in combat in Ukraine.

3:14 p.m.: Three rows of freshly dug graves have appeared in Rostov-on-Don, a Russian city near the Ukraine border, a local resident reports.

Most of the grave markers don't reportedly include a name and indicate the deceased as being aged 20 to 25 or 40 to 45, while the date of death is usually given as the summer or fall of 2014.

The city is a staging point for Russian military units deploying to Ukraine.

1:15 p.m.: A Russian special forces general, Sergei Andreychenko, was killed along with two Russian soldiers and a Kremlin-backed militant in a battle with Ukrainian forces near Mariupol, Ukraine, on Oct. 9, Ukrainian security officials say.

Also this day, Ukrainian officials and journalists are disputing the Kremlin's claims that it is pulling its 17,000 troops from the Ukraine border.

Ukrainian military analyst Dmitro Tymchuk says the Russian move is more accurately described as a "rotation," noting yesterday on Facebook that new Russian special forces and airborne units have appeared near the border to take the place of departing troops.

Ukrainian security official Andriy Lysenko today said a large Russian military intelligence unit has recently appeared in the southern portion of the militia-held territory in Ukraine, near the city of Mariupol.

Ukrainian journalist Boris Humeniuk said on his Facebook page today that two Russian airborne regiments recently crossed into Ukraine with plans to attack the Ukrainian-held Donetsk airport.

Meanwhile, UK journalist Oliver Carroll tweets that a Kremlin-backed militia official predicts the battle for the Donetsk airport will be over "within next few days" and that "new 'special divisions' [were] sent there."

3:44 p.m.: The families of 131 active-duty Russian soldiers who have gone missing have turned to a new hotline of Ukraine's SBU security agency for help to find their soldier relatives, Ukrainian interior ministry official Markian Lubkivsky says

He notes Russia may have sent the missing soldiers to fight in Ukraine and that they may have died in combat there.

Also this day, top NATO commander Philip Breedlove says Russia has not made any "major movement" to pull its troops from the Ukraine border and maintains a "very, very large force and a very, very capable force sitting on the border of Ukraine."

2:41 p.m.: Ukraine has turned 16 captured Russian soldiers over to the Russian government as part of a prisoner exchange, Ukrainian interior ministry official Markian Lubkivsky says.

9:02 a.m.: "Let's be honest. The days of the DNR and LNR (Donetsk and Luhansk people's republic militia groups) would already long be over without Russia," says Belarussian president Alexander Lukashenko, a close Putin ally.

5:52 p.m.: Russian authorities have appealed to the country's supreme court to have Memorial, one of Russia's oldest human rights groups, "liquidated" due to alleged violations of the law and constitution, Reuters reports.

Memorial had spoken out about Russian soldiers' deaths in fighting in Ukraine.

7:58 p.m.: Russian authorities have searched the office of a soldiers' mothers group in St. Petersburg and detained its 73-year-old head on unspecified charges, Russia's TV Dozhd reports

Lyudmila Bogatenkova's lawyer hasn't been able to reach her. Bogatenkova spoke out in August about Russian combat deaths in Ukraine (see above). 

Bogatenkova is detained two days after signing a statement she won't leave town. She is hospitalized on Oct. 22 with heart trouble, The Moscow Times reports.

In September, Russia's internet news site documented 42 attacks on Russian journalists, activists and politicians this year -- many after criticizing Russia's covert war in Ukraine.

12:52 p.m.: Kremlin-backed gunmen used a Buk anti-aircraft missile to shoot down the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 passenger plane in July, killing 298, Germany's BND intelligence agency has concluded after a detailed analysis.

The BND rejects Russian claims that Ukraine shot down the plane and says the findings are "unambiguous," German newspaper Der Spiegel reports.

The Interpreter Mag offers this comment on the report.

Also this day, a Russian militant who has just returned from fighting in Ukraine tells Russia's Novaya Gazeta newspaper that 75 percent of Kremlin-backed gunmen are Russians.

Told that Russia claims not to be involved in Ukraine, he replies: "So who is sending the tanks and 'Grads' (rocket launchers) there? Are they appearing there all by themselves? Yes, the rebels are capturing some from the (Ukrainian) National Guard. But some still appear through another route."

The story also quotes a mother at the burial of her 18-year-old son near St. Petersburg, Russia. He died in Luhansk, Ukraine, fighting alongside Kremlin-backed militants on Oct. 10.

"I want more people to know how my son died -- how he was recruited, tricked, had his emotions played on... We won't keep this secret," she says. 

"Maybe it will help other parents. Maybe it will save other children."

The family had to pay 20,000 rubles (USD $4,900) to transport the teenager's body from Rostov, Russia, the story says.

Also this day, Russian activist Elena Vasilieva estimates 4,360 Russian soldiers have died in combat in Ukraine, including virtually the entirety of two elite units -- the 22nd Guards Spetznaz Brigade and the 45th Separate Reconnaissance Regiment.

The death toll is nearly 1,000 higher than Vasilieva's mid-September estimate of 3,500 just after the Minsk ceasefire agreement was signed.

In a blog post, Vasilieva also links two "Cargo 200" interactive maps (and here) showing the communities the killed Russian soldiers came from.

Also this day, former Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski tells that Putin tried to convince Poland to help dismember Ukraine.

"He wanted us to become participants in this partition of Ukraine," Sikorski says. "Putin wants Poland to commit troops to Ukraine. These were the signals they sent us... We have known how they think for years.

"This was one of the first things that Putin said to my prime minister, Donald Tusk, when he visited Moscow. He went on to say Ukraine is an artificial country and that Lviv is a Polish city and why don't we just sort it out together. Luckily Tusk didn't answer. He knew he was being recorded...

"We made it very, very clear to them -- we wanted nothing to do with this."

6:32 p.m.: Six Russian active-duty soldiers in Luhansk, Ukraine, invite Financial Times reporter Courtney Weaver and BuzzFeed journalist Max Seddon to have a drink with them at one of Luhansk's two functioning restaurants, Weaver and Seddon report.

"We're Russian military servicemen," they say by way of introduction. 

The men all wore identical recent-issue green camouflage Russian military uniforms -- unlike the motley dress of local gunmen, Weaver writes.

They had been in the city for about a month and were sent there to "train the local population," one soldier identifying himself as Maxim says.

"No one sent us here. We're volunteers," Maxim says. "They gave us an order: Who wants to go volunteer? And we put our hands up like this," he says, meekly raising his hand in mock compliance. 
Destroyed T-72s photographed in a militant-held
area near Donetsk are evidence of Russian
involvement in Ukraine, Reuters reports.

Their apparent officer, who gave his name as Slava, had a Russian flag patch, two stars and the inscription "RUSSIAN ARMED FORCES" on his uniform.

2:02 p.m.: Two charred Russian army T-72 tanks are photographed in a militant-held area southeast of Donetsk, Reuters reports citing independent military experts.

One of the tanks is a Russian-made T-72BM, a variant of the tank that Russia is not known to have exported or operated outside Russia, four experts say.

The second tank is either a T-72BM or T-72B1, the experts say. The latter variant is also not believed to be in active service in Ukraine, undermining claims of Moscow-backed militants that they captured all their tanks from Ukrainian forces, the story says.

A similar photo has appeared before. On Aug. 27, the BBC published a photo of a T-72BM in a militant tank convoy in eastern Ukraine, saying it was evidence of Russian military involvement in Ukraine.

4:52 p.m.: Vladimir Putin has signed into law a bill granting a military pension equal to $350 a month to families of Russian soldiers missing in action, The Moscow Times reports.

A senior legislator says the Russian legislature is seeking to extend the benefits to "volunteers" fighting in Ukraine. 

But the new law essentially allows pensions for the families of soldiers who disappear in Ukraine, "as long as those families keep silent that the soldiers may have gone missing in action in Ukraine," the story says.

7:15 a.m.: A group of Russian intellectuals has called on Russian state-run Channel One TV to acknowledge "falsifications" in its reporting on Ukraine, which they blame for the deaths of young Russians who "immediately rush" to fight in Ukraine, The Moscow Times reports.

"It's not a secret to anybody that leading Russian television companies resort to various falsifications when covering the Ukrainian crisis. The authors of those falsifications share the responsibility for the blood that is being shed in the brotherly country," the Congress of Intelligentsia Against War, Self-Isolation of Russia and Restoration of Totalitarianism says in an open letter.

"I won't hide the fact that we used our
armed forces to block Ukrainian 
soldiers stationed in Crimea."
- Putin, Oct. 24, 2014

"Those were local self-defence units."
- Putin, March 4, 2014

2:19 p.m.: Russian president Vladimir Putin acknowledges Russian troops blocked Ukrainian military units in Crimea before a rigged March referendum that Putin used to explain his seizure of the Ukrainian peninsula.

"I won't hide the fact that we used our armed forces to block Ukrainian soldiers stationed in Crimea," Putin is quoted saying on Russia's news site.

In the days before the referendum, Putin insisted that the thousands of heavily armed soldiers without insignia who had flooded into Crimea were "local self-defence units."

A reporter asked Putin if the people blocking Ukrainian army units in Crimea wearing what appeared to be Russian army uniforms were Russian soldiers. 

Putin replied that such uniforms could be bought in a store.

"But were they Russian soldiers or not?" a reporter asked.

"Those were local self-defence units."

"If Moscow didn't support us, we wouldn't
last two weeks."
- Oleg Tsariov, leader of Moscow-backed militants

A tank and armoured personnel carrier are said to be filmed in militant-held Donetsk painted with Ukrainian military markings.

The video, uploaded today on YouTube, coincides with Ukrainian interior ministry claims that Moscow-backed militants may stage attacks that can be blamed on Ukrainian forces.

The claims come amid reports of dozens of militant tanks and armoured vehicles massing in Donetsk near the Ukrainian-held airport, possibly in preparation for an attack to coincide with tomorrow's Ukrainian parliamentary election.

11:03 p.m.: Dozens of tanks, military trucks, artillery pieces, armoured vehicles and radiolocation units are spotted today moving in several large columns through militant-held areas of eastern Ukraine, the Luhansk-based Informator news site reports, citing local citizens.

The columns include nearly 20 tanks spotted moving into Ukraine from the Izvarine border crossing, the site says. Russian military vehicles and troops have previously crossed here into Ukraine.

Another column of 100 military trucks was seen passing through Torez, closer to Donetsk.

A source close to the Moscow-backed militants tells the site they vow "a difficult Monday" for Ukrainian forces.

9 a.m.: Twenty or more trucks with no license plates driven by camouflage-clad men cross the Russia-Ukraine border, Kyiv Post editor Christopher Miller tweets.
A few hours later, Miller tweets: "Today, 1.5km from #Russia border on #Donetsk side, met 3 men in military garb who needed gas for car. All had 'Russian Armed Forces' patches."

Russian newspaper Novata Gazeta asks Oleg Tsariov, a leader of the Moscow-backed militants in Ukraine, if the Kremlin supports his goal of taking over additional parts of Ukraine

"If Moscow didn't support us, we wouldn't last two weeks," he says.

The Russian state media censor has issued a warning to Russia's Echo Moscow radio station, claiming it aired "information justifying practices of war and other crimes" in a report on fighting at Ukraine's Donetsk airport, the site Euronews reports.

The warning is over an interview about the battle for the Donetsk airport with Los Angeles Times reporter Sergey Loiko and Echo Moscow reporter Timur Oleksy, who recently visited the airport. 

The station was forced to remove a transcript from the site, but it's available here at (Russian) and in an English translation here (scroll down to the ninth post).

A second warning within a year can lead to a media outlet being shut down. Echo Moscow has reported critically about the Kremlin's covert war in Ukraine (see above).

Another media outlet that has exposed Russia's role in the fighting, TV Dozhd (or Rain), was taken off the air earlier this year by several Russian TV providers in a move the channel called censorship, Euronews also said.

Russian forces in eastern Ukraine are planning a massive strike after militant leaders stage an illegal unmonitored election there on Nov. 2, Ukrainian military analysts warn at the Burko News site, citing sources on the ground and open-source information.

A huge influx of Russian regular troops has been noted in eastern Ukraine, they say. The assault would begin after a "provocation" staged to make it appear as a Ukrainian attack, they add.

Russia has sent thousands of troops into Ukraine in the past two days along with hundreds of tanks, armoured vehicles and anti-aircraft systems, increasing by 10-fold the number of its forces there, Ukrainian security officials say.

"Almost all the Russian Federation forces that were near the border have entered Ukraine," the site Ukraine News Today reports, citing the Ukrainian government's anti-terrorist centre.

NATO said in late September 20,000 Russian troops were stationed near Ukraine's border (see above).

The news coincides with journalist and eyewitness reports today (see also here) of massive military convoys moving through areas held by Moscow-backed militants of eastern Ukraine toward frontline zones.

6:20 a.m.: Russian regular troops and mercenaries in Ukraine now number 14,000 to 15,000, with local Moscow-backed militants numbering 10,000 to 12,000, Ukrainian military analyst Dmitry Tymchuk says in a Facebook post.

The Russian forces include 110 to 115 tanks, 250 to 280 armoured personnel carriers and 80 to 100 artillery pieces, he says.