Monday, September 8, 2014

Russia Invades Ukraine -- Chronicling the Covert War and Cargo 200 (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.

AUGUST 25
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).

AUGUST 26
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 Gazeta.ru 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, France24.com 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

AUGUST 27
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.

AUGUST 28
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.

AUGUST 29
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 Espreso.tv.

AUGUST 30
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.

AUGUST 31
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.

SEPTEMBER 1
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

SEPTEMBER 2
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

SEPTEMBER 3
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.

SEPTEMBER 4
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.

SEPTEMBER 5
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.

SEPTEMBER 6
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."


SEPTEMBER 7
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.

SEPTEMBER 9
7:48 a.m.: The Russian site MamaSoldata.org, 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."

SEPTEMBER 10
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."

SEPTEMBER 11
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.

SEPTEMBER 12
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.

SEPTEMBER 14
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

SEPTEMBER 15
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.

SEPTEMBER 16
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 Slon.ru 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.

SEPTEMBER 18
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.

SEPTEMBER 20
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).

SEPTEMBER 21
"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.

SEPTEMBER 22
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 Newsru.com.

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."

SEPTEMBER 23
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."

SEPTEMBER 24
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.

SEPTEMBER 25
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."

SEPTEMBER 26
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.

SEPTEMBER 27
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."

SEPTEMBER 28
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.

SEPTEMBER 29
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).

SEPTEMBER 30
"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.

OCTOBER 1
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.

OCTOBER 2
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.
OCTOBER 3
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.

OCTOBER 7
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.

OCTOBER 8
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.

OCTOBER 11
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.

OCTOBER 14
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."

OCTOBER 15
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."

OCTOBER 16
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.

OCTOBER 17
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 Slon.ru internet news site documented 42 attacks on Russian journalists, activists and politicians this year -- many after criticizing Russia's covert war in Ukraine.

OCTOBER 19
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 Politico.com 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."

OCTOBER 22
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.

OCTOBER 23
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.

OCTOBER 24
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 Gazeta.ru 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

OCTOBER 25
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.

OCTOBER 26
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.

OCTOBER 27
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."

OCTOBER 28
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.

OCTOBER 31
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 Liga.net (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.

NOVEMBER 1
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.

NOVEMBER 2
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.


NOVEMBER 3
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.

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