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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russian Legislators Receive Responses from Military Officials on Soldiers Reportedly Killed in Combat in Ukraine
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Russian military authorities have finally replied to parliamentary inquiries from national and local deputies regarding the deaths of Russian soldiers reported to have been killed in combat abroad -- with bureaucratic answers that nevertheless provide some clues.

Russia's Chief Military Prosecutor responded a query sent by Pskov legislator Lev Shlosberg, who began a probe of soldiers' deaths in combat last summer. Ekho Moskvy has published Shlosberg's LiveJournal blog entry on the response.

Shlosberg, a member of the Pskov Region assembly from the liberal Yabloko power was assaulted by unidentified men in August and was hospitalized with serious injuries after launching a probe into the deaths of members of the 76th Guards Air Assault Paratroopers' Division, who were reportedly killed in combat in Ukraine. News of the deaths began to leak out when the soldiers' bodies were returned for burial to Pskov.

In a letter dated October 28, M.L. Toporikov, head of the 3rd oversight department of the Main Military Prosecutor's Office said that his office had reviewed Shlosberg's appeals of September 18 and October 17 regarding Pskov paratroopers who died in service. The Interpreter has provided a translation:


The circumstances of death of each of the servicemen indicated in the appeal outside their permanent base is being verified at the present time under the procedure established by the Code of Criminal Procedures. With that aim, highly-qualified specialists have conducted autopsies. Oversight of compliance with law in conducting such checks has been established by agencies of the military prosecutor.

Social support measures for the members of the servicemen's families who died while performing their service duties, and the ensuring of their rights and guarantees are defined by Russian law and implemented in each case. Oversight has been established for the fulfillment of legal requirements on this score by agencies of the military prosecutor's office.

Transfer of forces from the place of permanent deployment is made and trainings are conducted in accordance with orders and instructions of agencies of military command and military officials.

Information about these activities and incidents that have occurred are not subject to disclosure in the interests of the Russian Federation, and therefore other information requested by you in accordance with Art. 6, point 1 of the July 21, 1993 Law No. 548501 of the Russian Federation "On State Secrecy" constitute a state secret, and in connection with Art. 11, point 6 of the Federal Law of May 2, 2006, no. 59-FZ "On Procedures for Review of Appeals from Citizens of the Russian Federation" cannot be provided.

Nevertheless, no violations of laws by military prosecutor's agencies were discovered, and no grounds for taking measures for the prosecutor's response were found.

The letter is clearly a non-answer, but Shlosberg noted that at least it constituted a recognition that indeed these soldiers died away from their base. It also means that their deaths were investigated and autopsies conducted under the code of criminal procedures, which means they are being investigated as possible criminal cases. He will now send an inquiry on each individual soldier to see what the results of each investigation is.

The reply also doesn't specify that the soldiers actually died while "at training" although the training is mentioned separate from the question of how and why they died. And the relatives of the soldiers "who were killed by fulfilling their service duties" are being provided public assistance -- and this is being monitored -- which is all very important, says Shlosberg.

The legislator also believes that the reference to state secrets is also informative because if the soldiers had in fact died while in training, there would be more detail in the answer.

I think the answer received is a step forward, even if small, in our efforts to establish the truth. There are many silences in this document, but there is no lying. And that's important. This document is more qualitative and ethical than the tactless response received by Dmitry Gudkov, a State Duma Deputy, from the RF Defense Ministry.

But "time will rewrite the last sentence of the letter," says Shlosberg, who believes the soldiers were killed in combat in Ukraine.

Gudkov, an independent member of the State Duma formerly with Just Russia, uploaded a copy of the answer he received regarding his own inquiry about the fate of the 76th Pskov Paratroopers from Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on August 29 to his LiveJournal blog.


Shoigu wrote that the information Gudkov had supplied "were rumors disseminated largely by the Ukrainian and certain Western media."

Despite the regular accusations of a number of Ukrainian and Western politicians cited by Western media, the Russian Federation is not a side in the conflict between government troops of Ukraine and residents of Donetsk and Lugansk Regions who do not agree with the policy of the country's leadership, which has been repeatedly officially announced by the leadership of the state and federal government agencies.

Shoigu cited Russian privacy law as grounds for refusal to provide any information on the individual soldiers. Gudkov had also asked why Shoigu had given the Pskov 76th Paratroopers' Division the Suvorov award, to which Shoigu replied that "the division has a glorious heroic history, the beginning of which dates back to the pre-war and war years of the Great Fatherland War [World War II]." More than 12,000 soldiers were given this award "for courage and heroism displayed in battles with German fascist invaders," he said, failing to explain why men born in the 1990s would receive this award.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick