The secret funerals are back. Mothers are confused. Even soccer officials are sniping at each other. As the Ukrainian-Russian conflict enters its sixth month, there are signs from inside Russia that a nation’s nerves are beginning to fray.
Evidence of the extent of Russian military involvement in Ukraine has been dribbling out for months. Last week, Ukrainian and Western officials finally referred to it as an invasion. But recently, it apparently also has been leaking into Russia itself, despite an official government policy that what’s happening in Ukraine is all about Ukraine.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian dissident who was jailed for a decade, then released suddenly last winter by Russian President Vladimir Putin, posted a statement on his website last week saying it was time to acknowledge reality. “We are fighting Ukraine — for real,” he wrote. “We are sending soldiers and equipment.”
But, he then asked, why is Russia not publicly acknowledging this? His answer: This effort is nothing more than the latest example of a long-standing tradition.
‘Lying through their teeth’
“All this time our authorities have been lying through their teeth, just like they did about Afghanistan back in the ’80s; and about Chechnya in the ’90s,” he wrote. “Today, they are lying about Ukraine. And while it goes on, we have been burying those on both sides who, until recently, we held as co-workers, friends and family.”
The reasons Khodorkovsky, and according to reports from a growing number of those inside the Russian information bubble, believe their nation is lying to them are growing.
In recent days: After more than 100 Russian soldiers were killed in a single battle inside Ukraine in mid-August, media reports noted that their bodies are being returned with death certificates structured to make it appear they died elsewhere.
The estimate of at least 1,000 active Russian troops now fighting in Ukraine was essentially confirmed by the head of Ukraine’s pro-Russian separatists, who explained their presence in the middle of what he depicts as a civil war between Ukrainians by saying they were simply using their vacation days to join the fight.
A group of Russian mothers realized that instead of the official military story — that their boys had been sent out on a training mission in Russia — their sons were now prisoners of war in Ukraine. On Friday, Russia officially labeled a St. Petersburg soldiers’ mothers group as “foreign agents,” a highly insulting label requiring them to note this status in fundraising and information efforts.