Putin’s Ukrainian Refugee Crisis: the leaks Assange wouldn’t Touch
A hacked trove of documents shows Russia’s Interior Ministry struggling to cope with a refugee crisis caused by President Putin’s Ukrainian adventure
A cache of hacked documents, which Wikileaks has refused to publish, show how Putin’s war on Ukraine destabilised Russia in 2014. The documents are internal reports from the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The government department responsible for policing.
After Russia’s incursions into Ukraine in February 2014, Ukrainian refugees began flooding into the Russian provinces along the Ukrainian border, particularly Rostov. Heavily armed Russian troops and paramilitaries flowed in the opposite direction.
To cope with this, Russia created two pseudo republics, the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR), as a front for its invasion of Ukraine, and established pseudo armies for them. The soldiers of these two fake states were hired locals and Russian mercenaries. Many of them were ex-criminals, who were only too happy to let gangsters use the border points they controlled. But the arms Russia dispatched to its proxy forces were often smuggled back into Russia.
On 18 October 2014, the police arrested a smuggling gang and seized automatic weapons and a mortar. Members of the DNR and LNR, themselves, were sometimes arrested carrying arms in Rostov. The ministry tried without success to stop the smuggling by stationing police cars near the border crossings controlled by the DNR and LNR, and searching hundreds of cars travelling from Ukraine.
The hospitals in Rostov province were also affected. On 24 October 2014 alone, 16 casualties of the fighting crossed the border from Ukraine. Ukrainian citizens with firearms and shrapnel wounds were also routinely admitted. The reports do not state the circumstances in which they were wounded, but these men would have been local Ukrainian collaborators in the DNR and LNR militias. Many of these men vanished without a trace in the fighting. One police report describes how a “continuously intoxicated” woman reported the disappearance of a Ukrainian citizen, a militia member, whom she was dating.
The chaos caused by Russia’s proxy armies, however, was a small problem compared to the Ukrainian refugees flooding into Rostov. In October 2014, one of them was found hanging from a tree [more detail – suicide or murder?], another was arrested for murder. The influx of a large number of displaced people naturally resulted in a rising crime rate.
The authorities in Rostov were simultaneously trying to finance Russia’s Safer Cities programme which aimed to increase public safety by reducing emergency response times. The programme involves a massive increase in camera surveillance in public spaces. In September 2014, VV Konenenko, a police colonel in Rostov, complained that his department hadn’t enough money to deal with the influx of refugees and purchase CCTV for Safer Cities.
The documents show that the ministry’s local departments were commissioning CCTV equipment for public spaces across Russia in this period. The invasion had resulted in an almost 50% increase in protests across Russia in the first quarter of 2014, according to their statistics. The ministry notes that Russians took to the streets both to support and to oppose the seizure of Ukrainian territory, but doesn’t give a numerical breakdown. However, one demonstration in support of the DNR and LNR in Rostov consisted of only five people. The main factor driving the boost in CCTV across Russia, was the threat of anti government protests.
The refusal by Wikileaks to publish the trove is explained in part by Assange’s championing of an anti-western narrative. The documents show that Russia was patching up wounded soldiers and militia from a war which it had started in Ukraine.
The documents also illustrate the negative consequences for Russia itself: rising crime, public unrest, and lethal weaponry flooding into Rostov province. The material will be invaluable when the history of Putin’s assault on Ukraine is written.
Wikileaks’s decision not to publish the documents raises some awkward questions. Why is an organisation which poses as an advocate of the truth trying to suppress ugly facts about a dictator’s covert war?
Wikileaks failed to respond to requests for comment.