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Russian court accidentally documents Moscow’s military presence in Donbas

December 17, 2021 1:44 amby Illia Ponomarenko
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A Russian infantry soldier pictured during live-fire drills close to Moscow. (mil.ru)

A Russian court of justice appears to have overtly documented the regular presence of the Russian military in the occupied Donbas region of Ukraine in a corruption case against a local company in charge of ration supplies for troops. 

Since the beginning of the war in the Donbas in 2014, which has claimed over 13,000 lives, Russia has aggressively denied its military involvement or the presence of its regular military in the region. 

The court documentation that surfaced online is unprecedented proof of Russia’s direct involvement in the war at an official level.

The Kirovsky District Court in the city of Rostov-on-Don, just east of Ukraine’s border, sentenced an unnamed clerk of the company to five and a half years in prison for his mediation in the transfer of 990,000 Russian roubles ($13,400) as a bribe to a senior epidemiological service official with Russia’s Southern Military District. 

The court published the verdict on its website on Nov. 10 but it was only recently noticed by Ukrainian media.  

The court’s verdict clearly notes that the clerk was in charge of provisional supplies for “the Russian Federation’s military formations deployed to the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic territory” in 2018 and 2019. 

The military officer allegedly demanded monthly bribes to ensure unrestricted food supplies to regular Russian military units in the Donbas. According to the text, the Russian military formations fulfill “tours of duty in the occupied Ukrainian territory.”

Moreover, the protocol even mentions details of Russia’s food supply operations in the Donbas. According to the clerk, supply convoy vehicles get stripped of their Russian license plates and documents and then move on to their destination points guarded by “the host party.” All incoming convoys are checked by a major of the Russian military. 

Every tour inside the occupied Donbas is dangerous and complicated, each costing between 65,000-80,000 roubles ($880-1,080) to the convicted clerk’s supply company. 

The company was supposed to supply nearly 1,300 tons of food to the Russian troops in the Donbas twice a month, according to the verdict. Upon estimates by Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe, this amount might be enough to feed nearly 26,000 troops.

On Dec. 16, Kremlin spokesman Dmitriy Peskov called the verdict’s reference to the Russian military a “mistake” made by the court’s employees who wrote the text. Peskov once again denied the presence of Russian military units in the Donbas. 

Later in the day, however, the document was deleted from the Rostov court’s website, although it is still available as an archived copy. 

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry called the document “a full confession of guilt” by Russia. 

“This time Russia has by itself created a legal precedent that has clearly enshrined it as a party to an international armed conflict,” Oleh Nikolenko, the foreign ministry spokesman, said on Dec. 16.

“This decision is going to change the Ukrainian position in legal battles against Russia at international judicial institutions. Russian lawyers will find it increasingly hard to call white, black and black, white. The Rostov judge’s verdict has brought the Russian authorities closer to international criminal liability.”

Illia Ponomarenko
Author: Illia Ponomarenko

Illia Ponomarenko is the defense and security reporter at the Kyiv Independent. He has reported about the war in eastern Ukraine since the conflict’s earliest days. He covers national security issues, as well as military technologies, production, and defense reforms in Ukraine. Besides, he gets deployed to the war zone of Donbas with Ukrainian combat formations. He has also had deployments to Palestine and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as an embedded reporter with UN peacekeeping forces. Illia won the Alfred Friendly Press Partners fellowship and was selected to work as USA Today's guest reporter at the U.S. Department of Defense.

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