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Russia has always denied direct involvement in the war in eastern Ukraine, but a report issued by opposition leaders in Moscow today says Russia has spent millions of dollars supporting the separatists there. It also says scores of Russian soldiers have died in the fighting. The document was started by Boris Nemtsov, who was murdered on a bridge near the Kremlin in February. His colleagues completed it. They say it shows the Russian people that their leaders have been lying. NPR's Corey Flintoff reports.
COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Russian officials from President Vladimir Putin on down have insisted over and over again that Russia has never had troops or military equipment in Ukraine. The Kremlin maintains that the conflict is a civil war, pitting Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the East against a fascist junta in Kiev that overthrew the country's legitimate government last year. Opposition activist Ilya Yashin says the newly-released report shows that it's not a civil war, but a Russian-inspired and supported attempt to divide the country.
ILYA YASHIN: (Through interpreter) We're convinced that Putin's policy, the war that Putin unleashed with our fraternal neighboring country, does colossal damage to the national interests of Russia.
FLINTOFF: Yashin and others who worked on the report say it's based on open-source accounts by journalists, interviews with family members of soldiers who were killed and some anonymous sources in the Russian government.
YASHIN: (Through interpreter) The main conclusion was that we proved the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine and also groups of mercenaries who are recruited, financed and sent to Ukraine to fight Ukrainian government forces.
FLINTOFF: Yashin says the report shows that at least 220 Russian troops have been killed fighting in Ukraine, and that's a conservative estimate. He says Russia has poured at least a billion dollars into the military campaign in the East and been forced to spend more than a billion and a half more supporting refugees who were driven from their homes by the fighting. The report doesn't contain anything that hasn't already been reported by news media or asserted by the United States and its NATO allies. Just yesterday, NATO Chief Jens Stoltenberg accused Russia of violating the cease-fire.
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JENS STOLTENBERG: We have seen continued support from Russia to the separatists with heavy weapons, with artillery, with advanced air defense systems, with training and also with forces. And this is also a blatant violation of the cease-fire.
FLINTOFF: The authors who completed the Nemtsov report hope it will be read by Russian citizens, who've been subjected to intense propaganda by the government and state-run media.
MIKHAIL KASYANOV: (Speaking Russian).
FLINTOFF: That's Mikhail Kasyanov, a former Russian prime minister and co-chairman of the opposition Republican Party of Russia - PARNAS. He says the report should help Russian citizens compare the information and understand what's going on, despite the propaganda. The activists also hope their report will serve as a monument to Boris Nemtsov, who was working on it when he was gunned down in central Moscow earlier this year. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow.
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