Ukraine crisis: Report started by murdered Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov claims Russia has spent £673m to fund the conflict

President Putin says there are no serving troops fighting, only volunteers, but opposition activists say there is 'ample evidence' to rebut this

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The Independent Online

At least 220 Russian soldiers have been killed in eastern Ukraine, opposition activists have said in a report offering what they called “ample evidence” to rebut President Vladimir Putin’s denial his troops are fighting there.

The report, the last project of murdered Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov, also said Russia had spent more than 53bn roubles (£673m) in 10 months to fund the conflict.

Mr Nemtsov was shot dead in central Moscow in February and members of his party, the liberal RPR-Parnas, and journalists helped finish the 65-page report, based on open-source information and interviews with soldiers’ families.

“We have collected and systematised [information] which we think provides ample evidence of the presence of Russian soldiers in Ukraine,” Ilya Yashin, an aide to Nemtsov, said.

The Kremlin declined to comment. Mr Putin says there are no serving troops fighting in Ukraine, only volunteers.

The West accuses Russia of providing arms and troops to the separatists fighting government troops. It has stepped up sanctions on Moscow over the conflict, which has killed more than 6,100 people.

The West first imposed sanctions on Russian businessmen and officials after Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in March 2014, before unrest spread to the east of the country. The report claims inflation, exasperated by the sanctions, has deprived citizens of trillions of roubles as it has impacted wages.

The report said at least 150 Russian servicemen had been killed in fighting around the village of Ilovaisk and elsewhere in the region last summer. Their relatives received 3m roubles in compensation provided they did not speak publicly about the deaths, the report claims.

At least 70 Russian soldiers were killed in clashes around the town of Debaltseve earlier this year, the report said, adding that the relatives of these troops were left without compensation.

Authors said Russian soldiers were mostly forced to quit the army officially before heading to east Ukraine, where the report claims they earned up to 90,000 roubles a month.

The authors also estimated that Russia had spent 53bn roubles over 10 months to support Russian “volunteers” and local rebels as well as provide military equipment.