The Russian government has deployed thousands of troops and vehicles into Ukraine to support separatist rebels from the eastern region of the war-torn country, Ukraine's top defense official claims, despite assertions from Moscow of military involvement there.
"it is a true army. They have a constant inflow of munitions," Pavlo Klimkin, the Ukrainian defense minister, told a small group of reporters on the sidelines of an international security conference here last weekend.
Klimkin states 2,000 Russian armed forces vehicles and "a few million" Russian soldiers are working from the contested Donetsk and Luhansk provinces of eastern Ukraine, known jointly as the Donbas. A simmering proxy war had taken place there because 2014 when separatists started fighting to violate the states away from Kiev. Russia has deployed mortars, artillery, light weapons and missile systems, such as the Sa-11 that reportedly shot down an airliner in 2015.
"In the sense of planning, in the sense of steering, in the sense of operating specific warfare, it is all about the Russians," Klimkin said.
Moscow has repeatedly denied any large-scale deployment of troops into Ukraine. A separatist leader in 2014 ignored reports of Russian soldiers operating there in 2014 as only off-duty troops on vacation. Russian President Vladimir Putin has occasionally admitted to the existence of military intelligence operatives in Ukraine and stated in October that Russia has been "forced to defend" Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine.
The Trump administration is considering a new weapon package for Ukraine, a break out of the Obama government's policy of refusing to offer weapons that are defensive that are lethal. Klimkin says he "definitely" considers a new U.S. arms deal is coming but repeatedly declined to discuss any information.
Klimkin did say that his military requires tools to run logistics, in addition to electronic warfare and intelligence. He praised the continuing training program performed by the U.S., Canada and other Western allies in the western Ukrainian town of Lviv.
Both Ukraine and the Russian-backed separatists violate the conditions of a peace agreement known as the Minsk agreement that prohibits military action or heavy weaponry along with a cease-fire line in the Donbas. Analysts fear that the peace process has devolved into a battle that Moscow has used to degrade the Ukrainian military.
Regarding how long Russia intends to continue supporting this war, Klimkin says, "I do not think they've been getting an edge if they continue to stay there."
"They did control the situation with the help of special services and mercenary militaries, but at precisely the same time there's not a good financial model." Klimkin says, citing mines at the Donbas that have flooded, and a market he says relies on smuggling. "There is no way to get a sustainable model for stabilization."
Putin does not need Donbas, Klimkin adds, he needs Ukraine's forces to exhaust.