Russia Has Deployed Thousands Of Tanks, Troops To Ukraine, Top Official Says

LUHANSK, Ukraine -- Moscow sends a ‘continuous flow of munitions’ into the conflict zone as part of a broader scheme to degrade Ukraine’s army.

Armed men in military fatigues block access to the government buildings in eastern Ukraine's rebel-held Luhansk, Wednesday.

The Russian government has deployed thousands of armored vehicles and troops into Ukraine to support separatist rebels in the war-torn country's eastern region, Ukraine's top defense official says, despite repeated assertions from Moscow of minimal military involvement there.

"It's a real army. They have continuous inflow of munitions," Pavlo Klimkin, the Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs told a small group of reporters on the sidelines of an international security conference here last weekend.

Klimkin says 2,000 Russian armed vehicles and "a couple thousand" Russian soldiers are operating in the contested Donetsk and Luhansk provinces of eastern Ukraine, known collectively as the Donbass.

A simmering proxy war has taken place there since 2014, when Russian-backed separatists began fighting to break the rural provinces away from Kiev.

In addition, Russia has deployed artillery, mortars, light weapons and missile systems, like the Sa-11 that reportedly shot down a Malaysian airliner in 2015.

"In the sense of planning, in the sense of steering, in the sense of operating specific warfare, it's all about the Russians," Klimkin said.

Moscow has repeatedly denied any large-scale deployment of troops into Russia.

A separatist leader in 2014 dismissed reports of Russian soldiers operating there in 2014 as simply off-duty troops on vacation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has occasionally admitted to the presence of military intelligence operatives in Ukraine and said in October that Russia has been "forced to defend" Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine.

The Trump administration is reportedly considering a new arms package for Ukraine, a break from the Obama administration's policy of refusing to provide lethal defensive weapons.

Klimkin says he "definitely" believes a new U.S. arms deal is coming but repeatedly declined to discuss any details.

Klimkin did say his military requires tools to conduct electronic warfare, as well as logistics and intelligence like satellite imagery.

He praised the ongoing training program conducted by the U.S., Canada and other Western allies in the western Ukrainian town of Lviv.

Both Ukraine and the Russian-backed separatists routinely violate the terms of a peace deal known as the Minsk agreement that prohibits heavy weaponry or military activity along a cease-fire line in the Donbass.

Analysts fear the peace process has devolved into a simmering conflict that Moscow has employed in an attempt to degrade the Ukrainian military.

As for how long Russia plans to continue supporting this war, Klimkin says, "I don't believe they have been getting advantage in the sense of staying there."

"They did control the situation with the help of special services and mercenary militaries, but at the same time there is no economic model. It is not getting better," Klimkin says, citing mines in the Donbass that have flooded, and an economy he says is based on smuggling.

"There is no way for a sustainable model for functioning."

Putin doesn't need Donbass, Klimkin adds, he only needs it to exhaust Ukraine's forces.

Source: US News & World Report