Speaking in Berlin on Tuesday (3/3), U.S. Army Europe Commander Ben Hodges estimated that roughly 12,000 Russian troops are supporting pro-Russian separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.
Hodges said that these forces were made up of military advisers, weapons operators and combat troops, and added that another 50,000 Russian troops are stationed on Ukraine’s eastern border – ready to cross over if the separatists should suffer a major setback in their ongoing conflict with the Ukrainian military.
In addition to these forces, Russia has another 29,000 soldiers stationed in the Crimean Peninsula, which they annexed from Ukraine last March amidst the turmoil following the Ukrainian revolution.
Russia has continued to deny any involvement, despite the fact that the NATO alliance claims to have incontrovertible evidence — including satellite imagery — of Russian military forces in Ukraine.
Alexander Lukashevich, a spokesman for the Russian foreign ministry, dismissed Hodges’ claims earlier today, saying,
“These figures, which are plucked out of the air, of course demoralise and disorientate the international community.”
Hodges’ speech comes just weeks after the U.K. Joint Delegation to NATO claimed to have proof that Russian SA-22 surface-to-air missile systems were operating in Ukraine. They posted the following tweet to their Twitter account on Feb. 18:
— UK Delegation, NATO (@UKNATO) February 18, 2015
Fighting in eastern Ukraine has slowed but persisted since an official ceasefire began on February 15. Many people familiar with the conflict think the separatists may be preparing for an all-out assault on Mariupol, the last major city in eastern Ukraine that is still under government control.
The conflict in Ukraine has claimed over 6,000 lives since it began last spring, with more than 840 of those deaths coming since mid-January.
Read the original report from Reuters.