Ukraine chief of staff ‘thwarts Western allegations’ by admitting no combat with Russian troops

Members of the armed forces of the Donetsk People’s Republic drive a tank on the outskirts of Donetsk, January 22, 2015. (Reuters / Alexander Ermochenko)
The Ukraine army’s chief of staff has admitted that Kiev troops are not engaged in combat with Russian units, thereby thwarting all Western allegations of Moscow's “military invasion,” said Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov.

Yesterday afternoon the Chief of the General Staff – Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine – Viktor Muzhenko officially acknowledged during a briefing for foreign military attachées that Russian troops are not involved in the fighting in the country's southeast,” Konashenkov said on Friday.

Given the fact that Muzhenko directly supervises military operations in the southeast, “his statement is a legal fact, which thwarts numerous accusations made by NATO and Western states” concerning Russia's alleged “military invasion” in Ukraine, the spokesman added.

The Russian Defense Ministry, however, was puzzled by a statement from Muzhenko's subordinate, Sergey Galushko, made several hours later. According to Galushko – an employee of the Department of Information Technology – Russian troops are located in the so-called “second echelon.”

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On Thursday, Muzhenko said “the Ukrainian army is not engaged in combat operations against Russian units.” He added, however, that he had information about Russian individuals fighting in the country’s east. He also said the Ukrainian army has everything it needs to drive off armed units in Donbass. His speech was aired by Ukraine's Channel 5 television, owned by President Petro Poroshenko.

Ukrainian servicemen sit atop armoured personnel carriers (APC) (Reuters / Valentyn Ogirenko)

Commenting on Muzhenko’s statement, Galushko said that reporters were only allowed at the open part of the meeting. He said that later, during the closed part, the chief of general staff said that Russian units are “in the second tier.”

Muzhenko himself did not elaborate on the initial statement.

Kiev began a military assault on eastern Ukraine's Donetsk and Lugansk regions in April 2014, after they refused to recognize the country’s new, coup-imposed authorities. According to UN estimates, more than 5,000 people have died as a result of the conflict.

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Since the start of Kiev’s military operation, Ukraine and Western states have repeatedly alleged that Russia has a military presence in the country's east. Moscow has refuted those claims on multiple occasions.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated Moscow’s arguments on Wednesday, calling on those who believe the opposite to prove their point. “I say it every time: if you are so sure in stating that, confirm it with facts. But no one can or wants to provide them,” he said.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said it has not registered any movement of military vehicles at the Russia-Ukraine border checkpoints it observes, according to a statement made on January 22.