US military instructors in eastern Ukraine combat zone – Russian military
The Russian Defense Ministry said the US military instructors have been spotted in the combat zone in eastern Ukraine, training the country’s National Guard in the field, despite promises to hold the exercises at a remote range in Lvov.
Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov slammed Washington’s claims of increased presence of Russian air defense units in the Donetsk and Lugansk Regions of Ukraine as “astonishing in its incompetence,” TASS reported.
On Wednesday, US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said that it’s currently “the highest amount of Russian air defense equipment in eastern Ukraine since August,” without providing any evidence to substantiate the claim.
Konashenkov explained that Harf’s statement was just an attempt to “warm up” the general public ahead of the NATO summit, scheduled to take place in Antalya, Turkey on May 13-14.
The spokesman added that the international community should be more concerned with the US troops training Ukraine’s National Guard now conduct battle in urban environments.
“But it's not happening at the Yavorov training site in the Lvov Region [in western Ukraine] as reported by Ukrainian TV, but directly in the combat zone near Mariupol, Severodonetsk, Artyomovsk and Volnovakha,” he said.
As for Russian or any other air defense units, their presence in eastern Ukraine would be useless, as even the Kiev authorities publicly acknowledged that they haven’t been using aviation in their military operation in the east since August, Konashenkov said.
“Especially, since we all know, that there’s hardly any aircraft left in the Armed Forces of Ukraine," he added.
According to the spokesman, it’s very difficult to predict what other accusations against the Russian military might be invented by US officials. The Defense Ministry “won’t be surprised if it gets blamed for deploying a carrier strike group in the Lugansk Region or illegal entry of a Russian nuclear submarine in the main city pond of Donetsk,” he said.
The Pentagon was quick to deny Russia’s claims of US troops in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine, calling it a “ridiculous attempt to shift the focus” from its own activities in the region.
"Russia continues to supply lethal weapons, training and command and control support for armed separatists in eastern Ukraine, in blatant violation of Moscow's Minsk commitments and Ukraine's sovereignty," Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez was cited as saying by Reuters.
Last week, some 290 paratroopers of the US 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Vincenza, Italy, have arrived in Ukraine to provide training for local the National Guard units.
The US paratroopers’ training mission will last for 24 weeks and involve some 900 Ukrainian service personnel, Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko and US Vice-President Joe Biden agreed earlier in spring.
Russia’s has condemned the arrival of the US troops in Ukraine, saying that it undermines the Minsk peace deal, signed by Kiev and rebels signed a ceasefire deal in February.
The sides agreed involved the pullout of heavy weapons and a profound political dialogue and constitutional reform, which would address the grievances of the dissenting regions and reintegrate them into Ukraine.
The deal has more or less held so far, with the level of violence in eastern Ukraine dropping significantly, and OSCE blaming violations on an “unidentified third party.”
The Ukrainian conflict began in April 2014 after Kiev sent troops to Donetsk and Lugansk Regions as people there refused to recognize the new coup-imposed authorities in the capital.
The UN human rights office said that at least 6,116 people have been killed and 15,474 wounded since during a year of fighting.