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Russian Defense Ministry spokesman responds: what troops?

By Chris Covert

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday that Russian troops in Ukraina should be removed because their presence represents a threat to the ceasefire, according to Russian and English language news accounts.

US, NATO and Ukrainian military officials for months have accused Russia of sending military units into the Ukrainian breakaway republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, a charge Russian military officials have repeatedly denied.

The ceasefire -- begun on September 5th and modified on September 19th -- required both sides of the conflict, Ukrainians and the Donbas rebels, to remove heavy artillery 15 kilometers from a demarcation line set in the September 19th accord.

Donbas rebels have complained since the implementation of the agreement that the demarcation line runs through the western suburbs of the capital of Donetsk, and providing Ukrainian military units a marshaling point for the resumption of an offensive.

In recent days a YouTube video has surfaced which showed an unmarked convoy of a 152mm artillery battalion moving by road march from Snezhnoye, on the border between Donetsk and Lugansk, to Donetsk city. If the text that described the video is true, then the Donbas rebels have already violated the truce by moving the unit to Donetsk city.

The Ukrainian military also has violated the terms of the truce by keeping heavy artillery near Donetsk city.

NATO and US military officials said that Russia moved a heavy artillery unit into Lugansk within the last 72 hours, as well as other military units. Complaints have also been voiced about Russia moving fresh troops to the Ukrainian-Russian border, something Russia did at the start of the conflict last May, but withdrew those forces last month.

Ukrainian United Nations representative Yuriy Sergeyev told the UN Security Council Wednesday that Russia has a total of 200 tanks, 1,600 vehicles, 640 artillery pieces, 191 aircraft and 121 helicopter deployed on the border. The combat power of the ground elements said to be deployed represents roughly a divisional sized element.

The NATO commander, General Philip Breedlove said three days ago that a column of Russian tanks had crossed the border into Ukraina. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Major General Igor Konashenkov dismissed the allegation, saying "there are no facts".

According to a korrespondent.net report posted Wednesday, the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Lamberto Zannier said that Donbas rebels' increased activity threatens the peace accord, especially around Mariupol.

In the last 24 hours both sides in the conflict have reported artillery and counterbattery fire in settlements just north of Mariupol. According to Andrei Lysenko, a spokesman for the Ukrainian military, artillery fire has been reported on the villages of Novolaspa, Granitnoye and Zamozhniy, which are north of Mariupol. Donbas rebels reportedly attacked Ukrainian checkpoints in the area as well. Neither side has disclosed casualties.

Lysenko also said Wednesday that Donbas rebel artillery fire was recorded in northern Lugansk, near the Northern Donetsk River line, and near Schastye, which has been a constant battle between Ukrainian troops holding the bridgehead there and the Donbas rebels.

Even the Donbas rebels themselves have been saying since Monday that military activity has been greatly reduced in Donetsk city, with two of the last three nights passing with no artillery fire from either side.

Chris Covert writes about foreign military issues for Rantburg.com. He can be reached at grurkka@gmail.com

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