St. Petersburg native Dmitry Sapozhnikov, who went to Ukraine in October to fight alongside the rebels, told the BBC Russian service in a candid interview from Donetsk that Russian military units have played a decisive role in rebel advances, including the operations in February that led to the capture of the transport hub of Debaltseve. Russian officers directly command large military operations in eastern Ukraine, he noted.
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Asked why the Kremlin has continued to deny the presence of its soldiers in Ukraine, Sapozhnikov said that he thought there might be a “secret agreement” between Russia, the European Union, and the United States to look the other way. He expressed that Putin was likely using the same strategy that he employed with the annexation of Crimea in March: initially denying the deployment of Russian troops, then admitting it once the territory had been won.
“If the EU and the USA wanted to prove that Russia’s forces are located here, I think it would be easy to do,” Sapozhnikov said. “They would just go and photograph the armor and everything. But they’re not doing that, they’re closing their eyes. And the Russians for their part close their eyes to the presence of American and European soldiers on the Ukrainian side.”
He claimed that 300 foreign soldiers, including Americans and Europeans, had been captured in Debaltseve, and that “most of them were snipers” — although he admitted that he hadn’t seen any of them himself.