The Pentagon has denied a Kremlin claim that U.S. military trainers have been sent into eastern Ukraine, calling the statement a “ridiculous attempt to shift the focus” from Russia’s own military activities there.
A Russian Foreign Ministry statement on April 23 said Lavrov told Kerry in a phone call the previous day that the arrival of U.S. paratroopers in western Ukraine to train Ukrainian forces “and information about the appearance of personnel from the American military company Academi in the ranks of Ukrainian forces” in eastern Ukraine “bear witness to violations by Kyiv of its commitment to withdrawal of all foreign units, military equipment, and mercenaries from Ukrainian territory.”
Academi is the private U.S. security and military training firm that formerly was known as Blackwater.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman General Igor Konashenkov repeated the claim on April 23, accusing Washington of sending U.S. military instructors to train Ukrainian National Guardsmen in urban fighting techniques in the eastern regions where Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatist rebels have fought for the past year.
Konashenkov said U.S. military instructors are working with Ukrainian government troops in the vicinity of the cities of Mariupol, Artemivsk, and Volnovakha.
On April 22, the U.S. State Department claimed Russia has deployed air-defense systems in eastern Ukraine and that combined Russia-separatist forces are maintaining artillery and rocket launchers in violation of the shaky cease-fire deal known as the Minsk agreements.
Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said on April 23: “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.”
Konashenkov on April 23 denied that any Russian military forces or weaponry have been sent into eastern Ukraine.
About 300 U.S. paratroopers arrived last week in western Ukraine, near the city of Lviv, to train Ukrainian volunteers and militia troops that have come under government control as units in the Ukrainian National Guard.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP