A senior NATO official says Russian troops are dying in combat in "large numbers" in eastern Ukraine, where they have been fighting along pro-Russian rebels since last year.
NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow told a conference in the Latvian capital Riga on March 5, that Russia's involvement in eastern Ukraine is beginning to lose support among Russians, "especially as Russian leaders are less and less able to conceal the fact that Russian soldiers are fighting -- and dying -- in large numbers" in the conflict.
Moscow has flatly denied the presence of any of its troops in eastern Ukraine.
Vershbow also said that while the truce agreement reached in Minsk last month is an important step toward putting an end to the violence which has claimed more than 6,000 lives since April last year, "full implementation is key" to finding solving to the crisis.
He said Russia bears "a special responsibility" to bring about "a real de-escalation -- not a temporary pause, but a lasting solution" to the conflict.
Vershbow added that President Vladimir Putin's "aim seems to be to turn Ukraine into a failed state and to suppress and discredit alternative voices in Russia, so as to prevent a Russian 'Maidan,'" a reference to the Ukraine uprising which ousted Moscow-ally Viktor Yanukovych as president last year.