Two men in uniforms bearing Russian flag military insignia were recorded by pro-Kremlin media in a separatist-controlled area of eastern Ukraine, images that Ukrainian supporters suggest is further evidence of Moscow’s support for the rebels.
Kremlin-friendly newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda filmed the two men in military fatigues as they unloaded items from a military truck surrounded by armed separatists in the rebel-held city of Donetsk.
One of the men is shown with a patch of the Russian tricolor on the left shoulder of his jacket, while the other displays what appeared to be a Russian military insignia on his hat.
The footage was captured in the background of Komsomolskaya Pravda’s January 22 interview with separatist leader Aleksander Zakharchenko in the rebel-held city of Donetsk.
Pro-Kyiv websites and social media users circulated the image of the two men as further evidence of Russian support for the rebels since the outbreak of the conflict, which according to the UN has killed more than 4,700 in eastern Ukraine since erupting last spring following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.
“They’re not there,” the pro-Ukrainian @euromaidan tweeted to its nearly 300,000 followers on January 22, an ironic reference to the Kremlin’s repeated denials that Russia is sending troops to support the rebels.
While rejecting accusations that it is backing the separatists, Russian officials have conceded that Russians are fighting alongside the rebels as “volunteers.”
Skeptics, however, said it is unlikely that active Russian personnel would operate in eastern Ukraine with Russian military insignia visible and that fighters in the area often wear a motley assortment of military dress of murky provenance.
Combatants in eastern Ukraine “wear all kinds of stuff,” Guardian correspondent Shaun Walker tweeted in response to the image of the two men in Donetsk.
“Guarantee real [Russian] troops here don’t walk around with [Russian] flags,” he added.
-- Carl Schreck