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U.S. Military Contractor Says No Personnel In Ukraine Now Or Ever

Pro-Russian protesters clash with police as they try to occupy a regional administration building in Donetsk earlier this week. Russian media are reporting that staff from a U.S. military contractor have been assisting Kyiv authorities in eastern Ukraine.
A private military contracting firm has denied a claim by the Russian Foreign Ministry that it sent personnel to southeastern Ukraine.

"We have not done any work in Ukraine," a woman who did not identify herself told RFE/RL in a phone call to Greystone's office in Chesapeake, VA. "We have not deployed anyone at any time, and we are not planning to."

Greystone was once affiliated with the controversial Blackwater group -- which has since been renamed Academi -- but now operates independently. While the group denies working in Ukraine, it "provided executive protection services in Russia," according to a September 2012 post on its website.

In an April 7 statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry accused Kyiv of working alongside the ultranationalist Right Sector and 150 Greystone contractors disguised as members of an elite Ukrainian army unit.

"The organizers and participants of this provocation assume responsibility for creating a huge threat to the rights, freedoms and the lives of innocent citizens of Ukraine and to the stability of the Ukrainian state," the statement said.

The statement followed a string of stories in Russian media, which all apparently derived from an April 7 report by RIA Novosti, a Russian state-run news agency, citing an anonymous Ukrainian police source.

The report spread quickly and was broadcast on Russia's state-run First Channel, which repeated the RIA Novosti claim that the contractors were there to "quickly and firmly deal with protesters."

WATCH: News Report By First Channel (In Russian)

A State Department official said the U.S. does not have any military units in Ukraine. Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, called the claim "rubbish" on Twitter.
The accusations are only the most recent in a string of loosely sourced reports by Russian state media attempting to tie American contractors to events in Ukraine.

In late March, the ITAR-TASS news agency, citing an anonymous member of the Ukrainian security services, claimed that interim President Oleksandr Turchynov had developed a plan to hire Greystone to provide security in the east of the country. And in early March, Russian outlets reported widely on a video posted to YouTube that claimed to show "Blackwater" troops operating in Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine.

A Ukrainian Foreign Ministry statement said the "raving" claims of their Russian counterparts were meant as a provocation on a day that pro-Russian protesters occupied government buildings in three cities in Ukraine's east.

Protesters in Donetsk, who still control the city's administrative building, have declared an independent "People's Republic of Donetsk" and called for Russian President Vladimir Putin to send a "temporary peacekeeping contingent."

Kyiv says the protests has been organized and paid for by Moscow and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Russian agents have been sent to eastern Ukraine to create "chaos."

-- Glenn Kates, with reporting by Carl Schreck