Diplomat contacted Ukraine’s defence ministry’s military intelligence, press service and public affairs office, which provided these answers in late August.
1. Could you supply up-to-date figures on war deaths and injuries in 2015 and 2016?
2,504 Ukrainian soldiers, within the Ukrainian armed forces, the National Guard, Border Guard and various law enforcement agencies have been killed. These include 2,110 armed forces troops killed in action and 6,868 wounded in action since the start of the Anti-Terrorist Operation, which began in April 2014. The average number of war casualties among Ukrainian troops is estimated at 17 killed and 57 wounded in action per week.
In 2016, 645 militants [pro-Kremlin Ukrainians, Russian volunteers and other pro-Russian fighters] were killed. 15,949 Russia-backed militants were killed in action since the start of the anti-terrorist operation.
2) Is it, in your estimation, a “hot” war?
President Poroshenko said Russian actions in eastern Ukraine are similar to Moscow’s aggressive policies in Aleppo, Syria, when talking to CNN. We have observed an escalation of ceasefire violations throughout August with more frequent fire from heavy weapons (mortars and cannons banned by the Minsk accords) and armoured vehicles against Ukrainian troops. Nevertheless, Ukrainian Armed Forces hold their positions and observe the Minsk agreements while being ready to fight off any advance of the enemy. According to Defence Minister Gen. Stepan Poltorak and Gen. Viktor Muzhenko, we do not rule out a full-scale Russian military invasion.
3) What are the numbers of Russian soldiers, as well as Russian and Ukrainian militants, in East Ukraine?
There are approximately 35,300 militants of the “DNR” [Donetsk] and “LNR” [Luhansk] in eastern Ukraine. Approximate numbers of military hardware on the occupied territories in Donbas: 480 tanks; 940 armoured military vehicles such as BTR armoured personnel carriers (APCs), BMP infantry fighting vehicles, 760 artillery systems; 210 multiple rocket-launcher systems; 400 anti-aircraft systems. The Russian proxy army in Ukraine does not possess military jets or helicopters so far.
The Russian military contingent in eastern Ukraine: Apart from Russia’s proxy army, there is a Russian contingent made up of active service members of the Russian armed forces. There are eight battalion tactical groups and six platoon tactical groups. The total number of Russian regulars on the occupied parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions is 6,100 members of the Russian Armed Forces.
Approximate numbers of military hardware on the occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions: 197 tanks, 409 armoured military vehicles, such as APCs and IFVs, 139 artillery systems, 87 multiple rocket launchers, 66 anti-aircraft systems.
4) Where have injuries and deaths occurred?
Ukrainian soldiers contain aggressive actions of Russian regulars and their proxies along the whole front line, stretching from the Ukraine-Russia border through the Donetsk and Luhansk regions to areas east of Mariupol along the Azov Sea coastline.
5) How are the Minsk Accords working?
Russian proxy forces violate the ceasefire on a daily basis, targeting Ukrainian troops and civilian households in frontline towns and villages. The average number of militants’ violations are 60-70 shellings per day. All of them pursue the goal of escalating conflict by provoking Ukrainian troops to retaliate in order to use it later in Russian state-run propaganda portraying Ukrainian Armed Forces as violators of the ceasefire.
Ukrainian troops open fire only to suppress firing spots of the enemy and to safeguard the lives of service members and civilians if a mortal threat to their health arises.
Russia-backed militants systematically use heavy weapons, such as 82- and 120-millimetre mortars and 122- and 152-millimetre mortars and rocket artillery. All of these weapons are banned by the Minsk Accords.
Militants grossly violate the peace process by deploying heavy arms in close proximity to the front line and obstructing the work of the OSCE special monitoring mission.
6) How many Russian forces are massed at the Ukrainian border?
Russian troops close to Russia-Ukraine border: Approximately 10,700 troops. Military hardware includes 104 tanks, 412 armoured fighting vehicles, including armoured-personnel carriers (APCs) and infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), 84 artillery systems, 60 multiple rocket launchers, 470 military jets and 300 helicopters.
Russian contingent in the occupied Crimea: Approximately 29,000 troops. Military hardware includes 40 tanks, 583 armoured fighting vehicles, including APCs and IFVs, 106 artillery systems, 56 multiple rocket launchers, 120 anti-aircraft systems, 16 coastal defence rocket systems, 101 military planes, 56 combat helicopters, 30 warships, 5 submarines.
Additional troops and military hardware transferred to the Russian-Ukrainian border and Crimea as part of the Kavkaz-2016 [Caucasus-2016] military drills: Approximately 2,500 troops, including one battalion of the 76th Airborne Division and approximately 500 troops of the Air Defence battalion of the 56th Airborne Brigade. The drill also features 102 military planes; 23 of them were deployed to Crimea.
7) What is the war action there?
Russian officers assumed control over the whole chain of command of the proxy army in eastern Ukraine (a list of detected Russian officers is published on Ukraine’s Military Intelligence website.)
Russian soldiers are also involved in electronic warfare and reconnaissance missions against Ukrainian troops. Russian National Guard units are regularly deployed to eastern Ukraine to boost the mood and morale of local militants and act as barrier troops.
In terms of direct combat actions, the Kremlin tries to hide its direct involvement and rarely puts its soldiers on the front line except for the key battles of the war.
Military intelligence reported the recent transportation of 168 members of the Russian Air Defence battalion from Vladivostok to eastern Ukraine. They are equipped with the Tor-M2U anti-aircraft system (NATO classification name: SA-15 “Gauntlet”) that has similar characteristics to the BUK missile system that Russian-backed militants used to down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on July 17, 2014.
8) What does the Ukrainian government want from the west militarily and politically? And what should the Ukrainian government do to meet requirements by western countries to supply them?
We strongly believe that only co-operation between Ukraine and the West as well as a tough stance on Russia can restore peace and stability in the region.
Ukraine enjoys the unprecedented support of the west, starting from the universal condemnation of the Russian illegal annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and the invasion of eastern Ukraine. The support for Ukraine was reaffirmed by Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, U.S. President Barack Obama, as well as the EU leaders, particularly members of the peace talks — German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande.
Western states provided military assistance to Ukraine — from night-vision goggles and gear to counter-battery equipment, drones, Humvee armoured vehicles and military hospitals.
The United States played a particularly important role in setting up training grounds and training brand new Special Operations Forces. The first 29 sergeant-instructors have graduated and now train the elite SOF units together with the U.S. advisers.
As a result of the NATO Summit in Warsaw last July, Ukraine has a NATO Comprehensive Assistance Package that tackles 40 different aspects of national security and defence reform.
Ukraine is already executing orders to modernize the armed forces. Just yesterday, Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak strongly argued for a rational and efficient use of resources provided by our western allies during a meeting with heads of military departments.
Ukraine has adopted fundamental military strategic documents, such as a national security strategy, military doctrine and strategic defence bulletin. This work involved NATO experts for the first time in the history of Ukraine and reflected our priorities of Euro-Atlantic integration and modern national security threats. Notably, Russia has been explicitly named as an aggressor in Ukraine’s military doctrine.
Ukrainian troops are eager to learn from their western counterparts. Ukrainian Armed Forces and the National Guard take part in multinational military exercises on Ukrainian and foreign soil. The multinational exercises include British training courses of Ukrainian infantrymen, Canadian courses for Ukrainian military engineers, as well as the largest war games in Eastern Europe – Anaconda-2016 (Drawsko Pomorskie, Poland). We are determined to ramp up our co-operation with NATO and individual member states to enhance the interoperability of our military units.
The first sign of integrating Ukrainian troops with NATO is a joint Polish-Lithuanian-Ukrainian brigade. So far, it has participated in Anaconda-2016 war games and showcased Ukraine’s western orientation by joining the military parade on independence day on Aug. 24.