Russia claims over and over there are no Russian forces in east Ukraine to help the pro-Russian forces take over the region from the Kiev government. However, as The Kyiv Post points out, the evidence is mounting, and the Kremlin cannot deny it anymore:
If there was ever any doubt, it was quashed this week when separatist leaders and fighters here opened up to journalists about their Russian roots. In interviews with the Kyiv Post, Vice News, and the Financial Times, fighters in the so-called Vostok Battalion identified themselves as Russian citizens, with several saying they were from the Autonomous Republic of Chechnya.
Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, top Russian officials have repeatedly denied the presence of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine. Most recently, Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic, denied claims that he was responsible for sending Chechen mercenaries to fight alongside separatists in eastern Ukraine, saying that such accusations were wholly “untrue.”
The presidential election was held on May 25, and The Kyiv Post‘s editor Christopher Miller was in Donetsk, where he witnessed Vostok Battalion members speaking Chechen. One woman asked the men where they were from, and they confirmed they came from Chechnya. Vice News released this video of members from Chechnya.
Chechnya leader Ramzan Kadyrov denies sending anyone to Ukraine, but Courtney Weaver from the Financial Times interviewed the Chechens, and they all claimed Kadyrov send them. The leader of this group, Zelimkhan, said that “Russia can’t openly attack Ukraine” and “[E]verything is underground.”
“Our president [Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov] gave the order. They called us, and we came,” Zelimkhan told Weaver.
On May 11, Donetsk held a referendum, and the leaders of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” claimed over 90% of the residents voted for independence from Ukraine, despite the vote’s being filled with voting violations. Now it appears there are splinters within the splinters. On May 29, the Vostok Battalion raided the headquarters of the DPR and forced everyone out. They claim it was not a coup, but a police operation against those who looted a Metro Cash & Carry. Apparently, looting carries a death sentence in the DPR.
“Looting” is a rather frightening accusation around here. Up in Slavyansk Igor Strelkov had two of his men shot for it the other day.
— Roland Oliphant (@RolandOliphant) May 29, 2014
DPR’s self-proclaimed Prime Minister Alexander Borodai said the Russians are now in charge. Borodai also told The Kyiv Post the dead bodies from the attack on the Donetsk airport were returning home – to Russia. At a press conference, he told the media the region “is Russian land” and referred to it as Novorossiya.