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Where do Ukraine’s rebels get arms from? Old Soviet bases, says Russia’s top brass

Published time: August 30, 2014 19:31
Edited time: August 31, 2014 09:20
Self-defense fighters of the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) in the city of Ilovaisk in the Donetsk Region. (RIA Novosti/Gennady Dubovoy)

Self-defense fighters of the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) in the city of Ilovaisk in the Donetsk Region. (RIA Novosti/Gennady Dubovoy)

Russia is not waging war in Ukraine’s east, and is not supplying rebels with military equipment, according to Russian deputy defense minister Anatoly Antonov. The anti-Kiev forces get their arms at old Soviet storages - same as government troops do.

“Surely, Russia doesn’t wage any war. Vladimir Putin’s policy is aimed at not allowing the situation to develop according to the worst-case scenario. There are, unfortunately, forces that try to push two peoples against each other to start a real war between Russia and Ukraine,” Antonov said, speaking with journalists in Slovakia.

Addressing the claims that Russia supplies weapons to the eastern Ukrainian self-defense forces, he explained where the militia may get their weaponry from.

“First, one shouldn’t forget that Ukraine used to be a part of the Soviet Union. There were many weapon storages on the territory of the Soviet Union, so when Ukraine and Russia became independent states, clearly some storages remained on Ukrainian territory.

“Currently, in the region engulfed by this disaster, by the bloodshed, where the “punishment” operation is being carried out by Kiev against its own people, some of these storages have been seized by the self-defense forces. That’s why saying that Russians supplied the weapons to Lugansk and Donetsk is simply incorrect. Look at the Ukrainian army’s weaponry. It’s fighting with the Russian weapons – or, more precisely, with Soviet weapons,” Antonov said.

Ukrainian servicemen ride in an armoured vehicle near Debaltseve, Donetsk region, August 29, 2014. (Reuters/Gleb Garanich)

Another source is operational trophies, the deputy defense minister said. “The self-defense forces seize large amounts of National Guard’s and the Ukrainian army’s weapons. Hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers fled into Russia, leaving the weapons they used to own,” he added.

The cost of the war - be it “anti-terrorist operation” as Kiev puts it or a “military operation for protecting East Ukraine civilians” as the rebel forces have it - comes at a cost. To Russia, it is a stream of refugees, who “didn’t enter our territory just to “visit their grannies”,” Antonov said.

More than 130,000 Ukrainians have asked for either refugee status or temporary asylum in Russia since the conflict in the country’s east started in April, according to the Federal Migration Service, while some 820,000 Ukrainian citizens have moved to Russia.

“Those who come to Russia need to be given medical aid, provided with a job… There is no lighting, morgues and the sewage doesn’t function, there is no water, the people choke because of the unbelievable damage that the Kiev government has done. In this situation, we couldn’t be uninvolved…” Antonov said.

Deputy Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation Anatoly Antonov (RIA Novosti/Ramil Sitdikov)

If Moscow sends anything to Ukraine, it is supplies to civilians caught up in turmoil as Ukraine’s east is plunging into a humanitarian crisis. Cities in Donetsk have been without water and electricity for weeks now, there are food shortages and it is hard to leave the conflict zone.

“What do we send there? We send wheat, buckwheat, medical supplies, mini electricity stations to ensure there is electricity at least in hospitals… That’s what we send!” Antonov stressed. “It was said that we would use those trucks to carry out some military intervention. I would like to say openly: it’s all nonsense. It was all counted: the number of trucks which came to Lugansk exactly corresponded with the number of those which returned to Russia, empty.”

Since April, almost 2,000 people, many of them civilians, have been killed in the fighting. Over 130,000 people have been declared internally displaced, according to the UN, while the number of those who have fled into Russia is nearing a million, according to the Russia’s government.