VIENNA (AP) — The commander of U.S. troops in Europe has dismissed claims by Russia that it is staying out of the Ukraine conflict, speaking of "clear and irrefutable evidence" to the contrary.
Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges spoke of both direct and indirect military help by Moscow to Russian separatists, in comments released Wednesday from a briefing to a closed session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
"Russia is actively and massively fueling this conflict," he declared during the briefing Tuesday.
He spoke to the OSCE as the foreign ministers of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany met to discuss the conflict amid escalating fighting that is throwing doubts on a shaky peace accord.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said afterward that the four agreed to "not allow a breakdown" of a peace deal reached in February.
"There is a sense that there are powers who would like to destroy this process," Lavrov told reporters in Paris. "I won't name them. But such forces exist."
Suggesting those forces are to be found in Moscow, Hodges cited a weekend report from OSCE monitors mentioning more than 500 explosions over the weekend to back his assertion.
Such powerful barrages are "not something that you can put together in the basement of your home," he said. Nor, said Hodges "could this amount of explosive power be applied without a sophisticated supply chain" as well as soldiers and officers who had trained on the complex weapons systems delivering the explosive punch.
Hodges also listed Russian command and control support of military operations in Ukraine and transfers and sightings of military equipment in eastern Ukraine, including tank models that only Russian forces possess, sophisticated air defense systems and rockets.
Hodges also disputed Russian claims that Moscow had no boots on the ground in Ukraine. "Russian soldiers are active parts of the fighting force," he said. "These are not volunteers or mercenaries; they are trained, equipped, and uniformed active duty Russian soldiers."