There are nearly 75,000 Russian career soldiers in Crimea and the Donbas, Serhiy Nayev, former commander of Ukraine’s Joint Forces, told TSN in an interview.
“In Crimea there are 40,000 Russian soldiers, and 35,000 in the Donbas, where Russians hold all the leading military positions and are part of the so-called precision divisions. The special divisions and instructors are also from Russia. There are generally between 2,100 and 2,300 of them there. In the ‘army ranks’, there are around 11,000 Russian citizens, the rest of the personnel are local residents,” Nayev noted.
In addition, the fact that the Russian Armed Forces do not mention the names of the commanders of the so-called first (Donetsk) and second (Luhansk) army corps is a partial confirmation that these positions are held by Russian generals.
When asked whether the Russians who are sent to the Donbas view it as a punishment or a promotion, Nayev said that opinions differ among the Russian officers.
“The senior leaders, the generals, understand that the front will not move, and so they sit at ease in their positions. But among the junior officers, the attitudes are not very positive,” he explained.
After annexing Crimea in 2014, Russia has conducted regular military exercises on the peninsula and in the waters of the Black Sea. The General Staff of Ukraine considers this Russian military activity in Crimea illegal.
The armed conflict in the Donbas has been raging since 2014. Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of providing armed support to the separatists. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied this, and claims that the only Russians in the Donbas are there as “volunteers”.
The UN estimates that around 13,000 had been killed and 30,000 wounded in the conflict by December 2018.