There are currently 11,000 Russians in the Donbas in the hybrid Russian regular military formations, said Lieutenant-General Serhiy Nayev, Commander of Ukraine’s Joint Forces Operation in eastern Ukraine, on December 27.
“We are aware of the presence of Russian regular military formations in the temporarily occupied territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces – the first and second army corps, with a total size of roughly 32,000 people, 11,000 of whom are Russians. The leadership positions of these formations are held by regular career officers and generals of the Russian Armed Forces,” Nayev told Interfax-Ukraine in an interview.
The commander emphasized that these formations are not merely the militia groups of the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics, but instead “regular divisions, whose command structure reports to the headquarters of Russia’s 8th Combined Arms Army, which is stationed in the city of Novocherkassk”.
The involvement of Russian citizens and career soldiers in the hybrid forces in the occupied parts of the Donbas was discovered as early as 2014, when Russian military units stormed into Ukrainian territory in order to rescue pro-Russian militants from defeat.
Since then, according to both Ukrainian and western intelligence, the number of Russian troops in the Donbas has been constantly changing, but always in the thousands. Between spring and summer 2015, the Russians were not there as part of whole Russian units, and instead were formally part of the DPR and LPR groups.
Whenever the Russian soldiers are captured or killed, Moscow claims that they are nothing more than “volunteers”, either already discharged from the Russian Armed Forces, or on holiday.
On May 8, 2018, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke about regular Russian soldiers and career officers in the Donbas.