A NATO military officer in Brussels told The Associated Press that “we assess there are over 1,000 Russian troops operating inside Ukraine” now. He said NATO estimates that another 20,000 Russian troops are close by, right over the Russian border. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the material was confidential.
Additionally, Associated Press journalists on the border have seen the rebels with a wide range of unmarked military equipment — including tanks, Buk missile launchers and armored personnel carriers — and have run into many Russians among the rebel fighters. Ukraine also captured 10 soldiers from a Russian paratrooper division Monday around Amvrosiivka, a town 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Russian border.
Joseph Dempsey, an analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said recent images of a military convoy in eastern Ukraine showed the presence of a variant of the T-72 tank that “is not known to have been exported or operated outside of Russia.”
The leader of the insurgency, Alexander Zakharchenko, said in an interview on Russian state television that 3,000 to 4,000 Russians have fought on the separatist side since the armed conflict began in April. The new southeastern front raised fears that the separatists are seeking to create a land link between Russia and Crimea. If successful, it could give them or Russia control over the entire Sea of Azov and the gas and mineral riches that energy experts believe it contains. Ukraine already lost roughly half its coastline, several major ports and significant Black Sea mineral rights in March when Russia annexed Crimea.