| VERKHNYAYA OREKHOVKA, Russia
VERKHNYAYA OREKHOVKA, Russia Aug 13 In Russia's
southwestern Rostov region bordering Ukraine, a military-style
training camp, a broken down border fence and tracks consistent
with armoured personnel carriers or tanks add to a body of
evidence of Russian involvement in Ukraine's war.
The Kremlin has consistently denied assertions by the West
that it is arming, supporting and training separatists fighting
to establish an independent state in eastern Ukraine.
U.S. officials said in July they had identified a separatist
training facility near Rostov, and a
surface-to-air rocket that turned up in east Ukraine in June
originated from a base near Moscow, according to its logbook
On Russia's border with Ukraine, some 170 kilometres north
of Rostov, there is further evidence pointing to Russia's role
in the insurrection.
A gap a few metres wide has been cut in the razor-wire fence
opening a route for vehicles and pedestrians to the
rebel-controlled area of eastern Ukraine.
On the Russian side of the divide, a track leads towards the
Russian town of Donetsk, 1 km away and bearing the same name as
the rebel stronghold in Ukraine. The soil has the imprints of
caterpillar treads, the kind used on tanks or some types of
armoured personnel carriers.
When Reuters visited this section of border in late July and
early August, two Russian border guards emerged from bushes and
waved the reporter away. "It's better not to drive here", one
The guards denied that armoured personnel carriers or tanks
had crossed into Ukraine along the rough track.
A kilometre away, on the outskirts of the Russian town of
Donetsk, caterpillar treads have left white marks on the
The trail continues several kilometres along the Seversky
Donets river to an area where a military camp and training
ground is hidden from the road by trees, between the village of
Malaya Kamenka and the town of Kamensk-Shakhtinsky.
No identifying flags or signs marked the camp.
Its entrance was blocked by "hedgehog" anti-tank obstacles
and guarded by three uniformed men without insignia. An armoured
personnel carrier was parked in a nearby trench, covered with a
camouflage net, another was hidden in bushes nearby.
"It is a camp. Exercises are going on," one of the men said.
Russia denies the existence of training camps for Ukraine
separatists. A spokesman for the border guard, Vasily Malayev,
said the camp in question was a border guard unit.
In late July armoured personnel carriers and a military
truck were seen moving through the camp. Two cars drove away
carrying men in camouflage T-shirts.
One of the cars had the regional code 95 on its plates,
generally associated with Chechnya, the other bore the code 15,
associated with North Ossetia. A car stripped of its plates - a
tactic used by rebels in Ukraine - drove into the camp.
Malayev, the border guard spokesman, said no armoured cars
had crossed into Ukraine.
"This is an agricultural area and traces of caterpillars
don't necessarily mean tank maneuvers. A tractor may have gone
He said the gap in the fence was designed for local
residents. "People have their dachas there. They go to their
dachas. Residents have passes to go in that direction. They
don't drive there, they only walk."
Ukraine said on Monday Russia had amassed 45,000 troops on
its border backed by heavy equipment including tanks, missile
systems, warplanes and attack helicopters.
Residents of the Russian town of Donetsk confirmed seeing
armoured cars in town. A Reuters reporter saw dozens of Russian
military trucks on highways around Rostov, including one
carrying a tank.
(editing by Janet McBride)