Russian mercenaries reported deployed to separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine

Russian mercenaries have deployed to separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine in recent weeks to bolster defences against Ukrainian government forces as tensions between Moscow and the West rise, four sources have told Reuters.

Of Reuters four sources, three described their offers from mercenary recruiters to go to Donbass. They said the recruiters did not disclose who they represented. All four sources declined to be named, citing fears for their safety.

Two of the three sources said they had accepted; the third said he had refused. "There is a full house. They are gathering everybody with combat experience," said one of the two who accepted.

He said he had previously fought in Ukraine and Syria for groups of Russian security contractors whose operations have been closely aligned with Russia's strategic interests. He declined to identify the contractors.

The fighter said he was planning to join up with fellow mercenaries on the Russian side of the border with the separatist-held Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine.

The Kremlin says it has nothing to do with private Russian military contractors whose operatives it describes as volunteers with no connection to the state.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said: "It's the first we've heard of this and we don't know how reliable these assertions are."

Separatist spokesperson Eduard Basurin said he knew nothing of any recent Russian deployments of security contractors to eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine's military intelligence service declined to comment, while the state security service did not reply to a request for comment.

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