Although officially, the Russian government continues to deny involvement in the conflict, many observers agree that the Russian government has deployed troops to fight unofficially, encouraged other Russian “volunteers” to join these troops, and supplied weapons, equipment, and training to local fighters.
Russian troops and “volunteers” in Ukraine
Russian officials denied reports that Russian military units were operating in Ukraine, claiming instead they had been sent on routine drills close to the border with Ukraine and crossed the border by mistake. Nevertheless, evidence of its soldiers’ involvement is rampant. OSCE monitoring mission has on numerous occasions spotted military convoys covertly crossing the border from Russia into Donbas, as well as the presence of military equipment produced in Russia and never exported to Ukraine.
On 25 August 2014, ten Russian paratroopers were captured in Ukraine, the Russian Ministry of Defence maintained that the men were lost and crossed the border into Ukraine by accident. In May 2015, two suspected Russian GRU agents (Military intelligence) were detained by Ukrainian forces, Russia’s Ministry of Defence stated the men were former soldiers who were not on active duty at the time of capture. The two men were later exchanged for captured Ukrainian pilot and politician Nadiya Savchenko. In July 2015 a Russian major was detained near Donetsk as he drove an ammunition truck into a Ukrainian checkpoint, the Russian military maintained the man was not involved with the Russian military and fought for local separatists. The major was later exchanged for captured Ukrainian soldiers. In September 2015 Ukraine’s border guards detained 2 Russian internal troops when they crossed the border in Ukraine’s Luhansk Oblast, the Russian servicemen stated they were lost and crossed the border by accident, with the Russian Military of Defence accusing Ukraine’s forces of crossing into the nearby Russian village and abducting the servicemen. In October 2015, the Russian Ministry of Defence admitted that “special forces were pulled out of Ukraine and sent to Syria” and that they were serving in eastern Ukraine on territories held by pro-Russian rebels. On 17 December 2015 when asked about the two detained Russian citizens in Ukraine who were being accused of being military intelligence officers President Vladimir Putin responded: “We never said there were not people there who carried out certain tasks including in the military sphere.” This was generally taken as an admission that Russian military operatives were deployed to Ukraine. Before that declaration, there had been a large amount of circumstantial evidence that confirmed the presence of Russia’s military.
Large part of the circumstantial evidence are military vehicles and weapons that are unique to Russian armed forces and never present in Ukraine before the conflict was captured by journalists and found on social media. The OSCE monitoring mission has also noted the presence of troops declaring themselves as Russian servicemen in DPR-controlled territory. As the rest of the post-Soviet republics every Russian military equipment has a hull number (bortovoi nomer). However equipment in possession of the LPR and DPR has all hull number painted over to conceal its relation to the Russian Armed Forces.“THE BATTLE OF ILOVAISK”. Forensic Architecture. 19 August 2019.
In 2015, NATO spokesman Robert Pszczel stated in an interview for Dozhd TV that the alliance has sufficient evidence to make “28 member states of the alliance have no doubts about military involvement of Russia” in the Donbas conflict.
In a battle at Donetsk airport at least 31 of the people killed were Russian citizens and were delivered back to Russia. A report for the independent news site Novaya Gazeta, reprinted in The Guardian, tracked down the widow of one Russian man who died during the fighting at Donetsk airport and sought to shed light onto the obscure structures that organized the transfer of fighters to Ukraine. The report further highlighted the ‘frustration of dealing with Russian officialdom apparently so keen to cover up all traces of those fighting across the border’.
Alexander Zakharchenko said that 1200 fighters had trained in Russia for four months, crossed the border, and were ready to fight. Zakharchenko said the reinforcements included 30 tanks and 120 armoured vehicles. He later denied making the comments.
Cases of Russian soldiers killed and wounded in Ukraine are widely discussed in local Russian media in the republics from which they originated. Recruitment for Donbas is performed rather openly via veteran and other paramilitary organizations. Vladimir Yefimov, leader of one of such organizations, explained in detail in an interview how the process works in Ural area. The organization recruits mostly army veterans, but also policemen, firefighters, etc. with military experience. The cost of equipping one volunteer is estimated at around 350,000 rubles (around $6500) plus the cost of the volunteer’s salary from 60,000 to 240,000 rubles per month depending on their experience. The volunteers are issued a document claiming that their participation is limited to “offering humanitarian help” to avoid Russian mercenary laws. In Russia’s anti-mercenary legislation a mercenary is defined as someone who “takes part [in fighting] with aims counter to the interests of the Russian Federation”. The recruited travel to the conflict zone without weapons, which are given at the destination. Often, Russian troops have travelled disguised as Red Cross personnel. Igor Trunov, head of the Russian Red Cross in Moscow condemned these convoys, saying they made delivery of real humanitarian aid more difficult.
Another leader of a “patriotic organization” from Orsk, Pavel Korovin, estimated that a total of around 12,000 fighters for Donbas had been recruited from Russia. A significant proportion were people in difficult financial situations, attracted by a high salary (one of the volunteers was promised 100,000 rubles or $1600). Responding to concerns about crossing the Ukrainian border, he explained that “there is a green light for the volunteers on the border” and “all that is covered by appropriate structures”. The family of a killed volunteer, when asking about help in bringing back the body, is advised to “speak to the FSB, only they are controlling everything there”.
Shortly before his death, Boris Nemtsov was reportedly contacted by a group of “paratroopers from Ivanovo” who complained about significant losses in their unit during a battle in Ukraine and the lack of the promised payment. Nemtsov was preparing a larger report documenting cases of Russian soldiers taking part in the war in Donbas, which is considered a possible reason for his assassination.
The repatriation of Russians killed in action or taken as prisoners of war has become a controversial topic in the media due to the Russian state’s denial of involvement in Ukraine. The Associated Press compared it to the Soviet Union’s secrecy during its war in Afghanistan, noting “When the true numbers of casualties became known, the invasion turned unpopular.” Russian military officials tell family members only that the soldiers are on “training exercises”.
Valentina Melnikova, head of the Russian Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers, has said that the Russian authorities were threatening the relatives of soldiers who had been killed in Ukraine and forcing them to keep silent about their deaths. The Kremlin has tried to systematically intimidate and silence human rights workers who have raised questions about Russian soldiers’ deaths in Ukraine. In mid-September 2014, Ksenia Batanova, a senior producer for the news network Dozhd, was assaulted in an attack that fractured her skull. Dozhd is a channel that has covered the Russian involvement in Ukraine and kept a running tally of soldiers’ deaths. The Kremlin’s pressure on Dozhd intensified during the Ukrainian crisis. The BBC reported on the death on 12 August 2014 of a Russian soldier, Konstantin, whose telephone calls to his sister had spoken of Ukraine. The BBC team was stopped and attacked by thugs and its video camera smashed. Lev Shlosberg, an MP who was beaten unconscious after investigating the deaths of twelve paratroopers, said, “A great many Russian servicemen have died in Ukraine and their families are outraged but they don’t speak out because they are afraid for their lives.” Boris Vishnevsky, of the Yabloko political party, and Lyudmila Ivakhnina of the civil rights group Memorial, said that gathering information about conscripts pressured to sign professional contracts is difficult because of the fear of reprisals.
The Union of the Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia started actively questioning the government’s policy of “secret war” after a number of Russian soldiers officially sent for “training” to the Rostov area died for reasons never officially revealed to the families. These cases were further investigated by non-mainstream media in Russia. The Russian Ministry of Defence always denied the presence of any Russian soldiers in Ukraine and, when presented with undeniable evidence about specific individuals, suggested that they might have crossed the border “by mistake”, were “on holiday” at the time, or that their contracts were cancelled (but actually backdated). Soldier’s Mothers stated that if the deceased Russian soldiers weren’t officially sent to the war zone, their families would not receive social support and the veteran’s pension.
On 2 October 2014, RBC published An RBC investigation: Where Russian soldiers in Ukraine are from, in which it listed Russian military divisions, soldiers of which are assumed to have been secretly dispatched from Russia to Ukraine and used there. In 2015, Vice News published a series titled Russia’s Ghost Army in Ukraine in which they spoke to a number of families of Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine. The mother of Sergey Andrianov, a Russian from Podsolnechnoe in Samara Oblast who was killed on 28 August 2014, presents a number of documents she received from her son’s military unit: the death certificate issued in Rostov-on-Don that specifies that he died at a “place of temporary placement” while “completing a special task” and a document certifying “transportation of the body through the border of Russian Federation”. All of the mother’s questions to her son’s commanders were dismissed as a “state secret” and she was told that she would receive compensation of 100,000 rubles ($1600).
On 16 October 2014, the deputy chief of the Security Service of Ukraine said that the service had released 16 out of 131 servicemen of the Armed Forces of Russian Federation back home to their relatives who petitioned through a hotline.
According to soldiers’ rights advocates, the families of Russian soldiers killed after being sent to Ukraine have been told to keep silent, and some families say they have not received the various compensations they are entitled to after a breadwinner in military service has been killed. Svetlana Davydova, a mother of seven, was arrested in 2015, accused of treason for calling the Ukrainian embassy about Russian troop movements, and was held at the high-security Lefortovo jail in Moscow. The Russian General Staff said details of the case constituted a “state secret”. The charges against Davydova were dropped the following month. An amendment signed by Putin in late May 2015 banned information about the deaths of Russian servicemen “during special operations” in peacetime.
Discussing Russian volunteers in an interview with RIA Novosti on 22 June 2015, Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Security Council of Russia, stated: “We don’t call on anyone to do this, we don’t encourage it. But realistically, to stop them would be impossible”. While Russia has charged one of its citizens, Roman Zheleznov, for fighting in the Ukrainian Azov Battalion, as of 25 June 2015, it has charged no one for fighting alongside the separatists. Since counting began on 1 September 2014 until 1 June 2015, the European monitoring mission on the Russian side of the border has recorded 20,021 men in military uniforms crossing to and from rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine.
In July 2015, a number of Russian contract soldiers at “Kadamovskiy” poligon (Rostovskaya oblast) were charged with desertion after they refused to go into Ukraine as “volunteers”. They reported frequent visits of recruiters promising veteran status and daily payment of 8,000 rubles for those fighting in Donbas. They said they were unaware that the money is rarely paid and in case of death, capture or injury in battle they will be most likely abandoned and their official military status denied by Russian army. Later that year they were convicted for “refusal to carry out orders” in spite of lack of any orders presented by the prosecution and other inconsistencies.
In September 2015 OSCE monitoring mission spotted Russian TOS-1 “Buratino” thermobaric weapon launchers in separatist training area near Luhansk and in June 2016 its drone spotted a camouflaged R-330ZH “Zhitel” electronic countermeasure station 15 km from Donetsk, these findings being notable as both weapons are unique to the army of Russian Federation.
By October 2015, eastern Ukraine and Crimea were two of Russia’s frozen zones. The chances were that the frozen conflict might persist in the Donbas, where the fighting was at a low level, but the threat of escalation remained.
In June 2017 another GRU officer Viktor Ageyev was captured by Ukrainian Forces in Zhelobok in the Luhansk oblast. Russian Ministry of Defence denied that he was in active military service but investigation by BBC Russian Service confirmed Ageyev was on military contract in Russian army since March 2017.
On 30 June 2017 Sergey Lavrov, Russian minister of foreign affairs, openly admitted and justified Russian involvement in Donbas:
I have read and heard much criticism regarding our decision to join the fight in Donbass and in Syria. … Would it be acceptable for Russia, considering its international standing, to keep mum and recognise the coup in Ukraine, and to leave Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine in the lurch after the first order issued by the organisers of the anti-constitutional armed revolt, which was supported by their foreign sponsors, banned many things that were connected with the Russian language?— Sergey Lavrov, Primakov Readings International Forum, Moscow, June 30, 2017
In November 2021 a court in Rostov-on-Don issued a ruling in a corruption case that openly discusses “Russian Armed Forces dislocated to the territory of DNR and LNR”, “Russian soldiers on duty in DNR and LRN” etc. as the party who was at loss as a result of the suspect’s not delivering goods that were paid for by the army, as well as the number of vehicles and frequency of crossings from Russia, storage sites in DNR etc.
Russian medal count
Bellingcat founder and journalist Eliot Higgins has referred to the unusual spike in medals awarded to Russian troops coinciding with major battles occurring in Ukraine. It was noticed that between 25 August 2003 and 7 November 2014 there was 0.6 medals For Distinction in Combat awarded to Russian servicemen per day. However, between 7 November 2014 and 18 February 2016 there was an average of 9.3 medals awarded per day, over a fifteenfold increase. Moreover, the award dates directly coincide with major conflicts occurring in Ukraine at the time. August 2014 sees an initial spike of 60 medal per day being awarded, which coincides with reports of regular Russian troops crossing into Ukraine to aid separatist forces. The medal awards peak during November and December 2014, at over 70 per day, which was a crucial turning point during the Second Battle of Donetsk Airport, continuing to remain at over 10 medals per day until March 2015, which coincides with the Battle of Debaltseve. Also important to note is that the medal For Distinction in Combat may only be awarded for activities undertaken during a combat mission, therefore the large spike in medals awarded in late 2014 and early 2015 suggests a large contingent of Russian servicemen undertaking combat missions. In all 4300 medals were awarded between 7 July 2014 and 18 February 2016, suggesting combat operations involving active duty Russian military personnel occurred during the time period. Likewise spikes in awarding other medals were seen as well. The medal For Courage which was awarded at a rate of 1.4 medals per day between September 2008 and August 2014 increased to 6.3 medals per day between August 2014 and November 2015. The Medal of Suvorov saw an increase of award rate from 1.5 medals per day between October 2013 and November 2014 to 6.8 medals per day after November 2014. In fact in the time period between 24 November 2014 and 25 January 2015 more of the medals were awarded than all of 2013 combined.
In a press briefing by the Ukrainian Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council (NSDC), Andriy Parubiy stated that militants were trained in a military facility in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. “Near Rostov-on-Don, there is a big military base where terrorists are preparing for deployment into the territory of the Ukrainian state. This is confirmed not only by our intelligence, but also Russian prisoners who were detained, and they testify about this base,” Parubiy said. He added that more than a thousand militants are trained by Russian instructors, and then they in small armed groups try to break into the territory of Ukraine. On 21 May, Ukraine detained a Russian citizen trying to enter the country; he had military experience and was found to have recently trained in the Rostov facility.
According to Russian ‘volunteer’ insurgent organiser Aleksandr Zhuchkovsky, Rostov-on-Don acts as a staging area, where soldiers live in hotels, rented flats, and tent camps. In particular, the New York Times reports that the small village of Golovinka (about 60 kilometers (37 mi) northwest of Rostov-on-Don) and nearby Kuzminka military base is a staging area for Russian soldiers and weapons headed to Ukraine.
In June 2014, Jen Psaki stated that the United States Department of State was confident that Russia had sent tanks and rocket launchers from a deployment site in southwest Russia into eastern Ukraine, and NATO satellite imagery showed that on 10 and 11 June main battle tanks were stationed across the border at Donetsk in a staging area in Rostov-on-Don.
In July 2014, Reuters published a logbook of a 9K38 Igla missile that was signed out of military storage in Moscow for a military base in Rostov-on-Don and ended up with insurgents in Donbas, where it was eventually taken over by the Ukrainian forces.
After OSCE observers arrived at the Gukovo border crossing on 9 August, they reported that there was a stream of multiple groups of people wearing military-style dress crossing the border between Russia and Ukraine, in both directions, some of them clearly identifying themselves as members of DNR militia. They also observed several ambulance evacuations of wounded supporters of the DPR and LPR.
In February 2015, a group of Spanish nationals were arrested in Madrid for fighting in the war in Donbas on the separatist side. traveling through Moscow, they were met by a “government official” and sent to Donetsk, where they were provided with accommodation, uniforms, and weapons, but they fought as volunteers. They stated there are “a few hundreds” of Western volunteers, mostly from Serbia and France, “half of them communists, half Nazis”, fighting jointly for the “liberation of Russia from Ukrainian invasion”.
A Russian opposition politician, Ilya Ponomarev, said “I am absolutely confident that in the eastern regions of Ukraine there are Russian troops in very small numbers. And it’s not regular soldiers, but likely representatives of special forces and military intelligence.” Later in July, after the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, he said that “Putin now understands that he has passed weapons to the wrong people”. He also said that even if Moscow stopped the supply of weapons to the Donbas, there would still be enough supporters of the war within the Russian military to continue such shipments unofficially.
Separatist leaders such as Aleksey Mozgovoy visited Moscow and were evasive about who was supplying their weapons.
At a meeting held on 7 July, in the city of Donetsk, Russian politician Sergey Kurginyan held a press conference with representatives of the Donbas People’s Militia, including Pavel Gubarev, and said that Russia did provide significant military support for the separatists. During a discussion among the participants, Gubarev complained that the arms that had been sent were old, and not fully functional. In response, Kurginyan listed specific items, including 12,000 automatic rifles, grenade launchers, 2S9 Nona self-propelled mortars, two BMPs, and three tanks, that he knew had been supplied to the separatists by Russia. He also said he saw new, fully functional weapons unloaded at locations in Donbas which he would not “disclose as we are filmed by cameras”. Kurginyan admitted that Russia had initially sent “4th category weapons”, but since 3 June had supplied equipment that was fully functional. He also said one of his goals whilst in Donetsk was to ensure that military support from Russia was increased.
A Ukrainian An-26 military cargo plane was shot down over the Ukrainian village of Davydo Myilske near the Russian border on 14 July. It had been flying at an altitude of 6,500 metres. The head of Ukraine’s Security Service Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, stated on 15 July that the SBU had “indisputable” evidence of Russian involvement in the attack.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over the conflict zone on 17 July near Torez in Donetsk Oblast, over an area of Ukraine controlled by pro-Russia separatists. Evidence from open sources indicated that Buk missile launcher, that widely believed to have been used to shoot down the passenger flight, came from Russia, and was transported on 17 July from Donetsk to Snizhne. According to Bellingcat, the launcher was operated by Russian military of the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Rocket Brigade.
In August, Russia sent dozens of white lorries, green army trucks painted white, into eastern Ukraine, without inspection by Ukraine. The trucks were “almost empty” the BBC’s Steve Rosenberg reported, and the action was characterized as a diversion, a distraction so that at other points equipment and personnel came into Ukraine.
On 17 August, Ukraine accused Russia of sending more military equipment, including Grad rocket launchers, across the border and on to Nizhny Nagolchyk. Sergei Lavrov continued to deny that Russia was sending any equipment across the border. He asserted that an OSCE observer mission placed at border crossing points in the region had not identified any unlawful crossings of the border but the OSCE mission that Lavrov mentioned had no mandate to check the long, unguarded sections of the border where crossings of men and equipment occurred frequently.
Ukrainian Defence Minister Valeriy Heletey said on 21 August that the militants were using Russian-made weapons that had never been used or bought by the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Injured pro-Russian fighters were usually treated in Russia, with help from the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations. They were also questioned and registered by the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Russian domestic security and intelligence agency.
Bellingcat has reported on the presence of Russian T-72B3 and T-90A tanks in the Donbas since 2014; the significance of this is that these tanks were not exported to or fielded by Ukraine. T-72B3 and T-90A tanks have reportedly been used near Ilovaisk, Luhansk airport, and Debaltseve.
In March 2016, Germany’s Bild reported that minutes from an October 2015 meeting of the “Interministerial Commission for the Provision of Humanitarian Aid for the Affected Areas of the Southeast of the Donetsk and Luhansk Regions” indicated that Russia was running militant-controlled parts of east Ukraine. According to Bild, “It is notable that no members of the self-declared people’s republics in eastern Ukraine are on the commission”.
Russian Order of Battle: 2021
Separatist Forces in the Donbas are organized into two corps: 1st Army Corps and 2nd Army Corps. Ukrainian sources have described these two corps as “operationally subordinate” to the 8th Guards Combined Arms Army HQ within Russia’s Southern Military District. As of 2021, subordinate units in these two corps are said to include:
- 1st Army Corps:
- 4 Motorized Rifle Brigades (1st, 3rd, 5th, 100th Motorized Rifle Brigade)
- 2 Motorized Rifle Regiments (9th and 11th Motorized Rifle Regiment)
- 2 special forces battalions (1st and 3rd SF Battalion)
- 1 tank battalion (2nd Battalion)
- 1 reconnaissance battalion (Sparta Separate Reconnaissance Battalion)
- 1 artillery brigade (Kalmius Artillery Brigade)
- 2nd Army Corps:
- 3 Motorized Rifle Brigades (2nd, 4th, 7th Motorized Rifle Brigade)
- 1 Motorized Rifle Regiment (6th Motorized Rifle Regiment)
- 1 tank battalion (Pantzir Special Mechanized Force)
- 1 reconnaissance battalion (Greka” Separate Reconnaissance Battalion)
- 1 artillery brigade
In addition to the Crimea annexation and war in Donbas, the conflict has also been linked to:
- Russian-Ukrainian cyberwarfare
- December 2015 Ukraine power grid cyberattack
- May 2017 WannaCry ransomware attack
- June 2017 cyberattacks on Ukraine
- Russian sabotage activities in Ukraine
- Related to Ukrainian military supply chain
- 2014 Vrbětice ammunition warehouses explosions in Czechia
- 2015 poisoning of Emiliyan Gebrev and several arms depot explosions in Bulgaria
- 2015 depot explosion in Svatove, Ukraine
- 2017 Kalynivka ammunition depot explosion, Ukraine
- 2017 depot explosion in Balakliia, Ukraine
- Maritime activities
- Black Sea incidents involving Russia and Ukraine
- Russian restrictions on navigation in the Kerch Strait; soft blockade of Ukraine’s Azov Sea coast
- Russia–Ukraine gas disputes
- Russian military buildups and snap exercises in regions bordering Ukraine and in Crimea
Russia–Ukraine gas disputes
Ukraine remains the main transit route for Russian natural gas sold to Europe, which earns Ukraine about $3 billion a year in transit fees, making it the country’s most lucrative export service. Following Russia’s launch of the Nord Stream pipeline, which bypasses Ukraine, gas transit volumes have been steadily decreasing. During the Ukrainian crisis, starting in February 2014 with the Russian annexation of Crimea, severe tensions extended to the gas sector. Eventually, the EU commissioner for energy Günther Oettinger was called in to broker a deal securing supplies to Ukraine and transit to the EU. A terrorist explosion damaged Russia’s Urengoy–Pomary–Uzhhorod pipeline in Rozhniativ district in Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, Ukraine in May 2014. Another section of the pipeline exploded in the Poltava Oblast on 17 June 2014, one day after Russia limited the supply of gas to Ukrainian customers due to non-payment. Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said the next day, that the explosion had been caused by a bomb.
Russia planned to completely abandon gas supplies to Europe through Ukraine after 2018. Russia’s state-owned energy giant Gazprom has already substantially reduced the volumes of gas it transits across Ukraine and expressed its intention of reducing the level further by means of transit diversification pipelines (Turkish Stream, Nord Stream, etc.). Gazprom and Ukraine agreed with a five-year deal on Russian gas transit to Europe at the end of 2019.
In 2020, TurkStream natural gas pipeline running from Russia to Turkey changed the regional gas flows in South-East Europe by diverting the transit through Ukraine and the Trans Balkan Pipeline system.
In May 2021, the Biden administration waived Trump’s CAATSA sanctions on the company behind Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany and its chief executive. Ukrainian President Zelensky said he was “surprised” and “disappointed” by Joe Biden’s decision. In July 2021, the U.S. urged Ukraine not to criticize a forthcoming agreement with Germany over the pipeline. On July 20, Joe Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel reached a conclusive deal that the U.S. may trigger sanctions if Russia uses Nord Stream as a “political weapon”. The deal aims to prevent Poland and Ukraine from being cut off from Russian gas supplies. Ukraine will get a $50 million loan for green technology until 2024 and Germany will set up a billion-dollar fund to promote Ukraine’s transition to green energy to compensate for the loss of the gas transit fees. The contract for transiting Russian gas through Ukraine will be prolonged until 2034 if the Russian government agrees.
In August 2021, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline between Russia and Germany was “a dangerous weapon, not only for Ukraine but for the whole of Europe.”
In September 2021, Ukraine’s Naftogaz CEO Yuriy Vitrenko accused Russia of using natural gas as a “geopolitical weapon”. Vitrenko stated that “A joint statement from the United States and Germany said that if the Kremlin used gas as a weapon, there would be an appropriate response. We are now waiting for the imposition of sanctions on a 100% subsidiary of Gazprom, the operator of Nord Stream 2.”