On February 10, Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, told the state-owned TASS news agency that tanks operating in separatist-controlled areas of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region had not been delivered by Russia.
"Needless to say (the tanks received in the Donbas) are not from Russia."
Four days earlier Peskov had claimed that the war in eastern Ukraine was an “exclusively intra-Ukrainian conflict.”
This is demonstrably false. There is an abundance of verifiable documentary evidence of the presence of Russian tanks and other military hardware, let alone troops and intelligence agents, deployed in the Donbas during the war that broke out in mid-April, 2014.
The most obvious evidence relates to the presence of advanced versions of the Soviet-era T-72 main battle tank, fitted with distinctive explosive reactive armor blocks, that have never seen service with the Ukrainian armed forces but were spotted repeatedly during the Ukraine war. These include the T-72B Model 1989, also referred to as the T-72BM, and the T-72BA. The most advanced variant, the T-72B3, only entered Russian service in 2013, was never exported to Ukraine, and has been documented on numerous occasions in the Donbas. These tanks could only have come from Russia.
T-72B3s were used by the Russian army when regular forces were deployed in battle against Ukrainian troops during the battle for Ilovaisk, on August 24, 2014. At least one such tank was captured by Ukrainian forces, for which documentary evidence exists, and several others were destroyed in the following days. The burnt-out wreckage of these tanks was documented by Ukrainian soldiers, Western news agencies, such as Reuters, and separatist media outlets.
In September that year, a Russian state television crew even broadcast footage of what they claimed was a captured Ukrainian tank - a T-72B3 bearing the parallel, white identification stripes used by the Ukrainian military to identify friendly forces. Incredibly, the film crew shot inside the tank, showing off the French-made Thales Optronique thermal imaging equipment as if it was evidence that Western states were providing advanced hardware to Ukraine. However the Thales gear is part of the Russian SOSNA-U gunner sight fitted to T-72B3s and has not been delivered to Ukraine. There is a strong possibility that the T-72B3 in the video was indeed captured by Ukrainian troops during the battle for Ilovaisk, and may have even been the same one mentioned earlier, which was abandoned several days later.
Around that same time, T-72B3s and BAs were also being documented as wrecks near Luhansk airport; in convoys near Sverdlovsk and the border with Russia; and taking part in a separatist parade in Perevalsk.
These tanks have made repeated apperances since then, most notably during the battle for Debaltsevo, in February, 2015, when they were photographed by freelance photographer Max Avdeev and filmed, unwittingly, by pro-Kremlin propagandist Graham Phillips.
This is just a small sample of the documentary evidence of such Russian tanks operating in the Donbas. For countless other examples, see The Interpreter’s 2015 report, An Invasion By Any Other Name, Armaments Research, InformNapalm or the incredible work of Ukrainian blogger Askai707.