Gen. Hodges: Russia doubles support to Ukraine rebels

The Army's top commander in Europe, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, said Wednesday that Russia has "doubled" its military support for separatists in Ukraine in recent months.

Ukraine and Russia reached a ceasefire in December, but Hodges said Russia has continued to send modern materiel to aid the rebels.

"When you look at the amount of Russian equipment that the proxies were using prior to the Minsk agreements, that amount has doubled beginning in December into the hundreds," he told reporters on his first visit to Ukraine as U.S. Army Europe commander.

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Hodges said Russia was sending surveillance drones to the rebels to help provide intelligence, as well as artillery.

"Those are not the types of things you would find in a militia. They clearly are coming from a modern military force coming from Russia," he said.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko also accused Russia on Wednesday of sending 9,000 troops to support the rebels inside Ukraine, according to Reuters.

After unrest in Kiev led to the ouster of his predecessor, Russia invaded Ukraine in March and annexed the peninsula of Crimea.

Moscow has since provided military and humanitarian support for pro-Russian rebels in Eastern Ukraine, and staged tens of thousands of Russian troops along its border.

In September, U.S. officials blamed the rebels, supplied by Russian equipment, for shooting down a Malaysian airliner flying over Ukraine, killing all onboard.

Ukraine has asked the U.S. for military support, but the White House has so far declined, out of concern it would worsen Moscow's aggression.

It has imposed, with the European Union, economic sanctions on Russia, and has provided non-lethal military aid to Ukraine instead.

Hodges sidestepped a question on whether Ukraine needed more support from the U.S. saying that "the most important asset that any army can have is quality men and women and quality leadership."

However, he mentioned that U.S. soldiers would train four Ukrainian National Guard companies in the spring on medical care, protecting themselves from artillery and Russian attempts to jam their communications systems.

The training would be conducted far away from the Eastern border of Ukraine, where the fighting is taking place.

In December, a medical team from U.S. Special Operations Command Europe conducted training for Ukrainian personnel on basic battlefield medical procedures.