Kiev says Russia has 7,500 troops east of Ukraine

Pro-Russian militants fire their Kalachnikov asssault rifles near an tank taken from Ukrainian forces during fighting in August, as they test fire in an open field, in the eastern Ukrainian town of Ilovaisk on Nov 18, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP 
Pro-Russian militants fire their Kalachnikov asssault rifles near an tank taken from Ukrainian forces during fighting in August, as they test fire in an open field, in the eastern Ukrainian town of Ilovaisk on Nov 18, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP 

KIEV (AFP) - Russia has 7,500 troops in the east of Ukraine, where pro-Moscow separatists have been fighting government troops for months, Ukraine's defence minister said.

"Unfortunately, the stabilisation of the situation in the east of Ukraine does not depend only on us," Stepan Poltorak said in a statement posted on the ministry's website on Saturday.

"The presence of 7,500 representatives of Russian armed forces in Ukraine destabilises the situation and prevents us from stabilising it."

Cash-strapped Ukraine also plans to "increase the strength of the armed forces" and boost levels of arms and equipment, Poltorak added.

He pledged this would take place "in the nearest time" but did not give a more specific timeframe.

Ukraine's new coalition government declared joining Nato a priority on Friday in a move which is likely to provoke fresh anger from Russia.