Russia has accused Ukraine of trying to sneak armed saboteurs into Crimea, a charge Ukraine rejects as Russian propaganda and possibly a pretext for a larger Russian military operation against them.
Russia’s FSB intelligence agency claims there were two Ukraine attempts at armed incursion into Crimea, in which a Russian soldier and an employee of the FSB were killed, according to a BBC report.
“Russian intelligence also said it had smashed a Ukraine military intelligence network in Crimea and detained a number of people. They included a Ukrainian national named as Yevhen Panov, who is described by Russian sources as a Ukrainian military intelligence officer,” the BBC adds.
To support these claims, Russian state television has been displaying photos provided by the FSB of rucksacks filled with explosives, allegedly intended for terrorist attacks by Ukrainian “saboteurs.”
“The aim of this subversive activity and terrorist acts was to destabilise the socio-political situation in the region ahead of preparations and the holding of elections,” said the FSB, as quoted by First Post.
The Ukrainian government denied, and denounced, Russia’s accusations in the strongest terms.
“This is fake information,” said a spokesman for Ukrainian military intelligence, while the Defense Ministry charged that the FSB was attempting to justify “acts of aggression” against Ukraine.
“Representatives of the Russian special services are trying to divert the attention of the local population and the international community from criminal acts to transform the peninsula into an isolated military base,” the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said of Russia’s agenda in Crimea.
“Under a made up pretext, the Kremlin is undertaking another hybrid special operation with the aim to justify its future aggressive actions against Ukraine,” said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, dismissing Russia’s allegations of sabotage as a “completely groundless, Kremlin-manufactured provocation.”
“Concentration of Russian weaponry, armaments and military forces in the temporarily occupied territories in Crimea and Donbas as well as along the Ukrainian-Russian border is a cause of particular concern. This situation signals an imminent threat to the peace and stability not only in Ukraine but also in the entire region. The occupying power does not limit itself to daily shellings in Donbas but also uses staged sabotage acts in Crimea in an attempt to shift responsibility for its own destructive actions on Ukraine and on our partners,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs charged.
The Ministry urged the international community to pressure Russia to “prevent a new round of aggression against Ukraine and the ultimate disruption of the Minsk peace process by the Kremlin.”
Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko called Russia’s accusations of terrorism against his country as “cynical and insane as its claims there is no Russian troops in eastern Ukraine.”
“Ukraine resolutely condemns terrorism in all its forms and shapes. We would never ever use terror to de-occupy Crimea,” said Poroshenko. “Russia provides money and arms to support terrorism in Ukraine. It became a state-led policy on the occupied areas of Crimea and eastern Ukraine that resembles the Soviet Great Terror.”
“Russia will fail to undermine Ukraine’s reputation on the international arena and press for lifting sanctions with such provocative acts,” Poroshenko declared, saying that he expects Russia to honor international law and respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. He also reaffirmed Ukraine’s commitment to the “de-occupation of Crimea.”
The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that Poroshenko has ordered his units along the Crimean frontier and in eastern Ukraine to “increased combat readiness” after meeting with security advisers.
Kiev is also launching a criminal proceeding concerning the “possible abduction” of Yevhen Panov, who has been named by the FSB as one of the attempted saboteurs and has been seen “in handcuffs and with abrasions on his face” in Russian TV broadcasts.
Putin also met with his security council on Thursday to discuss “antiterrorist security scenarios at the land border, sea, and in the airspace of Crimea.”
The WSJ reports that Russia’s Black Fleet will “conduct training exercises in the eastern Mediterranean starting next week, including drills to test the fleet’s ability to deal with threats ‘of a terrorist nature.'”
In another ominous sign, Putin has evidently canceled a meeting between Russian, Ukrainian, German, and French foreign ministers, scheduled for September, to discuss a resolution to the ongoing battles between Ukrainian forces and Moscow-backed separatists, which have already claimed almost 10,000 lives.
Both the United States and the European Union have said they see nothing to corroborate Russian claims of a Ukrainian incursion into Crimea. U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt added that “Russia has a record of frequently levying false accusations at Ukraine to deflect attention from its own illegal actions.”
The U.S. and E.U. have both imposed sanctions against Russia for its 2014 annexation of Crimea.
The New York Times on Thursday quoted a NATO official who said the alliance was “deeply concerned by rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine, and is monitoring the situation closely.”