print
memri
August 12, 2016 No.
6573

An Overview Of The Rising Tensions In Russian-Ukrainian Relations

Serious tensions arose this week in Russian-Ukrainian relations. On August 7, 2016, the Russian security service FSB reported that it had thwarted a terror attack in the Crimean Peninsula. According to the FSB, two groups of Ukrainian agents infiltrated into Crimean territory with the aim of launching terror attacks at tourist sites, to disrupt the "social-political situation" ahead of upcoming elections. According to the reports, in two separate shooting incidents between FSB officers and alleged terrorists, an FSB officer and a Russian paratrooper were killed, and others were wounded. Two infiltrators were also reportedly killed. The FSB reported that the alleged terrorists had in their possession high explosives, firearms, grenades, and more. During the interception, the Ukrainian side reportedly fired artillery rounds from Ukrainian territory into Crimea. The FSB is accusing the Ukrainian Defense Ministry and Intelligence Directorate in the attacks. The newspaper Kommersant, citing a source close to the investigation, reported that the infiltrators planned small-scale attacks on tourist infrastructure with no intention to kill people or assassinate Crimean government figures. In an official statement quoted by Kommersant, the FSB announced that it had uncovered additional Ukrainian clandestine intelligence networks in Crimea, that included Ukrainian and Russian citizens.[1] According to other sources, such as the Russian government daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta the infiltrators had planned to detonate IEDs on the Simferopol-Yalta highway as local and federal officials passed through.[2] The Russian news agency Interfax reported that the main targets of the attacks might have included critical civilian infrastructure.[3] According to the Ukrainian Border Guard, the Russian side has been reinforcing its military presence along the Crimea-Ukraine border since August 7, including deploying additional troops prior to the Caucasus 2016 military exercise scheduled for September 5-10.[4] Meanwhile, following a special meeting of the Ukrainian Security Council, Ukraine announced a state of high military alert along its borders with Crimea and in the Donbass region; a state of high military alert means that Ukrainian troops are ready for immediate combat.[5]

On August 11, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) discussed the growing Ukraine-Russia tensions in a closed-door meeting. Prior to the meeting, which was convened at the request of Ukraine, Russia's permanent UN representative Vitaly Churkin said that he was surprised that Ukraine had approached the UNSC with this issue: "It was a clear act of sabotage and terror. That's why I'm surprised that they (Ukraine) are raising this issue before the UNSC. Don't engage in sabotage and terrorism - that's my advice for my Ukrainian colleague."[6] Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey R. Pyatt stressed that Ukraine is not involved in any act of terrorism, tweeting: "The US government did not see any proof of the Russian accusations regarding 'invasion of Crimea,' Ukraine confidently denies that. This is not the first false allegation made by Russia in order to divert opinion from its own unlawful actions."[7]

 
Russian security forces (Source: Kommersant.ru, August 11, 2016) 

Putin: "It Is Now Clear To All That The Authorities In Kiev Today Are... Resorting To Terror"

Russian President Vladimir Putin said, during a press conference with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, that under the circumstances he sees no sense in having another meeting of the so-called Normandy Four group, which comprises Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany, to resolve the Ukrainian crisis in the near future. He said: "Judging by the situation, those who seized power in Kiev back then and still hold it now are not seeking the sort of compromise solutions I spoke of with regard to the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement process, and instead of working towards a peaceful solution have decided to turn to terror." He added that in his view Ukraine had resorted to terror and thus has no intention of resolving the situation: "I would like to appeal to our American and European partners too. I think it is now clear to all that the authorities in Kiev today are not looking for a solution to the problem through negotiations, but are resorting to terror." Putin took the West to task for failing to exert pressure on Ukraine: "This attempt to provoke a flare-up of violence and spark a conflict is nothing but than a desire to divert public opinion at home from those who seized power in Kiev and who continue to hold it and to rob their own people in order to remain in power as long as they can and create conditions for continuing to rob their people. This was an act committed by low and base means, and it is a very dangerous game. Most important of all, those who support the current authorities in Kiev must decide just want they want. Do they want their clients to continue carrying out provocations of this kind, or do they want to genuinely reach a peaceful settlement? If they do want this, and I very much hope they do, it is time to finally take some real steps to put the needed pressure on the current authorities in Kiev."[8]

Senator Sergey Zekov, representing Crimea in the Russian Federation Council, said regarding Putin's decision to cancel the upcoming Normandy Four meeting: "This is an absolutely logical step. Ukraine has for a long time merely utilized this format in order to postpone the decisions and do whatever it wants. I do not rule out the possibility that other countries utilize this platform in order to serve their own interests."  

Russian Foreign Ministry's Statement: "Attempts To Destabilize The Situation In Russian Crimea Are Doomed To Fail'

In an official statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry stated that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was constantly touting the "unconditional support from the U.S., NATO, and the European Union" in his "fight to return annexed Crimea." The Foreign Ministry added: "The West's willingness to play along with this rhetoric undoubtedly played a role in the Ukrainian leadership's criminal decision to attempt an armed provocation in Russian Crimea. If the commander in chief of Ukraine's armed forces was involved in these decisions, he will have driven the final nail in the coffin of the peace process. If these decisions were taken without his knowledge, then it is even worse. Kiev's inaction in the face of growing militaristic rhetoric and violent acts planned and executed by so-called volunteer battalions and other extremists is cause for grave concern. We hope that Western capitals will draw the appropriate conclusions. Attempts to destabilize the situation in Russian Crimea are doomed to fail. Russia unconditionally guarantees Crimea's stability and security. Kiev and its foreign backers should know that any harm to Russia or the deaths of Russian personnel will not go unanswered." (See Appendix.)

Senator Konstantin Kosachev, chair of the Federation Council's International Affairs Committee, commented: "It becomes increasingly obvious - Ukraine consistently wagers on violent scenarios in order to rupture any political processes set up under the Minsk agreements and thus destabilizes the situation. A very great deal depends on the political fairness and objectivity of France, Germany, and other Western states, who must stop playing political games and start helping peaceful settlement in northeast Ukraine. For that to happen, consistent and tough pressure should be exerted against Ukraine's government, and not against Russia's."[9]  

Ukraine Officially Denies Russia's Allegations; Poroshenko: "We Would Never, Ever Use Terror To De-Occupy Crimea"

Ukraine has officially denied the allegations, including the report that its Defense Ministry and Intelligence Directorate planned the attack and that one of the individuals arrested works for the Defense Ministry. On August 10, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko issued a special statement on the issue: "The Russian accusations that Ukraine launched terror attacks in the occupied Crimea are equally cynical and insane, as are its claims that there are no Russian troops in eastern Ukraine. These fantasies pursue the only goal: a pretext for more military threats against Ukraine. Ukraine resolutely condemns terrorism in all its forms and shapes. We would never, ever use terror to de-occupy Crimea. 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."[10]

Mikhail Saakashvili, Georgia's former president and governor of the Ukrainian Odessa region, said: "The FSB version - that official organ of lies. They count on the Western weakness, since the West is inclined to adopt the middle position. In Russia there is no truth, they think they can convert every lie into a truth, which is what they are doing, that's why it is not serious to try to comment on this."[11]

Ukrainian Col. Aleksander Motuzyanik, a spokesman for the presidential administration for Anti-Terror Operations in Eastern Ukraine, also commented on the issue, stating: "Ukraine did not commit any military provocation in that region; no Intelligence directorate operative has been arrested in Crimea." He added: "The Kremlin-issued statements are intended to discredit Ukraine and to bring about the collapse of the Minsk agreements as well as to escalate the conflict in the Eastern Ukraine."[12]

Ukrainian General Staff spokesman Vladislav Seleznev also denied that any military unit was involved in the incident.[13]  

Crimean Officials' Reactions: Crimean PM Accused U.S. State Department Of Planning The Attack On Crimea

Crimean Prime Minister Sergey Aksenov said that the alleged terrorists should be executed: "I think we should do to them exactly the same thing that farmers do to crows who plunder the crops. They [the farmers] kill them and hang their bodies along the borders, in order to teach others a lesson - so that they [the perpetrators] know that no one is allowed to threaten the life of the civilians and the military and that there will be an appropriate reaction."[14]

Moreover, in an interview with Rossiya 24 TV, Aksenov accused the U.S. State Department of planning the attack on Crimea: "You see what path they [the Ukrainian authorities] have chosen - the path of terror; [this is] the same path they have practiced on their own citizens and now are trying to export abroad. But I'm sure it's not their own actions and messages - the State Department stands behind them, since Ukrainian authorities do not have the guts to do this on their own."[15]     

Crimean authorities have called for excluding Ukraine from the UN and OSCE. Deputy Prime Minister of Crimea Ruslan Balbek said: "We call on all civilized countries to adopt a common position and not only condemn the Ukrainian authorities but immediately exclude Ukraine from the UN and OSCE since those organizations are called upon to provide world security rather than resort to aggression against a civilian population, which is exactly what the Ukrainian authorities are doing."[16]  

APPENDIX - STATEMENT BY RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY (Mid.ru, August 11, 2016)

"Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) has disrupted a plot to carry out terrorist attacks in the Republic of Crimea. The attacks, planned by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry's Chief Intelligence Directorate, targeted critical infrastructure and facilities in Crimea. Russia's intelligence services take the view that these planned acts of sabotage and terrorism were intended to destabilize the socio-political situation in the region in the run-up to federal and regional elections.

"A group of saboteurs were apprehended near the town of Armyansk on the night of August 6. An FSB officer was shot and killed in the process of apprehending the terrorists. Explosive devices with a total charge of more than 40 kilograms of TNT, munitions, grenades, land mines and other weapons were found at the scene. Ukrainian Defense Ministry special units made two further attempts to infiltrate Crimean territory in the early hours of August 8, but the groups of saboteurs and terrorists were intercepted by the FSB and other Russian forces. These attempts to infiltrate Crimea took place under cover from armored equipment and massive fire by Ukrainian armed forces from inside Ukrainian territory. One Russian Defense Ministry serviceman was killed as a result.

"Russia has now taken action to dismantle the Ukrainian Defense Ministry Chief Intelligence Directorate's network of agents in Crimea and have detained Ukrainian and Russian citizens who aided in the preparation of these terrorist attacks. The detained individuals include Yevgeny Panov and Andrey Zakhtey. All of them have admitted their involvement and are giving a confession.

"We have repeatedly brought to our partners' attention that the current authorities in Kiev have no real interest in searching for a peaceful solution to the problems in Ukraine, are not ready to compromise, and intend to resolve issues that arise through the use of force, including terrorism now. 

"The attempts to enter Crimea unlawfully, the recent attempt on the life of Head of the Lugansk People's Republic Igor Plotnitsky, the constant firing along the line of contact in Donbass, and the actions of radical nationalists and so-called 'activists' from around Ukraine that go beyond the bounds of any lawful framework are a vivid illustration of the state of affairs in Ukraine today. The numerous provocations, efforts to portray Moscow as the enemy, and the deliberate cultivation of anti-Russian sentiments are an attempt by the Ukrainian government to distract the public from the country's own troubles and the problems affecting the majority of people in Ukraine. We see a deliberate effort to divert public attention from the actions and responsibility of those in power and their inability to carry out long overdue reforms and conduct an honest investigation into the murders of journalists and human rights activists and the crimes committed in 2014 during the Maidan protests, in Odessa, Mariupol, and other cities.

"Ukraine's government makes loud declarations in a bid to deny what is evident and pass responsibility for its own actions to others, even the UN Security Council - anything to avoid taking meaningful steps to normalize the situation.

"We call on our partners, whose efforts play a large part in keeping the current regime in Kiev in power, to show common sense and finally get their Ukrainian wards to end their constant provocations and fulfill their obligations in accordance with Minsk Agreements on a political settlement in Ukraine.

"Mr. Poroshenko constantly touts the 'unconditional support from the U.S., NATO, and the European Union" in his "fight to return annexed Crimea.' The West's willingness to play along with this rhetoric undoubtedly played a role in the Ukrainian leadership's criminal decision to attempt an armed provocation in Russian Crimea. If the commander in chief of Ukraine's armed forces was involved in these decisions, he will have driven the final nail in the coffin of the peace process. If these decisions were taken without his knowing, then it is even worse. Kiev's inaction in the face of growing militaristic rhetoric and violent acts planned and executed by so-called volunteer battalions and other extremists is cause for grave concern.

"We hope that Western capitals will draw the appropriate conclusions.

"Attempts to destabilize the situation in Russian Crimea are doomed to fail. Russia unconditionally guarantees Crimea's stability and security.

"Kiev and its foreign backers should know that any harm to Russia or the deaths of Russian personnel will not go unanswered.

"As President Vladimir Putin noted on August 10, given the current situation and until we see real positive steps from Kiev, like renouncing terror and provocations, it makes little sense to hold Normandy format meetings, like the Beijing meeting in early September requested by Mr. Poroshenko recently.

"Once again, we call on our partners to use their influence with Kiev to dissuade the government from taking any dangerous steps that could have grave consequences. Playing with fire is dangerous."


Endnotes:

[1] Kommersant.ru, August 11, 2016.

[2] Rg.ru, August 10, 2016.

[3] Interfax.ru, August 10, 2016.

[4] Pravda.com.ua, August 11, 2016.

[5] Risa.ru, August 11, 2016.

[6] Ria.ru, August 11, 2016.

[7] Twitter.com/GeoffPyatt, August 10, 2016.

[8] Kremlin.ru, August 10, 2016.

[9] Ria.ru, August 11, 2016.

[10] President.gov.ua, August 10, 2016.

[11] Gazeta.ru, August 11, 2016.

[12] Pravda.com.ua, August 10, 2016.

[13] Rus.newsru.ua, August 7, 2016.

[14] Ria.ru, August 11, 2016.

[15] Vesti.ru, August 11, 2016.

[16] Ria.ru, August 11, 2016.