Armed clashes in Crimea. What we know, so far. Russian federal agents say Ukraine planned a series of terrorist attacks
On August 10, Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) reported that Russian and Ukrainian armed forces clashed at the Crimean border on the night of August 7. The FSB claims that a group of men carrying explosives infiltrated Crimea, intending to organize a series of terrorist attacks that would destabilize the peninsula ahead of parliamentary elections next month. The FSB's announcement is the first confirmation of reports about a shootout near the border, which started appearing this weekend, as soon as the incident apparently took place. An FSB agent was reportedly killed on the first day of violence, and a Russian soldier is said to have died in a shootout the following day. Ukrainian officials have denied any involvement in the clashes, and Moscow and Kiev have traded allegations that the other is trying to “divert public attention” from other matters. Meduza summarizes what we know about this developing story.
The FSB has directly accused Ukraine of preparing terrorist attacks on Crimean soil. The Russian security agency says there was a skirmish outside Armyansk on the night of August 7 with a group trying to infiltrate Russian-occupied Crimea. An FSB agent died in the crossfire. Russian officials say they recovered dozens of improvised explosive devices, anti-personnel mines, grenades, and other “special weapons” found in Ukraine's armed special forces. The FSB has not said exactly how many men crossed into Crimea from Ukraine.
One of the captured organizers of the terrorists attacks has allegedly confessed. The FSB says the attacks were prepared in part by a man named Evgeny Panov, a 39-year-old intelligence officer in the Ukrainian Defense Ministry. The FSB has not revealed how it managed to apprehend Mr. Panov, though the agency's statements to the press indicate that he is not the only “raider” now in custody. Russian federal agents say they've uncovered an “intelligence network” of Ukrainian spies, and have arrested both Ukrainian and Russian citizens as a result for “assisting in the preparation of terrorist acts.” It remains unknown how many suspects are in custody, as does information about when or where they were arrested. According to unconfirmed reports by the news agency Interfax, at least three people have been apprehended. RIA Novosti says at least seven people are in custody.
The man the FSB says helped organize the terrorist plot is a member of the local government in the Ukrainian city of Enerhodar. According to Ukrainian journalists, Evgeny Panov worked as a driver for the shipping department of the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant. After the fall of the Yanukovych presidency and the instability that emerged in eastern Ukraine, he joined the country's armed forces as a volunteer. A year later, he returned home.
Information about a shootout at the Crimean border first appeared in the media on August 7, but there was no immediate official confirmation. Russia closed checkpoints along the border with Ukraine; eyewitnesses reported shooting near Armyansk (a city situated almost immediately on the border); Ukrainian officials reported that Russia was flying helicopters and at least one drone into their airspace; and locals in two cities near the border, Armyansk and Dzhanskoi, wrote on social media about a sudden accumulation of military equipment. According to reports, this may have been related to preparations for military exercises.
The battle at the Crimean border took place around 5 a.m., according to the Russian newspaper Kommersant and the Crimean publication Primechaniya. According to unverified, rather anecdotal reports by one Crimean blogger, there were roughly 20 men in the group that infiltrated from Ukraine. Some of these men, the blogger claims, were forced to retreat back into Ukraine. Russian authorities have allegedly put out an arrest warrant for five men dressed in camouflage, wearing Russian-flag insignia. It is unknown who in this group has been captured, so far. According to the newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the infiltrating group planned to detonate a series of explosions along the Simferopol-Yalta highway in an attack against a motorcade expected to be carrying Crimean and federal state officials.
The skirmish on the night of August 7 wasn't the only incident. The FSB says a “guerrilla-terrorist group” tried to break through Russia's defenses at the Crimean border the next night, on August 8, under cover fire from Ukraine. The FSB has not clarified where this incident took place, or where exactly in Ukraine it believe the cover fire originated. One Russian soldier is said to have died in the incident on August 8. According to Kommersant, this was a special forces commander in Russia's Military Intelligence Service. The newspaper also reports that another ten people were injured. The news agency Interfax says the shelling occurred outside Armyansk.
Ukrainian officials have denied any role in the incident at the Crimean border. The State Security Service in Kiev says there's no reason for Ukraine to reclaim Crimea by force, insofar as “it already belongs to Ukraine.” The Ukrainian Defense Ministry has accused Moscow of trying to distract Crimeans from “the criminal acts [by Moscow] to transform the peninsula into an isolated military base.”
Vladimir Putin has accused Ukraine of choosing terror over peace. The Russian president says Kiev is trying to provoke a conflict, in order to distract the Ukrainian people from the country's economic woes and rising poverty levels. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has responded, saying the allegations are “as senseless and cynical as claims by the Russian leadership that there are no Russian troops in eastern Ukraine.” According to Poroshenko, “these fantasies are only a pretext for [Russia's] next military threat against Ukraine.”