Ukraine Day 907: LIVE UPDATES BELOW.
Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.
- READ OUR SPECIAL REPORT:
Suleimanov confessed to allegedly working for a Ukrainian military intelligence officer named “Pavel Nikolayevich” and found four sites for placing bombs. On TV, he appears to speak calmly and does not appear to have any cuts or bruises like the other detainee, Yevhen Panov, who was put on TV yesterday.
Televised confessions of suspects is a practice heavily frowned upon by many, as suspects may be more likely to carefully choose their words, or even their entire stories, to please their captors. As such, Suleimanov a statement, which we could assumed was made under coercion, has been translated by The Interpreter. The statement was broken up into parts throughout the broadcast — we have placed them consecutively:
“On July 30 I headed to the Simferopol Airport where I got in touch with Pavel Nikolayevich and said I was in place and that the placement had gone successfully.I heard what put me in shock. That I, Amir Karimov, together with my brothers were moving from small to big jihad. Exactly at 12:00 we were to blow up the central airport of the city of Simferopol and also the central train stations of Simferopol. Yalta and Sevastopol and the Kerch ferry.After that I went right near the airport in order to observe the actions of law-enforcement agencies.Pavel Nikolayevich told me that I should collect military information on the territory of Crimea.If on Vkontakte or Odnoklsassniki unknown persons would write me and say the main word ‘Chicago,’ that would mean that person was from him and assignments might come from him.I was also supposed to make contact with him every two or three days and write either a plus or an ‘ok’ which would mean that everything was fine with me.”
Zakhtey confessed, again presumably under coercion:
“It [the battle] was in the area of the cemetery. And there we were supposed to meet, I was supposed to pick up four people with the load with which they came. I directly fulfilled the orders of the military intelligence of Ukraine.”
Once again there was lack of clarify about exactly how many people were detained, and what their names and occupations are. Rossiya-24 said there were “several more” besides the three mentioned.
As Novaya Gazeta‘s Valery Shiryayev reports, while a soldier in the Russian Army was supposedly killed in this border clash, the Defense Ministry has had nothing to say and refuses to comment, sending all inquiries to the FSB. The Defense Ministry supposedly took part in some operation, but Shiryayev believes the story given so far is not credible.
The FSB has only had carefully leaked stories in some loyal papers.
There was some kind of shooting incident — there are the reports of a number of eyewitnesses who were waiting in line at the Armyansk checkpoint. But nothing more has been confirmed independently.
Shiryayev notes that not a single source has been able to confirm the FSB’s story:
Not a single source confirmed the organized leaks from the FSB to the press that on the Russian side, two people really were killed. There are no facts and circumstances, even indirectly proving that this is true.
The very fact of the losses doesn’t make the organizers of the counter-intelligence operation look good; the military usually try to hid losses. But now in international politics, the death of soldiers on one’s own territory really could be an effective instrument of pressure. Therefore, until the appearance of a presidential decree about the awarding of those killed in the course of the operation, I must consider this tragic fact unproved.
The Ukrainian news site Leviy Bereg (LB) has a completely different version of the incidents based on its sources.
They say there were two incidents; the first, on the night of August 6-7, involved Russian soldiers serving near the Armyansk checkpoint who opened fire on their own Russian border guards in Russian-occupied Crimea, who had sailed up to them on speedboats. The border guards at the checkpoint then fired back. As a result, one border guard was killed and four people were wounded (one soldier and three border guards). The border guards are part of the FSB; hence the story of one FSB officer killed.
Then on the night of August 7-8, Russian soldiers once again opened fire at the Armyansk checkpoint, this time on a civilian automobile headed toward Kherson Region. According to this version of the story, five Russian soldiers stopped the car of Khafiz Mukhamadov, a 23-year-old resident of the village of Suvorovo. With him in the car was his 20-year-old girlfriend. They were headed to visit relatives in Krestovka in the Chaplyn District in Kherson Region. According to sources, the soldiers, who were intoxicated, demanded that the young people supply more documents to prove their identity besides their passports. But Mukhamadov asked who were they to demand this, and refused to show them anything more.
An argument broke out, the soldiers fired on the car and after the two passengers tried to run away, the soldiers fired on them as well. Six bullets struck Mukhamadov, and his girlfriend was lightly wounded. When the soldiers realized what they had done, they fled, but three of them were later detained.
Mukhamadov is alive and came out of a coma yesterday and is in the city of Krasnoy in the hospital, under armed guard, according to LB’s sources.
Local authorities claimed Mukhamadov was carrying explosives which is why he was shot. When a group of local residents began to gather apparently to ask questions, police dispersed them.
All the checkpoints were closed August 7 supposedly due to a shootout, according to eyewitnesses who heard this claim and also heard gunfire. LB’s sources say that the incident involving Russian soldiers misbehaving accounts for everything in the FSB’s story.
While it is understandable is that the FSB might wish to conceal such examples of disorder in the ranks, it’s not clear why they would then arrest Ukrainians in connection with the incident.
So far, the FSB only says that it has arrested residents of Crimea and Russian citizens, but neither the number or the names have been released.
The narrative woven so far makes for a good morality tale from the perspective of the Kremlin: a Crimean Tatar, a patriotic Ukrainian activist and former volunteer fighter, and a Russian involved in cross-border business with Ukraine — all the kinds of people Putin wishes to discourage.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Oleh Slobodyan, an adviser to the head of the Ukrainian State Border Service (DPSU), has told the 112 television channel that Ukrainian border guards have observed increased Russian military activity in the north of occupied Crimea, near the frontier with the Ukrainian mainland.
According to Slobodyan, Russian military trucks covered with tarpaulins, armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles and troops have been deployed along the frontier.
He also reported that Russian security forces continue to illuminate the Ukrainian-controlled side of the frontier with search lights and flares are being fired at night.
However Russian heavy artillery and rocket launchers have not been observed on the administrative border, Slobodyan said, while noting that the range of rocket artillery systems could mean they are deployed further back, out of sight.
RFE/RL’s Crimean service reports, citing eyewitnesses, that the occupying Russian authorities in Crimea are conducting searches at frontier crossing points, where huge queues have again formed.
According to the report, snipers and security personnel armed with assault rifles have been deployed on the approaches to the Kalanchak and Chaplinka frontier checkpoints. More than 500 people are reportedly queued up at the latter.
Young men are reportedly being ordered to get out of their cars, remove outer layers of clothing, and are being interrogated.
Meanwhile Russian state media is reporting that one of the alleged Ukrainian “saboteurs” the FSB claims to have arrested after a fire-fight on Saturday night has confessed to planning to plant explosive devices at an airport and a bus station in Simferopol.
But new evidence analyzed by the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT), a group of Russian investigative bloggers, proves that Russia was deploying military hardware, including anti-aircraft weaponry, to the north of occupied Crimea before the FSB claims to have had clashes with Ukrainian agents on Saturday and Sunday night.
This is the first verifiable video proof we have seen of military movement towards the north of the peninsula at that time. Other videos we have analyzed show units on the move near Kerch, Feodosia and Simferopol, far from the frontier.
Movements in the south of the peninsula had been presumed by many, including some Ukrainian officials, to be involved in the preparations for the Kavkaz 2016 military exercise, with a rotation of forces planned along the frontier. But the movement of anti-aircraft systems might indeed indicate planning for a confrontation or increased threat.
Today, Russia seems to be continuing to step up its military presence on the occupied peninsula.
The Russian Ministry of Defence announced today that an advanced S-400 long-range anti-aircraft missile system has now been deployed in Crimea.
And video footage uploaded today, geolocated by Bild‘s Julian Röpcke in Voronezhskaya in Russia’s Krasnodar region, shows a train headed west towards the Kerch strait, carrying armored personnel carriers and numerous types of military truck.
One Ukrainian soldier was killed and four wounded yesterday as Kiev reports 42 attacks by Russian-backed forces in the Donbass.
Colonel Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, military spokesman for the Presidential Administration, did give any further details on the casualties during his daily briefing today.
According to this morning’s ATO Press Center report, the heaviest fighting was again seen in the south, near Mariupol.
The Ukrainian military claims that Russian-backed forces used 120 and 82 mm mortars, along with grenade launchers and heavy machine guns, to attack positions near Shirokino, where fire from infantry fighting vehicles was also reported, Vodyanoye and Pavlopol, as well as Taramchuk, on the highway to Donetsk.
Ukrainian positions near Talakovka, Starognatovka and Beryozovoye were reportedly attacked with machine guns.
In the Donetsk area, the report says that Russian-backed forces shelled positions in Avdeyevka with mortars and grenade launchers.
There was further heavy fighting near Svetlodarsk and Luganskoye, east of Gorlovka, with the military reporting 120 and 82 mm mortar attacks and the use of anti-aircraft artillery.
To the east, in the Lugansk region, the ATO Press Center reports that positions near Popasnaya were shelled with 82 mm mortars, while those near Zhyoltoye, Novoaleksandrovka and Novozvanovka were attacked with grenade launchers.
Military spokesperson Irina Baranova reported further attacks between midnight and 6:00 this morning near Zaytsevo and Vodyanoye.
Meanwhile, following Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s order yesterday for Ukrainian military forces to placed on combat alert, the leader of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), Aleksandr Zakharchenko, has today declared that his Russian-backed forces are on full alert.
Zakharchenko said that the DNR expected a Ukrainian offensive to come in three possible directions, though he they were uncertain when it would come.
Earlier today the DNR claimed that a civilian man, born in 1938, had been killed by Ukrainian shelling in the western Petrovsky district of Donetsk.
— Pierre Vaux
In the video, Panov, in the same American t-shirt he was arrested in, appears to speak calmly but his face is cut and bruised as well as his arms, raising the issue of whether he was tortured. At the end, his voice breaks as he describes his awareness of the risks involved.
The tape frequently jerks throughout, denoting stops or edits, such as at 00:19 or 3:23, and some of the statements seem rehearsed, such as when Panov says “Republic of Crimea” which is not how Ukrainian patriots would normally refer to Russian-occupied Crimea, or when he refers to the people involved by their last name first, and stumbles over the full name of the GUR, the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry. It may be that he is reading placards off-camera.
Ukrainian authorities have also made videotapes of POWs that have been uploaded to YouTube but they have not put them on state television.
Readers should keep in mind that this is a statement made under coercion. The following is a translation by The Interpreter of the audio from the video:
I served in the ATO zone from August 2014 to August 2015, in the 37th Separate Infantry Battalion which is part of the 56th Brigade. I was invited to Kiev, they explained that a group was being created to conduct sabotage actions on the territory of the Republic of Crimea.The group included staff officers of the military intelligence of Ukraine, Kirillov Aleksandrov, whose call sign was “Kirill,” a staff officer by the name of Dmitry, this is the information I more or less know. Also in the group was Petrenko, Oleg, whose call sign was “Lis” [“Fox”], Sandul, Aleksei whose call sign was “Say” [“Stiletto”] and a man with the call sign “Deshek” whose first and last name I didn’t know, and me, with the call sign “Yudzhin” [“Eugene”].The staff officers here as far as I know are Sandul, Aleksei, with the rank of lieutenant, Serdyuk, Vladimir Aleksandrovich, with the rank of captain…well…Kirillov, Alexandr and Dmitry I think were also officers but I don’t know their ranks. I went in one car with Sandul, Aleksei and in the second car, whose route was not known to me [unintelligible]. Sandul, Aleksei and I went through the city of Armyansk, Risove, then Perekop, Dzhankoy, Feodosia and Kerch in order to look for sites for sabotage. The following were determined to be sites for sabotage: [unintelligible], Feodosia, sites in Dzhankoy, the helicopter field, and the Titan Chemical Plant. After fulfilling the mission, we returned to the territory of Ukraine.On assignment from Kirillov, a cache was made in the area of the city of Armyansk and also five sets of military uniforms were brought in, modeled after Russian army uniforms.Weapons and explosives were also put in the caches. I did not take part in loading the caches as that was not my assignment.After the return from Crimea, there was a meeting with Kirillov, Aleksandr, during which Sandul, Aleksei reported on the results of the trip, and about the sites chosen for sabotage on the territory of the Republic of Crimea, for which Kirillov thanked Sandul, and I was personally paid 3,200 hryvnia (US $128).I know that a group of two parts, on August 7 and 8, with 2 or 3 people in each, with the help of boats, were dropped on the territory of the Republic of Crimea in the area of Risove. I was given the assignment to drive to Armyansk for the evacuation of some of the group after the assignment was fulfilled. And I was detained by Russian officers.As far as I know, this operation was planned by the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine, of the Ministry of Defense, with the help of staff officers and military officers whom I previously named.I was aware of the risk of this activity, but according to my information, a breakthrough had to be made in the military armor of the Russian Federation, of course the risk was great that people would be killed
Ukraine has opened up a case of abduction for Panov, even as Russia is accusing him of being part of a plan to “sabotage” of critical infrastructure.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick