Russia Accuses Ukraine Of Attempting Terrorist Attack In Crimea As Tensions Mount

August 10, 2016
Map of Ukraine highlighting Russian-occupied Crimea | RFE/RL

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Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.


An Invasion By Any Other Name: The Kremlin’s Dirty War in Ukraine


CIT Identifies FSB Detainee as Former ATO Soldier Panov Apprehended in Alleged Crimean Border Clash

The Russian non-governmental Conflict Intelligence Team has found a picture of former ATO soldier Yevgeny Panov on Facebook posted last year by volunteer Lidiyia Epikhina which appears to match the photo of the suspected named Panov issued by the FSB.

Panov is third from the left.

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The FSB said in a statement that Panov was arrested on the night of August 6-7. As we reported, his friends and local media say he has been missing for the last 3 days.

Today Vesti, a program of Russian state TV channel Rossiya 24, published a video and screenshots released by the FSB in occupied Crimea showing masked FSB agents taking away Panov. His face appears to show cuts and bruises. His arms also appear to have a number of cuts and scratches.

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The screen shots also show improvised explosive devices.

CIT also analyzed the FSB statement that Panov was arrested on the night of August 6-7. As we reported, his friends and local media say he has been missing for the last 3 days, which could account for the detention by the FSB on August 6-7.

CIT points out that the FSB mentioned two attacks at the Artyomsk crossing of the Crimean border. The first, on the night of August 6-7 appears to be corroborated because witnesses reported on social media and in local press about hearing gunfire in that area as they waited in a line to cross. Ukrainian border guards even told them to get back in their cars and turn off any lights.

But there are no such social media reports for the night of August 7-8, putting into question whether the second clash, in which Ukrainian forces were said to be involved, even occurred — or whether either of them occurred as claimed.

CIT also points out that the Internet was shut off from August 8-9 in Armyansk and Krasnoperekopsk, which may account for the lack of reports. Even so, on August 10, when the Internet was turned back on, there were no local reports of the incident that supposedly took place.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Two Children Wounded in Fighting In Maryinka
Two children have been wounded in fighting between Russian-backed forces and the Ukrainian army in Maryinka, has reported.

Translation: Maryinka under fire, children wounded.

Maryinka [Mar’inka], a town about 30 kilometers to the southwest of Donetsk, is held by Ukrainian forces and is frequently under attack by Russian-backed militants. 

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Children ages 8 and 13 were wounded from shrapnel when a shell directly hit their home. They were taken to the hospital in Kurakhovo.
Militants opened fired about 17:00, and Lenina Street fell under fire, including the home where the children were playing in a room.

Police have come to the scene and have reported that three other residences in Maryinka were struck by shells and damaged, but there were no other reports of injuries.

Two hours ago,  the boom of artillery was still heard in Maryinka and reported on social media:

Translation: VK #Krasnogorovka “20:20 booms heard” #Maryinka “20:34 – without change. Booming, bullets are flying.”

But now it appears to be quiet. 

Translation: For now, there is total silence #Maryinka 22:53.

Last week as we reported, separatist forces attempted to take Maryinka but were repelled by the Ukrainian army.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Seven Arrested in Connection with Crimean Border Incident; One is Missing Ukrainian ATO Soldier Panov
Novaya Gazeta reports that seven people alleged to have taken part on the border incursion in Crimea have been arrested, according to RIA Novosti.

“Seven people have been detained, including the coordinators from Crimea — the local agents’ network,” a source told Interfax — which says only 3 people were detained.

RIA Novosti said that the “agents’ network” related to the alleged border incursion was “liquidated.” 

Reports of the group said to be at large that circulated before the FSB announcement today variously stated four or five armed men in camouflage.
Interfax said the three people detained, headed by the Ukrainian citizen Yevgeny Panov, were laying explosives and anti-tank mines.
All of those detained are being held in Russian-occupied Crimea, and have not yet been charged. They are still being interrogated. 

Meanwhile, Open Russia reports, citing the Ukrainian news site Vesti, that Panov really has been arrested.

Translation: Ukrainian Vesti has found acquaintances of the “GRU agent” Panov. They said he is an ATO veteran, but was never at all connected with the special services [intelligence].

The FSB named only one person detained, Yevgeny Aleksandrovich Panov, born 1977, but provided no details.

According to Vesti, acquaintances of a man by the exact same name who lived in Energodar in Zaporozhgia said he was missing. He was said to be a pro-Ukrainian activist, a volunteer and a veteran of the ATO. His friends say he was an ardent Ukrainian patriot and went to the front because as a nuclear power plant worker he had “armor” from the army. When he came back from the front, he was involved in veterans’ organizations and was in the Energodar self-defense group.

Yaroslav Derkach, deputy head of the Energodar veteran’s organization said:

“Unfortunately, the information has been confirmed that he was arrested. But no one among us knew this — neither his mother or wife. Only a week ago, he was at work. For us, it’s a mystery how he ended up there, what the group of people was, what purpose they had — we are asking each other questions.”

He said Panov had not been able to be reached for three days. There was a story that he was going into a military hospital in Zaporozhia, which is why he was not in town.

Panov founded a local civic organization uniting local ATO soldiers and volunteers. He had served in the 37th Zaporozhia batallion, and was really involved in reconnaissance, said friends, but was only an ordinary soldier, “not a super spetsnaz,” as a friend put it. He left the armed service in August 2015 and worked at the nuclear power plant as a bus driver.

Panov’s account on VKontakte shows that someone logged in this morning. The page is said to be sparse, with only a few groups, including the ultranationalist Right Sector, and some patriotic videos.

 — Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Clues of a Border Incident in Crimea — or FSB Staged Provocations and Disinformation?

The Russian government has accused Ukraine of conducting attacks against Russian soldiers and agents in Crimea, but it remains to be seen whether or not there really was a corresponding incident reported on the days in question.

Aric Toler of Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Lab has published some of the signs and rumors of an impending clash in Crimea.

As Toler writes, some of the reports emerged after the FSB officially announced the “foiled terrorist attacks,” saying that “20 people were seen in Armyansk” near the border between Russian-occupied Crimea and Ukraine on August 6, with weapons and explosives, wearing Russian military uniforms.

A pro-Russian “independent expert” claimed back on August 8 that Ukraine had killed three Russian soldiers in the area, Toler notes.

Curiously for such major sightings and a supposed armed clash, there were no other reports on all the standard social media platforms in the region like VKontakte, Odnoklassniki, nor on Twitter.

Toler cites an image of an unusual flyer claimed to be distributed by the Novokrymsky Rural Settlement Administration. The flyer says four persons dressed in green camouflage with diamond chevrons and the Russian flag are being sought in connection with a “serious crime”. One of the suspects was a brunette, the other had dark hair, and all were said to be “of Slavic appearance.” The implication was that they could be saboteurs.

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He also writes:

Over the following two days, a deluge of photographs and videos appeared online documenting the movement of other military vehicles, including the Bastion-P mobile coastal defense missile system, moving through Crimea towards Simferopol. 

Read more here:

RFE/RL’s Crimean Service Krym.Realii reported on August 8 that local residents were reporting unusual activity by Russian military. A resident of Russian-occupied Sevastopol said checkpoints with the Berkut security police had been set up and documents were being checked but it seemed to be a show — if someone didn’t have their ID with them, they were let through the checkpoints anyway.

Как перебраться через админграницу с Крымом, и кого на полуострове ищут местные силовики

Details… →

Aug 10, 2016 22:38 (GMT)

Rumors were circulating about “a group of Ukrainian saboteurs,” to the point where Vladislav Seleznev, a spokesman for the Ukrainian General Staff, made a statement of rebuttal, calling the stories “a provocation.” He said Ukrainian troops were in their usual places of deployment.

Russian customs authorities announced that the Armyansk border crossing was closed, while Perekop and Dzhankoy were left open.

A Krym.Realii correspondent reported that people crossing the border into Crimea heard gunfire on the night of August 7 from the hours of 8-11 pm. They said Ukrainian border authorities then asked everyone waiting in line to cross to get back into their cars and turn off all lights. People said they saw several signal rockets in the sky. He emphasized that there were only rumors at that point, and that some people at the scene refused to talk.

Then a notice to Russian forces in Crimea began to circulate on social media. This notice, said to be signed by  Sergei Abisov, head of the Interior Ministry, said five (not four) armed men were being sought wearing Russian military uniforms in the area of Armyansk. But it was thought this notice could be part of exercises.

Mikhail Samus, a Ukrainian military expert, said that these signs appeared to be preparation to exercises titled “Caucasus 2016” which are to take place in the South Federal District in September. He said that offensive operations in the direction of Ukraine would be tested. “We know that now Russians are increasing military groups around our country, so they may attack at any moment,” he said.

That was all back on August 8. Adding to the alarm were the sightings of Russian military convoys that same day:

Krym.Realii uploaded a video of the social media sightings of Russian convoys they had collected.

The Crimean Human Rights group uploaded a video they said was a Russian military convoy going through Kerch. The video was uploaded on August 7 at 11:33 UTC, but the title of the video suggests that it was filmed on August 6. The Russian government says that Ukrainian agents attempted to conduct a terrorist attack (on the night of August 6-7) so the timing of this video is important. 

A reverse-image search of frames from the video returns a post to the Russian social network Vkontakte (VK) on August 7, at 11:08 AM, with this description (translated by The Interpreter):

According to reports from eyewitnesses, on August 6 at the train station there was an entire train with military armor, reported, citing the Crimean Human Rights Group.

That same night a large column of Russian military vehicles passed through residential districts at the exit from the city.

The photo and video were made at the Kerch railroad station on August 6 in the evening and at the exit from Kerch.

Another video posted on Twitter also reported a convoy running through Kerch. Text on the video uploaded to YouTube said the convoy was “headed to the ferry” but there was no evidence that it was headed toward Dzhankoy, and the direction of the armor in the video is inland.

We geolocated the video from the signs on a green building passed by the armored vehicles and local information about ship repair facilities.

Керчь БТРы в сторону переправы день второй…

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Aug 10, 2016 22:44 (GMT)

The same location can be seen on Yandex street view here.

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This video says “Kerch BTRS Headed Toward Ferry.”

This video is labelled “Russian Bastions Taken to Starokrymsky Training Range,” Bastions meaning the Bastion-P costal defense missile system, a formidable weapons system designed to sink surface ships.

It shows a column of support, diggers, fuel, signals, and BTRs heading to a training range which is west of Feodosia.  

There does appear to be Bastion missiles in this video and radars in both these last two videos. This screen grab from the video can be compared to images of the Bastion P system posted to the Army Recognition website.

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What appears to be the radar truck for the Bastion P coastal missile system:

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This video posted on Twitter reportedly came from an area near the Kerch ferry, and showed MTLB’s being ferried. 

A photo also showed armored vehicles at a train station with the sign “Kerch”.

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It was not clear why Russia was amassing the military hardware if the purpose was invasion, as the armor would have to cross the Strait of Kerch and there are easier routes for such an attack. But we reasoned that it could be posturing or a decoy for an offensive elsewhere. Fighting has been heavier than usual in the Donbass.

Another troubling report came from a Sevastopol maritime news site, Meridian.

According to that report, the Russian military was taking submarines out of their berths in Sevastopol and blocking the channel. The local administration announced that regular passenger boat traffic was halted from 10:00 am to 13:00 on August 9 and military exercises were announced.

Later an official told journalists that not all the channel was closed, only the route from Artbukhta to Radiogorka. Meridian said they were unable to get any commentary from the military as to where the submarines were going or what their purpose was.

At a time like this when there are lots of alarming reports and numerous rumors amplified on social media, every action by the Russian military begins to loom up as a possible sign of an invasion of Ukraine.

A blogger wrote of the alarm of citizens in the naval town of Severomorsk which was covered for 3 days in smoke. 

RIA Novosti reported that these were military exercises to defend against chemical warfare.

So in conclusion, it appears that some incident occurred on the border, but the extent of it, whether it was an exercise or a battle, or whether it was staged or not, are not known. 

Now Kommersant is citing a military source that in addition to two soldiers being killed in the border clash, 10 soldiers were wounded. Kommersant noted that they could not obtain official confirmation of the WIA.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick, Pierre Vaux, James Miller

Putin Likely to Pull Out of September Normandy Quartet Talks on Ukraine, Calling Them ‘Pointless’
President Vladimir Putin has announced that the planned meeting of the “Normandy Quartet” which is supposed to take place in China  in early September “doesn’t have any point” after the incident on the border between Ukraine and Russian-occupied Crimea, Novaya Gazeta reports, citing TASS.

Putin’s statement has raised the possibility that he is likely to pull out of the talks on the war in Ukraine.

The “Normandy Quartet” is the group formed during the marking of the anniversary of the invasion of Normandy by the presidents of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine. The meeting was to take place on the margins of the Group of 20 summit on September 4-5 in Beijing.
Putin has vowed to take “additional serious measures to ensure security on the peninsula” and “Moscow will not leave without a response to the murder of its soldiers by saboteurs from Ukraine,” reported TASS which quoted Putin as saying:

“Judging from everything, the people who seized power in Kiev and continue to hold on to it instead of a search for compromises, instead of searching for a means of a peaceful settlement, have moved to the practice of terror.”
Putin called “stupid and criminal” the alleged border incursion by Ukrainian forces in which two Russian soldiers were killed, TASS reported.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Putin Accuses Ukraine of Moving to ‘Practice of Terror’; Vows Retaliation

President Vladimir Putin has responded to the alleged firefight on the Ukrainian border this week in which one FSB officer was reportedly killed. He accused Ukraine of moving to “the practice of terror” and vowed revenge, TV Rain reports, citing Interfax.

As we reported, an FSB agent and a Russian soldier were reportedly killed in firefights on two successive nights this past weekend. 

Translation: URGENT: Putin accuses Ukraine of moving to ‘practice of terror.’

In a series of short news briefs in all capital letters, RIA Novosti quoted Putin’s reaction to the alleged incident after the FSB’s statement; his pledge of retaliation and his call on the West to influence Kiev:

“Kiev is not searching for paths to negotiations, but is moving to terror.”

“From the Russian side, during the course of preventing terrorist attacks in Crimea, two soldiers died, we cannot pass this by.”

“Europe and the USA must take concrete steps to influence the Kiev authorities.”

Ukraine has denied the Russian claim of a border incursion.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 
Russian Intelligence Statement on Firefight on Ukrainian Border

The following is a full translation of the news brief published today August 10 on the web site of the Federal Security Service (FSB) about an alleged attempt by Ukrainian military intelligence (GUR) to attack the border of Russian-occupied Crimea.

Note: the Russian word obstrel used in the 5th paragraph can mean either shelling or gunfire, but since armored vehicles were noted, we have translated it as “shelling” in this instance. 

FSB of Russia Prevents Commission of Terrorist Acts in the Republic of Crimea, Prepared by the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine
The Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation has prevented the commission in the Republic of Crimea of terrorist acts prepared by the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, the objectives of which were critically-important elements of the peninsula’s infrastructure and life support.
The aim of the sabotage and terrorist acts is the destabilization of the social-poitical situation in the region during the period of the preparation of elections to federal and regional governmental bodies [September 18–The Interpreter].
As a result of operational search activities on the night of August 6-7, 2016 in the area of the town of Armyansk of the Republic of Crimea, a group of saboteurs were detected. During the arrest of the terrorists, a Russian FSB officer was killed as a result of gunfire contact. At the site of the armed clash the following were discovered: 20 improvised explosive devices with a combined power of more than 40 kilograms of TNT equivalent; ammunition and special detonators; staff anti-personnel and magnetic mines; and also grenades and special weapons in the arsenal of the special forces divisions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
Due to the measures taken on the territory of the peninsula of the Crimea, the agents’ network of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Defense Ministry (GUR MO) of the Ukrainian Armed Forces was liquidated. Citizens of Ukraine and the Russian Federation were detained who had provided assistance in the preparation of the terrorist acts, who are making confessions of admission. One of the organizers of the prevented terrorist acts is Yevgeny Aleksandrovich Panov, born 1977, resident of Zaporozhia Region, an officer of the GUR MO of Ukraine who was also detained and is making confessions.
On the night of August 8, 2016, diversionary terrorist groups of the special forces divisions of the Defense Ministry of Ukraine undertook two incursion attempts which were prevented with force from divisions of the FSB of Russia and cooperating agencies. The attempts to make a breakthrough were covered by massive shelling from the side of the adjacent state and the armored vehicles of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. In the course of the firefight, one soldier of the Russian Federation Defense Ministry was killed.
On the basis of the results of the operational search and combat activities, a criminal case has been opened by the investigative department of the Russian FSB Directorate for the Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol. Additional operational and investigative activities are being conducted.

Additional security measures are being taken in places of people’s mass stay and vacation, and also guarding of facilities of critically important infrastructure and life support. The border regimen on the border with Ukraine has been reinforced.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Ukraine Says It Will Not “Return Territory By Force” – Denies Special Forces Launched Attack In Crimea

Yuriy Tandit, adviser to the head of the Ukrainian State Security Services (SBU), told Interfax-Ukraine that Ukraine did not conduct an incursion into Crimea. According to Tandit, “Ukraine is not going to return territory by force.”

Translation by The Interpreter.

Pierre Vaux

Ukraine Denies Russian Allegations That Ukraine Sent Special Forces To Crimea

Ukraine has denied the allegation that the Ukrainian military attempted to conduct a terrorist attack in Crimea. According to Reuters, a Ukrainian defense intelligence spokesperson told Reuters, “this is fake information.”

This is breaking news. Stay here for live updates.

James Miller

Russia Accuses Ukraine Of Attempting A Terrorist Attack In Crimea
Today, the Russian FSB, the successor organization to the KGB, declared that they had prevented terrorist attacks in Crimea over the weekend.
According to the security service, an FSB agent was killed in a fire fight with saboteurs near Armyansk, in northern Crimea (map), on Saturday night. Several Russian and Ukrainian citizens were, the report claims, arrested, and a cache of explosives and weapons was discovered.
The FSB claims that some of the weaponry, which included magnetic mines, belongs to special forces units of the Ukrainian armed forces. A Ukrainian citizen from Zaporizhia, one Yevgeny Pavlov, allegedly an agent of Ukraine’s GUR, the intelligence agency of the Ministry of Defence, was detained and is supposedly confessing all to his captors.
On the following night, the FSB claims that Ukrainian special forces made two attempts to cross the frontier, under cover of “massive fire” from Ukrainian troops and armored vehicles. A Russian soldier was reportedly killed.
This follows several days of increased tension between the two countries, as Russian troops have reportedly mobilized and Ukraine has warned that a Russian military operation was imminent: 
Pierre Vaux, James Miller