August 2016 – UKRAINE – Countless omens signal a new war on its way, from troop movements to Russia’s “August Curse.” But this time they may be more smoke than fire. On Wednesday the FSB, the successor organization to the KGB, declared that it had prevented “terrorist attacks” in Crimea over the weekend. According to the security service, an FSB agent was killed in a firefight with saboteurs on Saturday night near Russian-occupied Armyansk, a town close to the frontier with mainland Ukraine. Several Russian and Ukrainian citizens were arrested, the report claims, and a cache of explosives and weapons was discovered.
According to the FSB, some of the weaponry, which included improvised explosive devices and magnetic mines, belongs to Ukrainian Special Forces units. A Ukrainian citizen from Zaporizhia, one Yevgeny Panov, allegedly an agent of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR), was detained and is supposedly confessing to his captors. On Sunday night, the FSB claimed 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 reportedly was killed.
This information, although not independently verified, may track with rumors circulating earlier this week of Russian military patrols roving around in the north of Crimea, with some witnesses saying that they have heard sporadic gunfire. An “informed source” meanwhile told Rosbalt, a Russian news site, that there had been a clash on the frontier on Sunday night, likely the event that the FSB now frames as a terrorist incursion by Ukrainian commandos. Kiev denies all reports of fighting on the frontier or incursions into Russian-occupied Crimea. But Vladimir Putin is furious—or pretending to be. He says that “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.” For the better part of a year, the war in Ukraine, has been “frozen but oven-ready,” as former NATO press officer Ben Nimmo once put it, with regular upticks in violence and provocations not quite leading to full-scale melt-downs.
That changed over the last week, however, with whispers inside Ukraine and among the foreign press corps that another big clash may be in the final stages of preparation with the locus of unusual activity in, yes, Crimea. Tatar activists on the peninsula noted that Russian military hardware had been moving towards the northern towns of Dzhankoy and Armyansk, near the frontier with Ukrainian-controlled territory. At the same time, verifiable video evidence emerged of large quantities of Russian military hardware on the move in the south of Crimea.
Columns of armored personnel carriers, military ambulances, fuel tankers, trucks, signals and engineering vehicles have been recorded in the port town of Kerch— which handles ferry arrivals from Russia. They have also been spotted in the Crimean regional capital of Simferopol, and outside a military training range near the southern town of Feodosia. In Sevastopol, RFE/RL’s Crimean Service filmed the Mirazh, a Nanuchka-class missile corvette, at anchor in the bay. Incidentally, it was the Mirazh that sank a Georgian coastal patrol boat exactly eight years ago today.
According to the report, checkpoints have been set up around the peninsula. At one such roadblock outside Simferopol, the report describes Russian traffic cops and troops from the Russian Interior Ministry stopping buses, checking drivers’ documents and peering through passenger windows.
Meanwhile, there are also reports from northern Crimea that Internet services have been out of action, and may not be restored until August 10. Areas without service include Dzhankoy and Armyansk, prompting suspicion that communications have been purposefully cut by the occupying regime for purposes as yet unknown. Oleh Slobodyan, an adviser to the head of the Ukrainian State Border Service, reported last night that border guards had indeed observed a “high level of activity from Russian armed forces near the administrative border.
On six occasions we observed flights of Russian military helicopters and, on one occasion, an unmanned aerial vehicle.” Slobodyan said that Russian troops had used searchlights to light up Ukrainian positions. In response, Ukraine has deployed additional troops and military hardware to the Kherson region, adjacent to the administrative border with Crimea. Adding to the unease, the Kerch city administration posted a brief announcement on Monday, requesting tourists refrain from traveling to Crimea in the coming days.
According to the announcement, the Kerch ferry is overloaded with tourists, who may well be arriving for summer holidays albeit with less-than-savory company, namely the Night Wolves biker gang—Putin’s own state-blessed Hells Angels who played a symbolic role in the lead-up to the 2014 annexation of the peninsula when they drove through the peninsula on a wave of anti-Maidan agitprop. Over the weekend, huge queues reportedly formed at crossing points on the frontier while the occupying security forces closed one of the three checkpoints. But by this morning, all routes were supposed to be open to traffic again. –Daily Beast