Putin accuses Ukraine of terror as Crimea tensions escalate and two Russian troops are allegedly killed
President Vladimir Putin promised to respond to what he called Kiev’s “terror” tactics in Crimea, raising the stakes as fighting between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed rebels intensifies in the country once again.
The flare-up derailed plans to rekindle diplomatic talks over the war-ravaged region, with Putin telling reporters Wednesday in Moscow that a proposal to hold peace negotiations on the sidelines of a Group of 20 meeting in China next month is now “pointless.” His secret service earlier accused its counterpart in the neighbouring country of having killed two Russian servicemen in two separate incidents during a covert operation on the disputed peninsula. Ukraine’s president called the accusations “cynical.”
“We certainly won’t let such things pass by,” Putin said. “We will adopt additional security measures, and they will be very serious additional measures.”
The Ukrainian conflict is back in the spotlight at a time when Putin is looking to ease the international isolation that began after he annexed Crimea in a 2014 operation that started during the Sochi Olympics. As he prepares for the G-20 summit, the Russian leader this week had talks with the presidents of Turkey, Iran and India, as well as the UK prime minister.
Fighting has flared in Ukraine’s easternmost regions, threatening to reignite the conflict that the United Nations estimates has killed at least 9,500 people. Ukraine’s military reports daily cease-fire violations. It said July was its deadliest month since August 2015, before a truce was signed, while the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe noted increased activity by border guards along the Crimean frontier this week.
Two Russian servicemen died in separate incidents over the past week as security forces detained armed Ukrainian intelligence officers planning subversive acts in Crimea, the Federal Security Service, the main successor of the Soviet-era KGB that’s known as FSB, said on Wednesday.
Ukraine denied involvement in any attacks and National Security and Defence Council head Oleksandr Turchynov in an e-mailed statement called the accusation an example of Russia’s “hybrid war.”
President Petro Poroshenko said the accusation is “fiction” that could serve as an “excuse for further military threats,“ while he pledged to stay committed to politics and diplomacy to resolve the conflict.
“Russia accusing Ukraine of terrorism in occupied Crimea sound as senseless and cynical as the statement by Russian leadership that there are no Russian troops in” eastern Ukraine, Poroshenko said in a statement on his website. “It is precisely Russia that’s has been generously financing and actively supporting terrorism on Ukrainian territory.”
Asked about the Russian assertion of a Ukrainian attack, US State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau referred questions to the government in Kiev.
“We don’t want to be distracted from the real issue here,which is not only Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea, but their continued aggression in eastern Ukraine,” Trudeau told reporters in Washington Wednesday. “Our view on Crimea is well-known. Crimea is and will always be part of Ukraine.”
Before the alleged attacks in Crimea, there had been a push to reduce tensions. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday the Kremlin backed a Ukrainian proposal for talks with France and Germany, called the Normandy format, at the G-20 meeting in Hangzhou, China, to attempt to restart the peace process. Lavrov also said the government in Moscow is “seriously concerned” by the uptick in violence.
The OSCE said in a statement Wednesday that the border between Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula was closed at times this week and guards were on “heightened alert,” carrying rifles and scanning the area with binoculars. It also noted continued cease-fire violations by both sides in eastern Ukraine.