Ukraine on high alert over Crimea tensions with Russia
Russia’s FSB security service said on Wednesday it had thwarted “terrorist attacks” in Crimea this week by Ukrainian military intelligence and beaten back armed assaults, but Kiev fiercely denied the claims.
The allegations ratcheted up the heat in a feud sparked by Moscow’s 2014 seizure of the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine and raised fears of a wider conflict. The UN Security Council was to discuss the growing tensions later on Thursday at the request of Ukraine, a non-permanent council member.
Ukraine’s pro-Western President Petro Poroshenko met his top brass and ordered forces along the frontier with Crimea and across the conflict-wracked east onto “high-alert level”.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also met security chiefs to discuss “additional measures for ensuring security for citizens and essential infrastructure in Crimea,” the Kremlin said. “Scenarios were carefully considered for anti-terrorist security measures at the land border, in the waters and in the airspace of Crimea,” it said.
Meanwhile a NATO official told AFP that the US-led military alliance was monitoring the heightened Crimea tensions with concern.
The official, who asked not to be named, said that “Russia’s recent military activity in Crimea is not helpful for easing tensions”, and called on Moscow “to work for calm and de-escalation.”
Russia’s FSB security service said one of its officers was killed in clashes while arresting “terrorists” overnight August 6-7, while a Russian soldier died in a firefight with “sabotage-terrorist” groups sent by the Ukrainian military on August 8.
Putin angrily accused Kiev of “practising terror” and warned that the deaths of the Russian officers would have consequences. “We obviously will not let such things slide by,” Putin said. “This is a very dangerous game.”
Russia’s foreign ministry reiterated Thursday that Kiev would not go unpunished. “We want to warn Kiev and its Western sponsors that the losses incurred to the Russian side, the death of Russian servicemen, will not remain without consequences,” a ministry statement said.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged the West to warn Kiev against “dangerous steps that could have the most negative consequences” in a phone call with his French counterpart, the ministry said.
Poroshenko on Wednesday called Moscow’s claims “senseless and cynical.”
“Fantasies are only another pretext for the next military threats toward Ukraine,” he said.
Two residents living on the Russian-controlled side of the Crimea-Ukraine frontier told AFP there had been an unexplained build-up of Russian military hardware in the area over the past few weeks.
Russia is holding nationwide legislative elections next month -- including in Crimea -- and the FSB said the alleged raids could be aimed at destabilising the situation ahead of the vote.
A senior Ukrainian security official told AFP that Moscow’s claims were a “crude Russian provocation” and that Kiev was “getting ready for anything,” including an invasion.