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Recent Crimean events – What’s going on?

August 10, 2016

Crimea has become a headline issue once again both within and without Ukraine over the past week – beyond the ringing of hands over the increased militarisation of the peninsula by The Kremlin and the peninsula’s absorption into the Southern District of the Russian federation (as far as The Kremlin is concerned anyway).

(Note to Romania/NATO – Black Sea A2AD capability would seen to be a preparatory priority.)

The past week has seen photographs of military equipment being moved by train around Kersh flood social media, leading to speculation regarding an imminent push into Ukraine, or alternatively equipment being prepared for shipping to Syria.

Few have mentioned the planned rotation of Russian troops within the illegally annexed peninsula due to occur now.  This rotation apparently being the 247th Landing Assault Regiment and 7th Assault Division arriving to replace the 11th Brigade.  Such a rotation naturally requires equipment rotation too.  The troop rotation was and is not a secret – indeed there are few secrets from anybody when it comes to events within Crimea.  Ukraine no more lost its intelligence ability in Crimea following the peninsula’s absorption into the Southern District than this blog lost its ability to Skype people who live within the peninsula.

Information flows – as does intelligence.  Blind to what goes on Ukraine and others are not.

border

There was also the unexpected closing, reopening, closing and reopening of crossing points by the Russian Federation at the “administrative border” between Crimea and mainland Ukraine over a period of days beginning 7th August.

During the following days there were reports of hearing gun fire and explosions within the peninsula both on social media and heard by those at the “administrative border”.

After several days, on 9th August Defense Ministry spokesman Vadim Skibitsky eventually made a statement that the FSB were conducting anti-terrorism training within the annexed peninsula.  Well perhaps, but Mr Skibitsky has made numerous statements not all of which have been accurate in the past.  Quite why it would take several days to establish this and make a public statement is unclear.

Prior to this official statement social media was claiming that there had been a number of desertions from within the RF military ranks and that the FSB were engaged in a capture mission before these individuals could cross over into Ukraine and provide Ukraine with sensitive information.

On 10th August the Russian FSB claimed to have foiled an attempt to disable critical infrastructure within the peninsula by Ukrainian trained sabotage unit and had also eliminated a Ukrainian intelligence network.  The unit allegedly comprised of a mixture of Ukrainian and Russian citizens.  The FSB claiming that the foiled sabotage attempts were an attempt at “destabilization of the socio-political situation in the region during the preparation and conduct of elections of federal and regional authorities.”

As a result “additional security measures were taken in public places, as well as protection of critical infrastructure.   A reinforced border regime on the border with Ukraine has been introduced.“.

Perhaps the deserters went renegade instead – if they exist at all.  If they do exist were they acting independently or under instruction?  If under instruction, whose instruction, and officially or unofficially?

Ukraine, whether there be any truth in the FSB tale or not, naturally denied it was responsible or behind any such attempts at sabotage or destabilisation.  There is no doubt that a military or guerrilla action to retake Crimea is not the method Ukraine sees as realistic in the return of the peninsula – both officially and privately.  Ukraine claimed the FSB statements to be a provocation – although clearly the events (real, fabricated or half true) are not (yet) going to be twisted into a faux casus belli by The Kremlin.

What the FSB statements do pave a pathway for is an internal crackdown upon troublesome/irksome individuals and groups prior to the mid-September State Duma and local “elections”.

Whilst Russian election outcomes are unlikely to bring any real surprises by way of declared results, the choreography preceding those results would seek to avoid any public and unnecessary missteps or trips – albeit should there be missteps and trips, ultimately it would not matter or change preordained results.

The question therefore presents itself as to whether recent events are simply a (deliberate or opportunistic) precursor to a useful purge before the Duma and local elections – or whether the Duma and local elections are in  fact a useful excuse for a purge within Crimea.

Perhaps the issues are yet wider than Crimea, and events in Crimea are a faux trigger on a different political/economic/social front?  August is historically a month that is predictable insofar that it is unpredictable as far as The Kremlin is concerned.

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