Two members of Russian government forces were killed last weekend in what President Vladimir Putin said were “stupid” and “criminal” incursions by Ukraine into the territory annexed by Moscow two years ago.
Putin on Wednesday accused the Ukrainian military of launching the incursions into Crimea — which Moscow considers Russian territory — as part of repeated efforts to reclaim the land.
Tensions have persisted between Moscow and Kiev ever since Putin annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014, based on a referendum vote in which a landslide margin wanted the region to return to Russian rule.
Putin made the remarks after meeting with Armenia’s president on Wednesday. Two of Moscow’s servicemen — a soldier and an operative with the FSB intelligence service — were killed while confronting the invaders, he said.
“I think it is clear now that today’s Kiev government is not looking for ways to solve problems by negotiations, but is resorting to terror,” he said, calling the purported incursions “stupid” and “criminal.”
“This is a very worrying thing.”
The FSB, which replaced the better-known Soviet-era secret service KGB, said it had disrupted a Ukrainian spy network and arrested multiple operatives.
“The aim of terrorist acts and subversive actions was to destabilize the sociopolitical situation in the region ahead of federal and regional elections,” the FSB said in a statement.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Ministry of Foreign Affairs sternly rejected Putin’s accusations that Kiev is committing terrorist acts in the disputed peninsula.
“Accusations against Ukraine of terrorism in occupied Crimea sound as preposterous and cynical as the statements of the Russian leadership about the absence of Russian troops in [eastern Ukraine’s rebel-controlled] Donbass [region],” Poroshenko said.
“Ukraine condemns in the strongest terms yet another Kremlin-manufactured provocation and rejects all accusations, which are completely groundless,” the Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement. “Under a made up pretext, the Kremlin is undertaking another hybrid special operation with the aim to justify its future aggressive actions against Ukraine.”
Kiev’s leader claimed Putin is merely rattling the saber once more in his ongoing attempts to retake Ukrainian territory, which was formerly part of the Soviet Union before it dissolved in 1991.
Putin himself, in fact, indicated that Russia has no intention of letting the supposed incursions slide.
“There is no doubt that we will not let these things pass,” he said, saying he also looked to American and European leaders for support.
Moscow likely won’t receive much support from Western governments, though. President Barack Obama’s administration and European allies strongly condemned Crimea’s annexation two years ago and subsequently took positions against Putin’s military efforts against Ukraine — including a spate of economic sanctions against Russia. Moscow’s governance of Crimea is still not formally recognized by most Western nations.
“These fantasies are only a pretext for making more military threats against Ukraine,” Poroshenko said.
Tensions have increased in the last year as a cease-fire has eroded to the point that many on both sides are now ignoring the agreement.
Ukraine’s defense minister alleged that Putin’s remarks were intended to cause a distraction so that Russia’s military could continue to deploy soldiers and equipment in and around Crimea.