On 7 August 2016, the Russian border police has unilaterally suspended the operation of checkpoints on the administrative border with Crimea. The occupation authorities did not submit any official statement on this matter. During the next four days only one (out of three) checkpoints for exit from Crimea operated, what caused huge queues and hundreds persons stuck at the border. In the morning of August 10 the situation at the administrative border has stabilized, all the checkpoints started to operate in a normal mode in both directions.
At the same time on August, 7 the concentration and military movement of Armed Forces of Russia started in the peninsula. On August, 7 the column of military vehicles arrived to Kerch, on August, 8 a large concentration of troops was observed in Armiansk area. The Ukrainian positions on the administrative border were illuminated by spotlights these days. A military helicopter of the Russian Federation flew over some checkpoints. Checkpoints were set up on the main roads on the territory of Crimea, maneuvers of military vehicles began, patrolling cities and verification of documents within the special operations in the peninsula took place. At the same time, these days the internet connection was blocked in the north of Crimea, also access to the Ukrainian media and websites in a number of Crimean cities in the Crimea was limited.
According to the first version at night of August 6, the groups of deserters ran away from the armed forces of the Russian Federation, so the searches were organized. Later it was said that the Russia database stopped operating, and that is why the checkpoints were blocked. That day some Russian media stated that allegedly Crimean Tatars started military clashes in Dzhankoy. Drawing up of military vehicles was explained by the Russian military training maneuvers scheduled for this September, and by regular rotations. However, none of the Russian media, neither pro-government nor independent ones did not comment on the situation. On August, 11 Ukrainian media referring to witnesses reported that at night August 6 drunken Russian paratroopers opened fire on two civilians – Crimean Tatars, who did not want to show their documents.
After three days of silence on August, 10 Russian FSB issued a statement that terrorist attacks prepared by the Chief of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine had been prevented. According to the FSB, subversive group was detained on the night August 6; on August 8, according to the same agency, there were two attempts of breakthrough into Crimea by subversive groups under massive shelling from the side of Ukraine, including by armored vehicles. On the same day, Vladimir Putin said that measures would be taken for defense and not only for this. Some Russian officials declared the act of aggression by Ukraine and Russian right to take response measures. Petro Poroshenko and other representatives of the Ukrainian authorities have rejected these accusations, calling that provocation by Russia.
Russia announced that seven terrorists were detained. One of them is - Evgen Pavlov, a Ukrainian citizen residing in Energodar, Zaporizhzhia region, a former soldier who served in the ATO zone since August 2014 till August 2015, he leads a charitable foundation. Another two persons known: Andriy Zahtiya (seems that he has double citizenship, originally he is from the Lviv region), and Edvan Suleimanov (resident of Zaporizzha region).
Possible reasons of the provocative actions by the Russian Federation
Despite the lack of reliable information about the reasons of these events, there are a number of factors indicating the possible explanation of the escalation.
First of all, at the end of September 2016 the EU is planning to discuss the format of sanctions against Russia. Therefore, if Russia succeed to demonstrate that Ukraine is escalating violence both in Crimea and in eastern regions (e.g., attempted assassination of Igor Plotnitskiy), it would be much easier to advocate the easing of the sanctions regime. However, on August, 11 the EU made a statement that Russia has not provided the evidence of the involvement of Ukraine in the incident on the administrative border, the UN Security Council reiterated its respect for the territorial integrity of Ukraine, a number of Western governments (including Sweden, UK, Germany, and others) noted the need to increase pressure on Russia and the continuation of the sanctions regime.
Secondly, the statements of Vladimir Putin clearly indicate the intentions of Russia to undermine peace process. On August, 10 he stated he did not see the point in holding the next meeting in the Normandy format considering the recent developments. On August, 11 the Russian Foreign Ministry also supported this position, accusing Ukraine of being the gravedigger of the peace process. It seems that Russia attempts to disrupt the existing format of peace negotiations or the peace process.
The third factor is the parliamentary elections to the State Duma scheduled for September 2016. Such demonstrative actions at the administrative border may be used to strengthen the positions of the current government and party in power; and as a part of the electoral campaign. The limitation of access to independent media and Internet in the peninsula, the constant escalation of the situation increase the panic and anxiety among the residents of Crimea, aimed at strengthening loyalty to Russia, exposing Ukraine as some kind of monster, capable of killing its own citizens.
The other important development to be kept in mind is the recent decision of the Russian government for Crimea to become a part of the Southern Federal District. On the one hand, nowadays it enables the Russian government to declare that the attack was carried out on the whole territory of Russia; on the other hand, these actions distract people's attention from these changes.
Possible consequences of the current situation for Crimea and Ukraine
First of all, this situation will cause a new wave of repressions in Crimea, directed against disloyal citizens, aimed at their intimidation. This made-up incident gives grounds for the security forces of the Russian Federation to carry out mass arrests, detentions and searches, checkups on the self-organized groups and activists, to put pressure on the families of the Crimean military men serving in Ukraine, to enact severe restrictions of the freedoms of speech and assembly.
The example and confirmation of that scenario is the detention and legal proceedings around alleged ‘terrorists’. Despite the declared seven detainees, Russia has provided only three names of suspects on August 10-12. These names were stated by different state agencies in different manner. Photos and videos of the interrogation of suspects demonstrate beating and pressure put on detainees (bruises, broken teeth, speaking memorized phrases of Russian propaganda, constantly looking at the people behind the camera). One gets the feeling that the other detainees do not exist yet.
This situation and the incidents are clearly intended to put pressure on Ukraine, to serve as a provocation for military escalation of the situation. As noted above, the Russian objective may be the disruption of the peace talks, the escalation or delay of the conflict, and the freezing of the situation in the East. Russian actions will deepen the isolation of Crimea and its residents, and will contribute the separation of the peninsula from the mainland of Ukraine.
Comment from the perspective of international law
Self-defense is allowed in international law if an armed attack has occurred against the state, until the Security Council has taken the necessary measures. On 27 February 2014 the Russian armed forces invaded the territory of Ukraine - Autonomous Republic of Crimea, and as a result of the military operation took control of the peninsula within a few weeks. These military action of 2014 is an act of aggression against Ukraine. According to international law, Ukraine has the right to use force against the armed forces of the Russian Federation occupying a part of its territory.
In addition, in order to recognize the «subversive actions» as a planned act of Ukrainian aggression, the act must be realized by the Ukrainian officials with the appropriate authority, or, in case of a private group of individuals, they should be under the full control of Ukraine.
The detainee Evgeny Panov is not in the military service in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, he is not a government official and could not act on behalf of the state. Russia has also failed to provide any evidence of the involvement of the government officials in the command of the so-called SRG.
For the state to use the right for responsive action an attack has to be realized, i.e. the action must take place. In this case, Russia declares that the attack was «prevented». The right to preventive self-defense is clearly not in the practice of international law.
Obviously, in this situation Russia has no legitimate right to self-defense under international law, and, as before, is manipulating the facts and the rules of law to create the appearance of legitimacy of their actions.
CrimeaSOS calls on all stakeholders: