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Russian military chief claims Ukraine is planning ‘provocation’ for military attack on occupied Crimea

16.04.2021
Halya Coynash
Nikolai Patrushev (left), Vladimir Putin Photo Reuters

Nikolai Patrushev has claimed that Ukraine is deliberately causing all difficulties experienced in Russian-occupied Crimea, and that it could organize ‘provocation’ in order to begin acts of military aggression against Crimea. Like Russia’s massive military build-up over recent weeks and its blocking of the Kerch Strait, this could point to Russia’s imminent invasion or be yet more sabre-rattling.  What is near guaranteed, unfortunately, is that Patrushev’s words about Ukraine’s supposed plans for ‘terrorist attacks’ will translate into yet more armed searches and arrests of Crimean Tatars and others Ukrainians on fabricated charges and even more virulent anti-Ukrainian rhetoric.

Patrushev is Secretary of Russia’s Security Council and a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin.  He was speaking at a ‘conference on ‘ensuring national security on the peninsula’ convened by the country that invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014 and that has since been turning it into a sophisticated military base threatening the security of the entire region.

Ukraine and its western partners were, first of all, responsible, according to Patrushev, for any problems in Crimea, and this was all because they want to ‘destabilize the situation.’  During the meeting on 14 April, he claimed that Russia had carried out “huge work on resolving the problems which accumulated during the years of Ukrainian independence”.  Virtually all of his assertions can be refuted, however of particular relevance is what he omitted in order to blame “Ukraine and its western patrons” for “deliberately worsening the conditions of life on the peninsula”.  The sanctions that western countries have imposed are directly linked with Russia’s violation of international law and to the ‘international military conflict’ which the International Criminal Court has called Russia’s ongoing occupation of Ukrainian Crimea.  If blaming the West for ‘unfair sanctions’ can broadly gel with Moscow’s distortion of both history and the events of 2014 in trying to justify its land-grab, other issues do not.  Ukraine is accused of “a food, energy and water blockade”.  All of the Russian occupiers’ problems prove Moscow’s lies since they demonstrate just how organically Crimea is connected with mainland Ukraine.  Russia has so far dealt with the lack of Ukrainian electricity because of Siemens and other western collaborators willing to breach international sanctions.  It can also import enough food, just at much higher prices.  What it has proven incapable of doing is resolving the fact that Crimea always depended on water flowing from the Dnipro in mainland Ukraine.  The fear is very real that the reason for Russia’s military build-up, its mounting anti-Ukrainian rhetoric and threats, is precisely the plan to use aggression or the threat of it in order to obtain access to Ukrainian water.  This would, in fact, deal a fatal blow to Russia’s fictitious ‘claim’ to Crimea, which is why the Ukrainian Naval and Armed Forces are on high alert to avoid Russian provocation as cover for water-prompted aggression.  

Most ominous are, however, Patrushev’s claims about planned ‘terrorist attacks’.  He asserted that in Ukraine, with the support of western countries, centres had appeared for planning sabotage and intelligence groups which could plan terrorist attacks in Russia and other countries.  Ukraine’s Security Service [SBU] and ‘extremist organizations’ were purportedly trying to carry out acts of sabotage and terrorism on Crimean infrastructure and vital sites.  Patrushev does not explain what he means by ‘extremist organizations’, but Russia has, for the last four years, flouted the UN’s International Court of Justice and all democratic countries by refusing to withdraw its ban, as ‘extremist’, on the Mejlis, or representative assembly, of the Crimean Tatar people, which Patrushev mentions elsewhere as supposedly helping to worsen the situation in Crimea.  He also mentions what he calls “an influx of migrants”, claiming that people are returning to Crimea after fighting on the side of international terrorist organizations abroad. 

There is nothing to back such claims, however the FSB have carried out several arrests recently, including of volunteers collecting money for seriously ill children, and claim that they were ‘financing terrorism’.  It has been clear from Russian state media that such ‘operations’ were being used to claim the seizure of ‘dangerous Islamists’. 

All of the above is, of course, used to stir up hatred and distrust of Crimean Muslims, the vast majority of whom are Crimean Tatars, and anti-Ukrainian sentiments in general. 

Russia has, since the seizure in May 2014 of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko, used arrests and ‘trials’ on charges of ‘terrorism’ or ‘sabotage’, to back its claim that Ukraine is the threat from which Russia’s FSB are ‘protecting’ Crimeans.  As well as over 80 Crimean Tatars imprisoned on unproven charges of involvement in a peaceful Muslim organization (Hizb ut-Tahrir) which is legal in Ukraine, there are regularly arrests of supposed ‘Ukrainian saboteurs’ or ‘spies’.  These include Volodymyr Dudka, a retired Ukrainian naval captain and academic, Oleksiy Bessarabov who are serving horrific 14-year sentences on absurd ‘sabotage charges’.  In declaring both men political prisoners, the authoritative Memorial Human Rights Centre suggested that the Russian authorities had fabricated the charges against the two Ukrainians of planning acts of sabotage for propaganda purposes as part of a long campaign to present Ukraine and its citizens as the enemy.  

All of these cases, including the recent arrest of journalist Vladislav Yesypenko share certain features.  In all cases, the Ukrainians detained are either denied access to an independent lawyer or put under huge pressure to renounce such a lawyer’s services.  Most are held incommunicado for long periods, and it is invariably during this time that they are shown giving videoed ‘confessions’.  In virtually all cases, the men have later given graphic description of the electric shocks, beatings and other torture used to force out such ‘confessions’. ‘Evidence’ is generally planted, with the FSB illegally bringing the supposedly independent witnesses with them, and often leaving, without a proper search, after quickly ‘finding’ an incriminating item.

Worth noting that the full ferocity of Russia’s repression against members of the vital Crimean Solidarity initiative is doubtless because the initiative’s journalists ensured coverage of these and other politically motivated prosecutions.

Patrushev’s claims about planned terrorist attacks will almost certainly increase the number of people arrested on such charges. 

Thus far, there have been no terrorist attacks in occupied Crimea, with the FSB claiming to have thwarted such plans through their arrests. It is, of course, possible that Russia could actually stage such an attack as excuse either for a major crackdown or to justify ‘retaliation’ in the form of aggression against Ukraine.

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