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Today Moscow Accused Ukraine of Sending Terrorists Into Crimea. Russian Internet Users Have Been Saying It for Days.

Vladimir Putin at a press conference in Moscow on August 10, 2016. Photo: Kremlin Press Service

Vladimir Putin at a press conference in Moscow on August 10, 2016. Photo: Kremlin Press Service

Military confusion has returned to Crimea, where Russian federal officials are making serious allegations against the Ukrainian government, claiming that Ukrainian intelligence agents infiltrated the border in an attempt to stage a series of terrorist attacks on Russian-occupied soil. Details are still hazy about what exactly happened, but Russian officials say there were at least two armed incursions: one on the night of Sunday, August 7, and another the next night.

Following the allegations by Russia’s Federal Security Service, Moscow and Kyiv have traded accusations that the other is trying to distract its people from domestic economic problems. Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused Ukraine of “choosing terror” over peace, while Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says the Kremlin is spreading “fantasies” designed to act as a pretext for further Russian aggression.

Curiously, Russian officials waited almost three days before going public with this story. There were earlier unconfirmed reports, however, including an apparent all-points bulletin issued by the Russian Interior Ministry in Crimea. The document was leaked to the Internet within a day, and has been circulating on social media since at least August 8. (Though the hair color of one of the suspects is reportedly differently in different versions of the text.) While the APB’s authenticity is unconfirmed, its content does match much of what Russian officials have reported today.

Leaked document, apparently from the Russian Interior Ministry in Crimea.

Leaked document, apparently from the Russian Interior Ministry in Crimea.

For committing serious crimes in the territory of Armyansk, five persons are sought who are now traveling both by automobile and on foot. All are dressed in camouflage uniforms, wearing sleeve patches depicting the Russian national flag located in the bottom of the diamond [insignia].

Distinguishing features of two of the men:

  1. Height: 180-195 centimeters [5 feet, 11 inches to 6 feet, 4 inches], athletic build, light blonde hair, appears to be 30-35 years old;
  2. Light hair, age 30-35.

These individuals are armed and dangerous. Take measures to defend yourself when apprehending.

If found, isolate them and report to the Crimean Interior Ministry’s internal control center.

On August 9, the popular pro-Kremlin blogger Boris Rozhin, better known as “Colonel Cassad” (whom RuNet Echo profiled in July 2014), shared the document found above, summarizing his grasp of what happened at the Crimean border on August 7.

Тут достаточно проверенный источник, не раз дававший точную информацию по Донбассу поделился некоторыми деталями ситуации на Перекопе.

1. УФСБ по Крыму получило информацию, что в районе Армянска находится схрон со взрывчаткой. Оперативная группа выехала на место.
2. Когда опергруппа прибыла в указанное место, то обнаружила там  группу из 20 человек, занимавшихся погрузкой взрывчатки, которые практически сразу открыли огонь по опергруппе.
3. Завязался бой, в ходе которой погиб один сотрудник (похороны были вчера). После чего было вызвано подкрепление со стороны военных. В ходе боестолкновения, противник действовал достаточно грамотно.
4. В ходе дальнейшего боя, неопознанная группа раскололась – 14 или 15 человек отошли водой (утащив с собой 1 200-го, насчет 300-х неизвестно) на украинскую территорию, причем в воду (через Сиваш) заходил БТР и оказывал группе поддержку.
5. При этом с с нашей стороны был еще один 1 200-й и 1 300-й. 4 человека из той группы остались на территории Крыма и вот с их поисками и связаны публикуемые в сети бумаги вроде этой (как я понял в рамках плана “Крепость”).
6. В схроне изъято до 500 килограмм взрывчатки (причем не только тротил). Сейчас идет поиск 4(5) человек, потому что их задержание живыми это одна ситуация, а если они смогут выйти из Крыма или залечь на дно – то другая.

Насколько я понял, официальная трактовка всей этой истории будет зависеть от того, поймают этих персонажей или нет.
Сама же ситуация напоминают классику приграничных провокаций.

This comes from a trusted enough source, who more than once has delivered accurate information about the Donbas. He shares some details about the situation in Perekop [a wide strip of land that connects the Crimean peninsula to the mainland of Ukraine].

1. The Russian Federal Security Service branch in Crimea received information about a cache of weapons in the Armyansk region. A task force was deployed to the location.
2. When the task force arrived at the designated area, it discovered a group of 20 men outfitting explosives. The group almost immediately opened fire on the task force.
3. A fight broke out, leading to the death of one FSB officer (whose funeral was yesterday). Afterwards, military reinforcements were called in. During the skirmish, the enemy demonstrated exceptional training.
4. In the ensuing battle, the unidentified group split up: 14 or 15 men retreated by water (they dragged off one casualty, number of injured—unknown) back to Ukrainian territory, plus an armored vehicle came into the water (across the Syvash) and started laying down suppressive fire for the group.
5. At the same time, on our side there was another casualty and one injury. Four members of the [infiltrating] group remained behind in Crimea, and the warrant published and now circulating online is realted to these men (as I understand the framework of “Plan Fortress”).
6. The task force seized 500 kilograms [1,100 pounds] of explosives (which weren’t limited to TNT). Now there’s a search underway for the 4-5 people, because detaining them alive would be one situation, but if they’re able to leave Crimea or go into hiding, that’s something else.

As I understand it, the official take on this whole story will depend on whether or not these persons are caught. The situation itself is reminiscent of classic border provocations.

Given the Ukrainian government's denial that it had any role in a skirmish at the Crimean border, the leaked document from the Interior Ministry, as well as Colonel Cassad's summary of the August 7 incident, remain contentious and unverified. Whatever the truth, the narrative now emerging in Russia, at any rate, appears to coincide with reports that first surfaced on the Russian Internet.

For more about competing narratives of this incident, see Aric Toler's story at the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Lab.

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