Vladimir Putin accuses Ukraine of killing Russian servicemen in terrorist attacks in Crimea+ and warns that the deaths will not be ignored. The Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, orders his country’s military to be in a state of combat readiness. Talks over the Minsk agreement, which established a ceasefire of sorts in the vicious conflict, have been put on hold. There are dire predictions that Ukraine is sliding back into war+ . The upsurge of this particular episode of violence, and its venue, has come as a surprise. There has been low intensity, but rising, strife in separatist Donetsk and Luhansk in the east over the last few months, but Crimea has not experienced serious military action since it was annexed from Ukraine by the Kremlin in the chaotic aftermath of the Maidan protests.
Moscow has claimed that an officer in its intelligence service, FSB, and a Russian soldier were killed in two separate fire fights at the weekend. It is also claimed that weapons, including explosives for 20 bombs, and grenades, intended for use in an insurgency campaign, have been discovered. “A terrorist ring” has been broken up, and one of those arrested, say the FSB, is Evgeny Panov, a 39-year-old agent of Ukrainian military intelligence (GUR). The authorities in Kiev confirmed that he was a Ukrainian citizen but refused to make any further comments for “data protection reasons”. President Poroshenko described the charges as “absurd and cynical” and “a pretext for the latest military threats against Ukraine”.
The EU and US have extended sanctions against Russia over Crimea and the Donbas, but some of European states want to see them relaxed in the future. But the Ukrainian government has also been accused of failing to fulfil some of its obligations under the Minsk agreement, such as holding local elections in the areas it holds in the Donbas. Furthermore, there continues to be irritation in the West over the failure of the Poroshenko government to combat widespread corruption. What is happening in Crimea now, as some officials in Kiev realise, is much more likely to be manoeuvres to put the Kremlin in a stronger position in a coming diplomatic campaign of attrition. It is not to pave the way for Ukraine to plunge back into war.