Ukrainian military experts assert that the accused could not be members of any Ukrainian special services. Former Deputy Minister of Defense of Ukraine Leonid Polyakov believes that the whole “operation” is pure provocation:
“Russian propagandists claim that the accused are high-ranking Ukrainian military intelligence officers, and show documents confirming this fact, along with Yarosh’s notorious business card*! It’s all very doubtful, especially three years after Russian troops invaded Crimea. The mere fact that these men have kept such damning documents at home during all these years – papers and certificates exposing their links to Ukrainian intelligence – is nonsense! I might imagine that one of them could have hidden such a document, but not all of them! As for Yarosh’s business card… that’s a real joke! The card has long been a propaganda meme, used back in 2014 to intimidate and frighten Crimeans with stories about the “terrible Pravy Sektor fascists”.
It seems they want to make Ukrainians look like real idiots and create a distorted image of our servicemen. Well, I think they’ll have more than one chance to see the opposite is true!”
Leonid Polyakov believes that such provocations are aimed at discrediting Ukraine and its secret services in the eyes of international partners.
“It is significant that not only is the FSB accusing Ukraine of espionage, but also of terrorism, trying to portray it as a “terrorist state”, which would be a bargaining chip in further negotiations with the West. However, there have been no concrete acts of sabotage in Crimea, except for operations organized by Russians, who have been blowing up pipelines and trains, and committing other terrorist acts on our territory.”
The second reason for this “Crimean hoax” could be Russia’s intention to intensify repression in Crimea.
“Increasing arrests, accusations of “terrorism”, provocations, and other muscle-flexing scenarios against Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars – and especially in Crimea – testify to the fact that the Kremlin has transformed the occupied peninsula into a maximum security prison where dissidents are regularly intimidated, harassed, and imprisoned. It’s not a Stalinist regime yet, but very, very close…”
Mykhailo Samus, Deputy Director of Kyiv’s Centre for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies (CACDS) for International Affairs is in complete agreement with the former Deputy Minister of Defense. In particular, he points to five main causes of these frequent arrests:
“In the so-called “Crimean sabotage” affair, Russia is acting like the Soviet Union, playing the same game it played with the West during the Cold War. By discovering more and more “Ukrainian saboteurs” in Crimea and showing them on TV, the Kremlin is saying that “the enemy isn’t asleep”, and that all Russians, especially Crimean residents, are under constant threat of terrorist attacks by “Ukrainian Nazis”. This serves two purposes. Firstly, it makes Russians feel more special as a nation: “See how many “spies, saboteurs, terrorists” want to hurt us! That’s because we’re a great country, perhaps even greater than the Soviet Union!”
Samus says the second reason is the rise of psychological stress and fear in Russian society, and a cultivated feeling of living in a “besieged fortress”.
“It’s important for the Kremlin to build up spy hysteria in Crimea, that is, in the occupied territory. Third, Russians can see that the FSB and Putin are vigilant, standing guard and watching out for the security of “Great Russia”. Fourth, Moscow trumpets to the world that Ukraine is a “terrorist” state using terror on a national scale (Putin has spoken these words himself). Finally, arresting more and more “saboteurs” is classic hostage-taking as an additional bargaining chip in future negotiations with Ukraine and the West.”
Mykhailo Samus believes that Donald Trump’s victory and the upcoming elections in France and Germany may have a major impact on any negotiations concerning the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.
“As a true representative of the criminal KGB-style of politics, Putin is piling up his bargaining chips so as to use them in the right moment against his adversaries. In the meantime, the Kremlin can continue intercepting “Ukrainian saboteurs” for a long time. After all, the reserve officers, who once served in the Armed Forces of Ukraine and currently live in Crimea, fall into this category.”
Both experts agree that Russia might use the “sabotage” story to justify further aggression against Ukraine, but maintain that the Ukrainian armed forces have long been ready for such a turn of events.
*Yarosh’s Business Card refers to a business card for Dmytro Yarosh, leader of Pravy Sektor that was purportedly discovered at the scene of a deadly shootout in Sloviansk, Ukraine on April 20, 2014. In the hours after the incident, reports of the shootout and the discovery of Yarosh’s business card quickly circulated throughout Russian news media, while Ukrainians on Twitter responded to the accusations of Yarosh’s involvement by creating photoshopped parodies of the so-called crime scene evidence.