Behind Crimea terror operation: U.S.-NATO escalate war drive against Russia

By Greg Butterfield, Workers World

August 23: Millions of people in North America, Europe and northern Asia have suffered under a brutal heat wave this summer. According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, July was the single hottest month on planet Earth in the 137 years that records have been kept.

But one of the most dangerous hot spots in the Northern Hemisphere today has nothing to do with the weather.

Over two consecutive nights, August 7–8, Russian government personnel thwarted a series of attempted terrorist attacks in Crimea, planned by groups crossing the border from Ukraine. A Russian soldier and a State Security (FSB) agent were killed during these actions. Several alleged terrorists and a large cache of weapons were captured, including improvised explosive devices, anti-personnel bombs, grenades and standard-issue Ukrainian armed forces weapons. (Tass, August 10)

The FSB reported that the terror ring planned to “target critically important infrastructure” and “destabilize the situation in the region as preparations for elections of federal and regional authorities are underway.”

According to the FSB, the attempted attacks were organized at the highest levels of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s intelligence service. Russian television broadcast a video confession by Yevgeny Panov, reputed leader of the Ukrainian operation, an employee of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry who previously fought in the war against the independent Donbass republics. Panov gave extensive information on the locations, methods and chain of command of the operation. (DONi News, August 12)

At first, Ukraine denied knowing who Panov was, accusing Russia of kidnapping a random person and forcing him to make a false confession. That story didn’t hold up long, though, as residents of Panov’s hometown in Ukraine’s Zaporozhye region reported seeing him leave home the day before his capture in Crimea. Kiev then changed its story, claiming that Panov was merely in Crimea to check on property he owned there when he was caught up in the FSB operation. (Colonel Cassad blog, August 12)

At a press conference after the attempted attacks were made public, Russian President Vladimir Putin said, “I would like to turn to our American and European partners” – the backers and financiers of the Ukrainian regime. “I believe it is already obvious for all that today’s Kiev authorities are not seeking to solve problems through negotiations but are switching to terror. This is a very alarming thing,” Putin declared. (Tass, August 10)

Besides the incursion in Crimea, Putin cited the August 6 assassination attempt against Igor Plotnitsky, head of the Lugansk People’s Republic. Plotnitsky was seriously wounded by an explosive device while riding in his car. (RT, August 6) After surgery to remove shrapnel threatening his liver and spleen, Plotnitsky was expected to make a full recovery. But many political and military leaders in Donbass have been killed or seriously wounded in similar attacks since the beginning of Ukraine’s “Anti-Terrorist Operation” in 2014.

At the August 10 press conference, Putin said a planned meeting of the Normandy 4 (France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine) on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in China September 4-5, to discuss the status of the Minsk ceasefire agreement between Kiev and the Donbass republics, was now “pointless,” since the Ukrainian government had demonstrated it was not interested in negotiating a political settlement.

This was a notable change in tone for the Russian government, which had previously bent over backwards to keep the Minsk negotiations alive despite more than a year and a half of constant ceasefire violations by the Ukrainian side.

Why Crimea?

Russia also moved to shore up its defenses on its Western border with Ukraine and tighten border security in Crimea. In response, Ukrainian President Peter Poroshenko ordered the Ukrainian Armed Forces on high alert near the Crimean border and along the whole front with Donetsk and Lugansk. (Associated Press, August 11)

The Crimean peninsula, located between Russia and Ukraine on the Black Sea coast, has long been renowned for its scenic views, beautiful beaches and therapeutic waters. It was part of Russia before and after the 1917 socialist revolution. In 1954, during a period of post-war economic reorganization in the Soviet Union, Crimea became part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Crimea remained part of Ukraine after the breakup of the USSR in 1991, although many residents still identified with Russia.

On March 16, 2014, weeks after a U.S.-backed and -financed coup d’etat overthrew the previous Ukrainian government and installed a junta of oligarchs, pro-Western neoliberal politicians and fascists, the people of Crimea held a referendum in which they voted overwhelmingly to leave Ukraine and return to Russia.

This quick mobilization by the Crimean people and Russia’s securing of the region’s borders scuttled one of Washington’s key goals in the coup – to seize and occupy the large Russian military base on the Black Sea, leased by Ukraine to Moscow in perpetuity.

The so-called “Russian annexation” of Crimea has been used as a pretext for NATO’s military buildup in the region and for anti-Russian sanctions by the U.S. and European Union.

Graphic: Sputnik News

Context of the crisis

The events in and around Crimea can only be understood in the context of the ongoing, multilayered campaign by Washington and its junior partners in the NATO military alliance to whip up war fever against Russia.

On August 18, major U.S. media – which had scoffed at Russian reports of the foiled attack in Crimea — gave wide publicity to the Ukrainian president’s unsubstantiated claim that that a “full-scale Russian invasion” may be in the offing.

“The probability of escalation and conflict remains very significant,” Poroshenko said in a televised speech to military personnel in the Lvov region of western Ukraine. “We don’t rule out full-scale Russian invasion.” (Chicago Tribune, Aug. 18)

He continued: “If the situation escalates in the east and in Crimea we don’t rule out the possibilities (that) we will be forced to introduce martial law and announce a (further) mobilization [military draft].” (Reuters, Aug. 18)

Coming just days after Kiev’s sabotage teams were captured in Crimea, and after more than two years of brutal war by Ukraine against the population of Donetsk and Lugansk, these charges stood reality on its head.

Let’s look at what really led up to the events of August 7-8:

Since the destruction of the USSR 25 years ago, the domination and break-up of an independent capitalist Russian Federation has been a primary goal of Wall Street, the Pentagon, and leaders of both the Republican and Democratic parties.

Over the past decade, as Russia’s prominence on the world stage increased, as an alternative source of aid and trade for countries struggling to withstand U.S. military and economic power, and as Washington found its attempts at internal subversion in Russia stymied, pressure has grown for a more direct military solution to the “Russian problem” via accelerated NATO expansion into eastern Europe and the former Soviet Republics.

In June 2016, NATO staged its largest war games since the Cold War. Dubbed Anakonda-16, this mobilization of 30,000 troops from 20 countries on Polish territory was an explicit provocation against Moscow. (The Independent, June 6)

Anakonda-16 set the stage for the NATO conference in Warsaw July 8-9, where the imperialist military alliance pledged to increase troops and weapons throughout eastern Europe, move ahead with building ballistic missile systems in Romania and Poland, and provide a “complex package” of additional aid to the far-right junta in Kiev. (DONi News, July 10)

At the same time, Kiev was escalating the already tense situation in the military zone bordering the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, pouring in fresh troops and weaponry, and increasing the number of daily, bloody attacks against civilian targets.

For example, during the week of July 9-15, eight people were killed by Ukrainian shelling in the Donetsk People’s Republic. (DONi News, July 15) The United Nations reported that the total number of people killed in Ukraine’s war with Donbass had reached almost 9,500. 

Over 1,000 Donetsk residents braved severe summer heat to rally
against Ukrainian ceasefire violations, July 14, 2016.

Russia, Donbass warn of Ukrainian escalation

As early as July 8 – when NATO officials were gathering in Poland for their war conference – Alexander Lukashevich, Russian ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, warned of “a dangerous build-up of military activities of Ukrainian armed forces in different parts of the contact line in Donbass. There are reports about cleansings carried out by Ukrainian forces in settlements near the contact line – Maryinka and Schastye.” (Tass, July 8)

Lukashevich also pointed to reports of “deliveries of foreign military equipment, including unmanned aerial vehicles” – that is, drones used to help with targeting of attacks. The drones were put to immediate use by the Ukrainian military. So on July 15, an unusual daylight artillery attack aided by drone on the outskirts of the capital of Donetsk targeted Alexander Zakharchenko, head of the Donetsk People’s Republic. (DONi News, July 15) Zakharchenko was unharmed.

Warnings of growing Ukrainian aggression by Donbass and Russian officials continued week after week, utterly ignored by Western officials and unreported by the corporate media, while Ukrainian troops targeted homes, schools, water pumping plants and other vital civilian infrastructure.

In the wake of the NATO conference, fresh supplies of U.S. weapons and war material began to pour into Ukraine. Donetsk intelligence reported that on July 13, the “Partnership for Peace” of the U.S. military command in Europe delivered 2,500 rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers and other weapons to the International Center for Peacemaking and Safety in Starichi, western Ukraine. (DONi News, July 29)

At the end of July, the U.S. Air Force, under cover of a “humanitarian cargo” of medicines, also delivered 16 tons of ammunition. (Russia Insider, July 29)

The U.S. embassy in Kiev announced July 28 that dozens of Ukrainian soldiers had just finished training on the use of surveillance drones at a Pentagon facility in Alabama. The same day, the embassy reported the delivery of “72 hand-launched surveillance drones” to “transmit live video images and location data to ground control stations.”

U.S. Marines staged a provocative amphibious landing operation on the Black Sea coast in Ukraine’s Odessa region July 27, timed to coincide with Sevastopol Navy Day celebrations in Crimea. The war games, more than 220 U.S. and Ukrainian troops and 15 amphibious vehicles, went completely unreported in the West. (DONI News, Aug. 2)

On the U.S. home front, it would be impossible to ignore the spike in anti-Russian propaganda coinciding with the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia July 25-26. After damning emails were leaked showing how supporters of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton conspired against the Bernie Sanders campaign, Clinton supporters attempted to deflect attention by accusing Russia’s government of being behind the leaks and seeking to influence the U.S. presidential elections.

Today the people’s armies of Donetsk and Lugansk are on the highest alert. Informed sources inside the republics say there is a high probability of a Ukrainian offensive starting at the end of August – before cold weather sets in, and with plenty of time for propaganda effect before the November elections in the U.S.

No one believes Ukraine can conquer the republics militarily on its own. But as the Kiev regime and its masters in Washington have repeatedly shown, they are more than willing to sacrifice the lives of Donbass civilians, and soldiers on both sides, to escalate the international war fever against Russia.

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