Sunday 26 January 2020

Two Russian soldiers killed as tensions rise in Crimea

Russian president Vladimir Putin. Photo: AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko
Russian president Vladimir Putin. Photo: AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

Roland Oliphant

Two Russian servicemen have been killed as they thwarted Ukrainian commando raids into Crimea, Russia claimed yesterday, amid an alarming surge in tensions around the annexed peninsula.

The Ukrainian government immediately denied the claims, which come as fears grow of a return to all out warfare in the east of the country.

One soldier and one officer of Russia's Federal Security Service, the main successor to the KGB, died in separate cross border incursions by Ukrainian forces planning attacks on critical infrastructure over the weekend, the FSB said in a statement yesterday.

"Steps have been taken to destroy an agent network of the Chief Intelligence Department of the Ukrainian defence ministry in the Crimean peninsula," the statement said.

The agency said it had arrested several Ukrainian servicemen during the incidents.

Ukraine immediately denied the claims.

"This is fake information," a Ukrainian defence spokesman said.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine after an almost bloodless military take over in February and March 2014.

Vladimir Putin's government has since built up a large military presence on the peninsular, and is in the process of building a bridge across the Kerch strait to secure connections to the Russian mainland.

Crimea has been relatively unaffected by the on-going war between government forces and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, but in tensions on the defacto border have grown in recent days.

Russian border guards briefly closed road crossings from Crimea to mainland Ukraine on Sunday. On the same day, Crimean Tatar activists in the region reported seeing large numbers of military vehicles moving into the border towns of Dzhankoy and Armyansk.

The FSB statement follows unconfirmed social media reports of shooting in the same area over the weekend.

Renewed tensions around Crimea follow a surge of violence between government forces and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian and Russian-backed forces fight nightly battles despite a nominal ceasefire.

Three Ukrainian soldiers were killed in combat on Monday, the country's defence ministry said.

Representatives of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics have in turn accused Ukraine of shelling separatist positions with increasing intensity. © Daily Telegraph London

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