Ukraine said on Tuesday it had dismantled saboteurs controlled by Moscow who were preparing a series of attacks in Ukraine’s border regions to “destabilise” the situation in the ex-Soviet country.
The men were planning a “series of armed attacks” on city infrastructure, Ukraine’s security service SBU said in a statement, adding that the group was “coordinated by Russian special services”.
The SBU said it arrested two residents of Ukraine, one of them a Russian citizen, and seized “an explosive device, small arms and ammunition”.
The two acted in Kharkiv, a city with one million people located near the Russian border in the east, and in the town of Zhytomyr in central Ukraine.
Under the pretext of recruiting personnel for a private security firm they got people to join them, the SBU added.
A source in law enforcement told AFP that both men were former commandos with combat experience and were recruiting “mainly” Russians who had already committed violent crimes. Kiev and the West accuse Russia of massing tens of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border in preparation for a possible invasion as well as of seeking to destabilise the situation inside Ukraine.
Ukrainian defence minister Oleksiy Reznikov played down the prospect of a full-scale invasion by the Russian military and reinforced the view from officials in Kiev that the nation’s security challenge hasn’t changed significantly since 2014.
“The aggression continues since 2014 – the facts are the same, but the assessment of these facts is different,” Reznikov told reporters on Tuesday, citing international media coverage. Still, the shift is giving Ukraine the chance to benefit from greater military assistance, he said.
US puts troops on alert
Western allies are pushing ahead with diplomatic efforts to avert war between Russia and Ukraine, though the Kremlin warned on Tuesday that a US decision to put as many as 8,500 troops on alert for deployment in Eastern Europe “exacerbates tensions”.
The US troop move “exacerbates tensions” and Russia is monitoring the situation “with great concern”, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Russia still expects to receive written US responses to its security demands this week, after which it will decide on prospects for future diplomacy, Peskov told reporters.
Among other things, Russia is demanding that Nato pull back military infrastructure from its periphery, something the alliance has so far refused to do.
The US is coordinating with the EU and Nato on its written response to Russia’s demands about Nato and Ukraine, according to an EU official who asked not to be identified.
The reply is unlikely to be a detailed discussion of those requirements, the official said, but will set out areas where western allies believe they can address Russian concerns, as well as Russian actions that are alarming to Europe.