Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ordered troops on the border with Crimea and the frontline in Eastern Ukraine to be on high alert on Thursday, following Russian accusations that Ukrainian intelligence agents plotted terror attacks in Crimea.
The alert, announced in a statement posted to social media, comes amid a period of increased violence, substantial Russian troop movements, and fears that Moscow’s accusations could be used as justification to escalate the years-long conflict.
Russia on Wednesday accused the Ukrainian defense intelligence agency of planning terror attacks in Crimea, a claim that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko described as a false "pretext for more military threats against Ukraine." Poroshenko ordered Ukrainian troops on the border with Crimea and the frontline in Donbass to be on high alert, according to the statement.
The accusations come amid escalating violence between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces in the eastern part of the country.
Russia’s FSB, the successor agency to the KGB, alleged that officials had thwarted attacks planned by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense’s Main Directorate of Intelligence on "critically-important elements of the peninsula’s infrastructure and life support," according to a translated statement provided by the Interpreter. Firefights between Russian officials and the alleged perpetrators resulted in two Russians being shot dead, the FSB said.
Russia has already taken steps to bolster security at its border with Ukraine, according to the statement. Ukrainian officials, including the country’s president, described the accusations as baseless.
"Russian accusations that Ukraine launched terror attacks in the occupied Crimea are equally cynical and insane as its claims there is no Russian troops in eastern Ukraine. These fantasies pursue the only goal: a pretext for more military threats against Ukraine," Poroshenko said in a statement Wednesday. "Ukraine resolutely condemns terrorism in all its forms and shapes. We would never ever use terror to de-occupy Crimea. Russia provides money and arms to support terrorism in Ukraine. It became a state-led policy on the occupied areas of Crimea and eastern Ukraine that resembles the Soviet Great Terror."
Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Kiev had turned to the "practice of terrorism" when commenting to reporters on the allegations Wednesday, calling the actions "stupid and criminal," according to Russia Today. Putin further stated that it was "pointless" to meet with Ukrainian authorities in an effort to resolve the conflict in the wake of the incidents.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday that officials from Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany could meet to discuss the peace process on the sidelines of the upcoming G-20 summit in China at the beginning of September.
"I think it’s obvious that Kiev’s current authorities are not seeking for ways to solve problems through negotiations, but have turned to terrorism," Putin said Wednesday.
Dalibor Rohac, an expert on Central and Eastern Europe at the American Enterprise Institute, told the Washington Free Beacon that it is difficult to independently assess the accusations of terror plots but that it is likely that Putin will use the alleged incidents as reason to escalate the conflict in Ukraine.
"Following Putin’s remarks earlier today it is likely that this will serve as a justification for the Kremlin to further intensify the conflict," Rohac said. "The increase in military activity has already been underway for a few days, with new attacks on Ukrainian positions reported from Luhansk, Donetsk, and around Mariupol."
"I’m certainly watching the new developments with concern," Rohac added.
Russia has been involved militarily in Ukraine since spring of 2014 when it annexed the Crimean Peninsula, for which the country was slapped with international sanctions. The United States and the European Union have refused to recognized Crimea as Russian territory and have dismissed the referendum that Russia claims legitimized its annexation of the peninsula.
Despite a second ceasefire agreement brokered in Minsk in February 2015, the conflict in Ukraine has persisted.
Fighting between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces has increased in the eastern part of the country in recent weeks, with July marking the deadliest month of fighting since August of last year. Ukraine’s military reported last month that seven troops had been killed and 14 wounded over 24 hours of fighting with separatists.
A Ukrainian service member was killed and five others wounded in a firefight this week in the eastern zone of conflict. At least 9,500 individuals—more than one in four of them civilians—have been killed in the conflict since the spring of 2014, according to the United Nations.
Russia’s FSB said Wednesday that officials conducted "operational search activities" near the town of Armyansk in Crimea Friday night and discovered "group of saboteurs" along with an arsenal of weapons, including improvised explosive devices and grenades. A Russian officer was killed by gunfire during the arrest of the "terrorists."
And on Monday, "diversionary terrorist groups" from the Ukrainian defense ministry’s special forces divisions made two incursion attempts that were blocked by Russian security and defense officials. A Russian soldier was said to have died during a firefight.
"The aim of the sabotage and terrorist acts is the destabilization of the social-political situation in the region during the period of the preparation of elections to federal and regional governmental bodies," the FSB said, referring to Russian parliamentary elections planned for Sept. 18.
Russia said that it has opened a criminal case into the incidents and detained individuals accused of involvement. Russia has also bolstered security at "facilities of critically important infrastructure and life support" in Crimea and reinforced the border regimen between Russia and Ukraine, the statement said.
A spokesman for Ukraine’s defense intelligence called the accusations "fake information" in a statement to Reuters, a claim that was later echoed by Poroshenko.
"Russia will fail to undermine Ukraine’s reputation on the international arena and press for lifting sanctions with such provocative acts," Poroshenko said on Wednesday. "I urge Russian authorities to honor the international law, especially respect the sovereignty, territorial integrity of states and human rights."
"Ukraine is devoted to restore its sovereignty and territorial integrity exclusively through political and diplomatic means. That includes de-occupation of Crimea," the Ukrainian president added.