Did Vladimir Putin Just Signal That An Invasion Of Ukraine Is Imminent?

FILE - In this file photo taken on Friday, May 9, 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin, centre, flanked by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, left, and Federal Security Service Chief Alexander Bortnikov, right, arrives on a boat after inspecting battleships during a navy parade marking the Victory Day in Sevastopol, Crimea. Putin on Thursday Aug. 11, 2016, directly accused the Ukrainian government of plotting attacks in the Crimea, and called for increased security in the Russian annexed Black Sea peninsula. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, FILE)

For the past few weeks stories like this have been appearing in the European press:

Russian tanks have been spotted on the northern Crimea border which has sparked fears that an invasion is imminent.

Witnesses described seeing Russian military hardware and trucks arrive near the towns of Armyansk and Dzhankoy – 25 miles south of the Ukrainian border.

Meanwhile, video footage also appears to show a fleet of Russian armoured trucks driving down a street on the peninsular in a large convoy in Kerch.

On Sunday, Russia closed all border crossings between Ukraine and Crimea (that would be one of the places where Donald Trumps says the Russians will not go). The reason was an alleged and highly improbably Ukraine special forces operation in Crimea

The Federal Security Service, known under its Russian acronym FSB, said in Wednesday’s statement that its officer was killed over the weekend near Armyansk within a few kilometers (miles) of the de-facto border between Crimea and Ukraine when FSB officers engaged in a gun battle with a group of “saboteurs” from Ukraine. The FSB said the intruders carried an arsenal of bombs, ammunition and mines.

The agency said two more groups tried to force their way into Crimea early Monday, supported by Ukrainian artillery and armor. It said one Russian army soldier died in that clash.

The FSB said it also busted what it called a network of agents of Ukrainian military intelligence in Crimea, and detained several people, including a Ukrainian citizen identified as Yevgeniy Panov, whom it described as a Ukrainian military intelligence officer. The agency claimed that the Ukrainian intelligence operation had sought to destabilize the situation in Crimea ahead of Russia’s parliamentary elections set for next month.

Also on Sunday, an attempt was made on the life of the leader of a Russian puppet state on Ukrainian territory

A blast hit a car carrying Igor Plotnitsky, head of the Luhansk People’s Republic, in the city of Luhansk. Two others were also hurt.

Mr Plotnitsky, 52, is said to be stable after hospital treatment.

The rebels said Ukrainian “saboteurs” might be behind the attack – a claim denied by the Ukrainian authorities.

Given the general weakness of Ukraine militarily and diplomatically it seems extremely unlikely that Ukraine would launch two provocation and widely separated locations on the same day. Even were we to credit the assassination attempt on the quisling heading the puppet state, a full blown operation into Crimea — which is Russian territory in the eyes of the Kremlin — simply beggars the imagination.

Yesterday, Putin gave a press conference on the subject, what he said was ominous:

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia accused the Ukrainian government on Wednesday of plotting terrorist attacks in Crimea, and threatened to respond. His Ukrainian counterpart called the accusations “fantasies.”

Mr. Putin, speaking at the Kremlin, said two Russian servicemen had been killed while confronting people he described as the plotters.

“There is no doubt that we will not let these things pass,” Mr. Putin said in remarks broadcast on state television.

“But I would like to turn to our American and European partners,” he said. “I think it is clear now that today’s Kiev government is not looking for ways to solve problems by negotiations, but is resorting to terror. This is a very worrying thing.”

The Russian president accused the Ukrainian intelligence services of trying to stage attacks in Crimea to distract attention from their country’s economic problems.

“The attempt to provoke violence, to provoke conflict is nothing else but the desire to divert public opinion from the people who captured power in Kiev, continue keeping it, and continue robbing its own people,” Mr. Putin said. “This is a very dangerous game.”

Labeling anything Russia doesn’t like as “terrorism” has been a standard Russian ploy since 9/11. He seems to be putting the West on notice that if they support Ukraine they will be supporting terrorism. (TIME offers a theory that this is all a ploy to end various sanctions against Russia. If you’ve followed Russia and Ukraine at all you can see this is wish-casting of the worst type.)

Today, the Russians announced military maneuvers in Crimea.

It seems almost certain that Russia is laying the predicate for another attack on Ukraine and these “attacks” are simply the Russians spreading about bullsh** to create a casus belli. The sad part is that it will work. Ukraine is diplomatically isolated. Putin knows Obama will do nothing. Given the financial relationships that exist between both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and Russian entities, he has every reason to believe that no matter who wins in November he will not be challenged.

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