Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday called for security to be ramped up on the annexed Crimea peninsula after accusing Ukraine of attempting armed incursions into the disputed region.
Russia’s security agency on Wednesday said it had thwarted “terrorist attacks” in Crimea by Ukrainian military intelligence and beaten back armed assaults, but Kiev furiously denied the incidents.
The allegations have ratcheted up tensions in the feud between Russia and Ukraine sparked by Moscow’s 2014 seizure of the Black Sea peninsula and sparked fears of possible wider conflict.
Putin held a meeting with his security chiefs to discuss “additional measures for assuring security for citizens and essential infrastructure in Crimea,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
“Scenarios were carefully considered for anti-terrorist security measures at the land border, in the waters and in the airspace of Crimea,” it said.
The FSB security service said Wednesday that one of its officers was killed in armed clashes while arresting “terrorists” on the night of August 6-7, while a Russian soldier died in a firefight with “sabotage-terrorist” groups sent by the Ukrainian defence ministry on August 8.
– ‘Demand new concessions?’ –
An irate Putin then accused the authorities in Kiev of “practising terror” and warned the deaths of the two Russian officers would have consequences.
“We obviously will not let such things slide by,” Putin said. “This is a very dangerous game.”
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko hit back that Moscow’s claims were “senseless and cynical”.
“These fantasies are only another pretext for the next military threats toward Ukraine,” Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported him as saying.
Moscow and Kiev have been locked in a bitter feud since the Kremlin seized Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014 after Russian-backed president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted.
The crisis has sent ties between Moscow and the West to their lowest point since the Cold War.
The fresh war of words over the alleged incident represents the most serious increase in tensions in months as a separatist conflict in two other regions in east Ukraine — that Kiev and the West blame on Moscow — drags on despite a stalled peace deal.
Putin said a mooted meeting with Poroshenko and mediators German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande at next month’s G20 summit in China was now “senseless”.
Independent Russian daily Vedomosti wrote in an op-ed entitled “a new old enemy” that Moscow has tended to ramp up tensions ahead of negotiations over Ukraine.
“The main political question now is what is the future of the Minsk process,” the paper wrote, referring to the peace deal hammered out in the Belarussian capital in February 2015.
“Will Russia bring an end to it or demand new concessions?”