Ukrainian politicians have claimed the Kremlin faked a terror plot in Crimea to discredit their country in the eyes of US President-elect Donald Trump.
Russia’s spy agency, the FSB, said it caught three members of an alleged “sabotage and terrorism group” with explosives and weapons in the naval base city of Sevastopol on Wednesday, and claimed the trio were controlled by Ukrainian military intelligence.
The Ukrainian Defence Ministry quickly denied the allegation, suggesting instead that Vladimir Putin knew American special services would be feeding information to Mr Trump ahead of him assuming office in January, and wanted to make sure he was on Russia’s side.
The FSB allege the three Ukrainian citizens were “plotting acts of sabotage against military sites and crucial infrastructures on the Crimea peninsula”, including power stations, water processing plants and gas networks, The Times reported.
But Zoryan Shkiryak, a Ukrainian interior ministry adviser, suggested that Russia had acted to “create a myth about Ukrainian terrorism”.
He said: “The Russian special services know well that today Donald Trump started receiving information from the American special services, including about what is going on in Ukraine. This information was supposed to land on Trump’s desk with the aim of discrediting Ukraine, although the president-elect is surrounded by Republican Party representatives who perfectly know the price of Russian provocations and their modus operandi.”
Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the National Security and Defence Council, told Reuters: “Nobody has detained Ukrainian military personnel… This is yet another frame-up by the Russian security forces.”
A spokesperson for Ukraine’s ministry of defence told The Times the alleged Crimea plot was “the latest fake by the Russian special services designed to cover up repression against inhabitants of the peninsula and discredit Ukraine”.
In August, a Ukrainian and a Russian were arrested after a similar alleged plot.
The FSB claimed the alleged suspects captured on Wednesday were well-equipped. “Powerful explosive devices, armaments, ammunition, special communication means and other material evidence of criminal activity, including schemes of the sites to be sabotaged, were seized from the detainees,” it said.
The three men were remanded in custody for two months by a court in Sevastopol. A former colleague of two of them said they were military analysts who had worked for a thinktank, according to TheTimes report.
Ukrainian politician and former prisoner of war, Nadiya Savchenko, appealed to the US president-elect on Thursday to toughen sanctions against Moscow. She suggested that if he did not it could cause a third world war.
In a Facebook post she asked Mr Trump to help Ukraine fight “Russian aggressors” with military and diplomatic support.
She said that Moscow “understands only force and resolve” and when the world community adhered to the policy of appeasement, it led to “the biggest catastrophe of 20th century”.
“You have all possibilities to prevent World War III,” she wrote.
In the aftermath of Mr Trump’s win, the Times reported Ukrainian politicians raced to delete social media posts labelling him a catastrophe. “This is a symbol of true democracy — when nobody knew the results of the elections until the very last moment,” said President Poroshenko of Ukraine in congratulating the President-elect.
Mr Trump said during his campaign that he would improve the relationship between Washington and Moscow. Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow the Russian president was also willing to work on the two nations’ deteriorating ties once the presidential vote was over, Russia’s international news agency RIA Novosti reported.
Many people inside and outside of Ukraine believe that a strong relationship between Russia and the US could be a disaster for the country, as US economic sanctions are believed crucial to preventing Mr Putin’s forces from invading the country.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former Nato secretary-general, told the Times: “The key challenge for Ukraine now is to make sure Trump fully understands that Ukraine is of the utmost importance for the US. His notion is America first but it is a vital American interest to support Ukraine. It’s a core American interest to defend Europe, that’s the bedrock of North Atlantic security.”