Putin: Not Russian – but local forces took control of Crimea. DEBKAfile: They are Russian special forces
Russian President Vladimir Putin, addressing reporters for the first time Tuesday, March 4, said that the forces which have taken control of the Crimean Peninsula are not Russian but self-defense locals in Russian uniforms which, he said, “anyone can buy.” debkafile’s military sources challenge this statement. They have identified one unit as members of Russia’s Rapid Intervention Brigade 22, which is based in the southern Russian town of Rostov on-Don, along with air units. It was from Rostov that deposed Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych broke his silence to the media on March 1, a week after he fled Kiev.
He has since dropped out of sight again.
Putin’s comments Tuesday were rambling and often self-contradictory.
He asserted that the acting president in Kiev has no power and that Yanukovych who was removed by an anti-constitutional coup d’etat is Ukraine’s only legitimate president. At the same time, the Russian president said: “I told him he had no chance of being reelected” – which did not prevent him from holding up Yanukovich’s letter asking him to send military forces to Ukraine to justify Russia’s military intervention.
Our sources identify the second Russian unit in Crimea as the 25th Regiment of Special Forces-Stavropol.
This Crimean town hit the headlines in January when a group of jihadists was captured there on its way to a suicide operation in Sochi in the run-up to the Olympic Winter Games.
The Russian president went on to say he is not concerned about war breaking out, because “there will not be fighting in Ukraine.” But then he said that if the violence spread to the eastern and southern regions, which are dominated by a Russian-speaking population, Russia reserved the right to use military forces to protect those citizens.
Putin’s insistence that the forces in control of Crimea are not Russian flies in the face of the evidence. Although the men’s uniforms are bare of unit insignias, their vehicles have identifying number plates.
Vladimir Putin also warned that Western sanctions would be counterproductive and “cause harm elsewhere.” “If they don’t want to come to Sochi, they will not come” he said with a shrug.
Shortly after his news conference, Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Kiev and drove off to his talks with interim government leaders without making any comments.