Is Putin using private military contractors in Ukraine?

Josh Rogin at the Daily Beast is reporting that informed sources in the region are telling him that the mysterious Russian speaking troops occupying the airports in the Crimea are members of a special, private, military contractor organization that performs security work for the Russian government.

Private security contractors working for the Russian military are the unmarked troops who have now seized control over two airports in the Ukrainian province of Crimea, according to informed sources in the region. And those contractors could be setting the stage for ousted President Viktor Yanukovich to come to the breakaway region.

The new Ukrainian government in Kiev has accused Moscow of “an armed invasion and occupation” in the Crimean cities of Simferopol and Sevastopol, where well-armed and well-organized troops with no markings or identification have taken control of the airports. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Secretary of State John Kerry over the phone Friday that no Russian military or marines have been deployed outside of the base of the Black Sea Fleet, which is anchored nearby, officials in both governments said.

Lavrov was technically telling the truth, but the troops are being directed by the Russian government. Although not confirmed, informed sources in Moscow are telling their American interlocutors that the troops belong to Vnevedomstvenaya Okhrana, the private security contracting bureau inside the Russian interior ministry that hires mercenaries to protect Russian Navy installations and assets in Crimea. Other diplomatic sources said that the troops at the airport were paramilitary troops but not specifically belonging to Vnevedomstvenaya Okhrana.

“They don’t have Russian military uniforms and the Russia government is denying they are part of the Russian military. Actually most of them may be Ukrainian citizens. But these are people that are legally allowed to perform services to the Russian fleet,” said Dimitri Simes, president of the Center for the National Interest.

A Russian Foreign Ministry statement Friday did not address the troops at the airport but did acknowledge that armored elements of the Black Sea Fleet had been moved in Crimea, “associated with the need to ensure the protection of locations of the Black Sea Fleet in Ukraine, what is happening in full accordance with the basic Russian-Ukrainian agreements on the Black Sea Fleet.”

On such fig leaves is the peace kept.

Putin can say with a straight face that no Russian troops are in Ukraine while benefiting from the armed men's presence in intimidating anyone who would get in the way of what is shaping up to be a drive for independence for the Crimea. The mercanaries may be laying the groundwork for a triumphant return by former President Yanukovich, says Rogin.

What are the chances for intervention by the west?

“We have a very weak hand. I don’t see an endgame where we would be able to force them to leave. You could have a situation where you have two governments both claiming to be the legitimate government of Ukraine,” he said. “My dark fear is a repeat of Taiwan in 1949.”

Ukraine has indicated that they will not fight to keep the Crimea. They've learned their lesson from the Russian invasion of Georgia where the Georgian government tried to maintain two breakaway provinces through military force. The Russians moved in and spanked the Georgians hard. To this day, the Russian army occupies about 20% of Georgia - a situation that Ukraine would no doubt seek to avoid.




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