News / Europe

Russian Forces in Crimea: Who Are They, Where Did They Come From?

Military personnel, believed to be Russian servicemen, march outside the territory of a Ukrainian military unit in the village of Perevalnoye outside Simferopol, March 4, 2014.
Military personnel, believed to be Russian servicemen, march outside the territory of a Ukrainian military unit in the village of Perevalnoye outside Simferopol, March 4, 2014.
Ron Synovitz, RFE/RL
There has been much speculation about Russian forces deployed in Crimea since February 28. The West says they're Russian combat troops. Russian President Vladimir Putin says they're just local defense folks. So exactly who are they?

How many Russian troops are now thought to be in Crimea?

Ukrainian authorities have said there are about 16,000 Russian troops in the Crimean Peninsula – with more pouring into the country every day by air and by naval ships.
Independent military analysts agree there are at least this many troops in Crimea.

Tim Ripley, from Jane’s Defence Weekly, said most reports suggest about 6,000 to 7,000 Russian troops recently have deployed to Crimea since February 28 when the intervention began.

Ripley said the normal Russian troop level at Black Sea Fleet facilities in Crimea historically has been about 11,000. But most are seamen or support personnel -- not the kind of ground combat forces that have fanned out on the Crimean Peninsula.
One exception is about 2,000 members of Russia’s 810th Marines Infantry Brigade, which is attached to the Black Sea Fleet and has been identified at some Russian military blockades in Crimea.

What do we know about the freshly deployed Russian forces in Crimea?

The bulk of freshly deployed Russian combat troops in Crimea appear to have come directly from Russia -- rather than already being based at Black Sea Fleet facilities there.

Ripley said that assessment is supported by increased air and naval activity from Russia.

"Crimea is isolated by land from Russia by the mainland of Ukraine. So all of these troops have had to come by air or by ship from Russia," he said. "There seems to be a constant stream of aircraft flying in. The Russians have control of a number of air bases in Ukraine which they have to support their fleet. And also, they have seized a ferry port in the east of Crimea, which is only a couple of miles across the straits to the Kuban [region] in Russia. So they have been shuttling ships full of troops and vehicles into the Crimea from there. A couple of units have been identified as being in Russia’s special forces rapid reaction airborne forces from around Moscow.”

WATCH: Pro-Russian troops remain on Simferopol streets


Christopher Langton, director of London-based Independent Conflict Research and Analysis, suggests most of the recent deployments are from Russia’s Southern Military Command, headquartered in Rostov-on-Don.

"If we look at those uniforms, most of them seem to be, from what can be seen, brand new," Langton said. "There is no insignia. This is a tried and tested [Russian] practice in, for instance, the August war in Georgia in 2008. When Russian peacekeepers were used to move into Georgia proper, they changed their uniforms. They put away their peacekeeping insignia, etc. Now what are the options? There is a naval infantry brigade -- these are highly trained commandos -- at Novorossiisk, also part of the Black Sea Fleet, but in Russia just down the coast from Crimea. Also, in the same military command structure...there are two special forces brigades and a designated airborne division."

What are the limitations for Russian forces on the Crimean Peninsula under its Black Sea Fleet agreements with Ukraine?

Under various agreements between Russia and Ukraine, Russia is allowed to keep up to 25,000 troops on the Crimean Peninsula. Those troops are allowed outside of their bases for operations considered normal to maintaining the facilities. But there are limitations on deployments -- even for training operations.

Under any interpretation, surrounding Ukrainian military bases in the Crimea is seen as an overt offensive activity, regardless of whether shots are fired, and appears to violate the terms of their basing agreements.

Is there any evidence that Russian private security firms have engaged in operations with Russian military forces?

Ripley said security camera footage of the seizure of the Crimean parliament by uniformed pro-Russian gunmen is the most interesting evidence of Russian private security firms playing a role.

“You saw some really fit athletic guys with quite extensive military equipment -- assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and they were carrying big [containers] full of spare ammunition and spare rockets," he said. "They had on identification tape so they could recognize each other in the dark. These were pretty well-organized guys. But they weren’t in the same uniforms as the Russian troops that we saw blockading the Ukrainian bases, which suggests that [some of them were] contractors. The best description I’ve had of them is that they are former Russian special forces who have set themselves up in the private sector. Many of them work under contract to companies that have close links to Russian oligarchs who, of course, have close links to the Russian president. So we see a [Russian] state-private sector synergy there.”

Langton pointed out that much work appears to have been done before Russia’s intervention to raise small local units among Crimea’s ethnic Russians that could be activated in times of tension. He said that could have been done through Russia’s private military sector or by trained special-force operators working in Crimea.

You May Like

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs