The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) confirmed March 16 the arrest of a group of Russians in the Zaporizhzhia (Zaporozhye) region of Ukraine. The men were armed with firearms, explosives and unspecified 'special technical means'.
This follows the March 14 arrest near Kherson, Ukraine of several Russians dressed black uniforms with no insignia, armed with AKS-74 assault rifles and in possession of numerous ID cards under various names. One of which was an ID card of Military Intelligence Directorate of the Russian armed forces; commonly known as 'Spetsnaz'.
These men were being guided by an ethnic Russian Ukrainian in what appears to be reconnaissance of the 3 Ukrainian army divisions deployed in Kherson.
Spetsnaz commandos operating in eastern Ukraine would have the missions encompassing general ground reconnaissance of Ukrainian army units. They would also have missions conducting provocateur operations dressed in civilian attire, passing themselves off as local ethnic Russians to stir trouble between Ukrainians and local Russians, organize and provide arms to local militants as happened in Donetsk on March 11.
Spetsnaz is often thought of in the West as the direct equivalent of elite U.S. Navy SEALS or Britain’s Special Air Service (SAS). However, Spetsnaz members even in Soviet days are less individually specialized, engage in much broader clandestine operations and usually operate in more numerous units as compared to Western counterparts.
Among military missions they may perform preparatory to a Russian invasion would be planting explosives at key communications choke points to hinder movement of Ukrainian forces; seizing control of roads, rail heads, bridges and ports for use by arriving Russian combat troops; and possibly capturing or assassinating Ukrainian generals or politicians in key positions of authority.
Additionally however, Spetsnaz also infiltrate themselves into local populations, particularly in a nation where an ethnic divide already exists. Once in place they begin ‘stirring the pot’ of ethnic and political strife with the goal of creating violent clashes usually involving firearms and destabilizing local authority.
In Cold War times such methods were often used to destabilize a nation to prime it for communist revolution from within; or as in the case of Afghanistan in 1979, to pave the way for the Soviet invasion of that nation.
Efforts in Ukraine are likely a combination of all methods with the enormous advantage of fellow Russians in eastern Ukraine; allowing those from outside Ukraine to blend in almost seamlessly and very likely have friends and relatives in eastern Ukraine to gain assistance from.
A very similar scenario played out in lost German territories held by Poland on the eve of Germany’s invasion of that nation in 1939.
It also has to be considered that Spetsnaz operatives were present on the ground during the Maidan protests in Kiev and likely on both sides of it. It is very possible that these men were communicating false orders to police as Ukrainian authority and were imbedded among protestors to 'rabble rouse' and even shoot back at the police.
These are lessons to be heeded by NATO and Washington for the future. Once Ukraine has a Russian boot firmly placed to the neck, Moldova and the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia will be next. Each has a similar divide in percentage of ethnic Russians to local peoples; and there has been ethnic strife over the last few years strikingly similar to that which preceded Maidan in Ukraine.
Moldova is not a NATO member, however the Baltic States are members and NATO is obligated to defend them. Moscow is well aware of that implication and therefore will not trigger a NATO response.
Russian methods employed in Ukraine, particularly the March 16 vote in Crimea to join Russia that passed overwhelmingly is likely the future template for Putin to pry the Baltic States out of NATO and thereby remove that ‘tripwire’; allowing Russia to reabsorb those small nations too.