Ukraine’s Main Directorate of Intelligence (GUR) reported “growing” confrontations between pro-Ukrainian residents of Crimea and Russia’s military stationed on the peninsula that Putin invaded and annexed from Ukraine in 2014. GUR wrote on its Telegram channel that these residents have been “systematically” attacking Russian military bases with Molotov cocktails on Crimea, which has forced Russia to increase surveillance in the region.
Jason Jay Smart—a political adviser on post-Soviet and international politics—told Newsweek that Crimea “is not a bastion of pro-Moscow support as Russia likes to tell the world.”
“The reality is that there are plenty of folks there who oppose the Russian occupiers and realize that their hour of liberation may be nearing and so are keep to take part in expelling the foreign military power,” Smart said.
The unrest in Crimea comes a little more than a month after the Wagner Group of Russian mercenaries attempted a mutiny against Moscow in late June. Though peace was brokered in the Wagner rebellion the day after it began, the incident garnered worldwide attention with many observers characterizing it as one of the greatest direct challenges to Putin’s power.
Meanwhile, Putin has also been faced with dissent closer to home as mainland Russia has been beset by a recent string of attacks on military enlistment offices. At least nine such offices have been targeted by arsonists since Saturday, according to a Tuesday story by The Moscow Times. Along with an incident at an office in Crimea, attempted arson attacks have reportedly occurred at enlistment centers in St. Petersburg, Kazan, regions of Moscow and other locations.
“Putin’s problems are becoming more aggravated by not just a war abroad but also by domestic partisans who are seeking to throw off the yolk of the Kremlin,” Smart said.
The Ukrainian intelligence report about the attacks on Crimean military bases said “mass detentions and arrests” have occurred as a result. GUR noted that most of those arrested have been representatives of the Crimean Tatar people, a Muslim ethnic minority indigenous to the region.
George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government professor Mark N. Katz told Newsweek that despite such reports, “it is very difficult to tell just how widespread opposition to Russia is in Crimea.”
“Much of the Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar population departed at the time of the 2014 annexation. Much of the remaining Russian or pro-Russian Ukrainian population reportedly voted overwhelmingly in support of annexation in the referendum held that year, but it was hardly a free and fair vote,” he said.
Katz added, “Still, I don’t think that the resident Russian population wants to see Crimea returned to Ukrainian control. So while there may be anti-Russian opposition activity taking place in Crimea, it is not clear how widespread it is.”
“The future of Crimea is going to be one of the thorniest issues to sort out since both Russia and Ukraine claim it, much of the resident population may want to remain with Russia, but much of the population that fled will want to go back to a Crimea that belongs to Ukraine.”