Ukraine’s ‘October Surprise’

When a Russian FSB agent and a Russian soldier were killed by a team of Ukrainian saboteurs, and one of the captured Ukrainians was shown on Russian media in handcuffs, US ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt tweeted

“US government has seen nothing so far that corroborates Russians allegations of a ‘Crimea incursion’ & Ukraine has strongly refuted them.”

Apparently two dead Russians don’t count for much in Pyatt’s book: perhaps Putin personally killed them, and the whole thing is a set up.

And how has Ukraine “strongly refuted” this accusation? According to the Ukrainian authorities, the captured would-be saboteur, one Yevgeny Panov, was “kidnapped” from his home town in Zaporizhia – a distance of some 200 miles – by the Russians and transported to Crimea. The Ukrainian police have solemnly announced that "We are taking all necessary measures to promptly, fully and impartially investigate all circumstances of this crime.” One has to admire the ability of the Ukrainian authorities to utter the most portentous absurdities with the perfect aplomb of a used car dealer, but of course their skills don’t even begin to approach Pyatt’s. The ambassador followed up his tweet with another that stated:

“Russia has a record of frequently levying false accusations at Ukraine to deflect attention from its own illegal actions.”

Speaking of deflection, the lobbying group for NATO, the Atlantic Council, has a long account of the incident here, notable for its obscurantism. However, after going on about various confusing “narratives” – including speculation that the saboteurs may be Russian deserters, or even that they “may not exist at all” – the pretense of objectivity forces the Atlanticists to admit, after several paragraphs of blowing smoke, that, yes,

“Because of the arrest of Panov, it has become clear that the Armyansk incident was not invented by the FSB, as many have claimed online, though details provided are difficult to verify.”

Well, that’s progress, at any rate: acknowledging reality. And of course the details are difficult to verify, since Western “news” accounts are heavily colored, like this NPR piece which doesn’t mention that the Russians captured several of the saboteurs, and doesn’t mention Panov, but wonders why the Russians “waited three days” to report the incident. This Bloomberg account has not one detail about the incident: instead, we are treated to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s denials that anything at all took place, “analysis” by an “expert” that “no one trusts” anybody else, calculations on the sinking of the Ukrainian currency, and warnings about how Putin supposedly has a habit of launching military operations in the midst of the Olympic games. This Associated Press dispatch, published in the New York Times, is similarly bereft of details, and gets the number of Russian casualties wrong: they claim only one Russian died. The rest is “analysis” by various “experts,” claiming that the whole thing is a diversion – oddly, the same line peddled by Ambassador Pyatt – to which are added the author’s own description of Putin’s reaction as “menacing.” The BBC helpfully adds that, while Panov may have been a “volunteer” fighter, he was “more recently” associated with “a charitable organization.”

Since when do members of “charitable” organizations wear camouflage while sneaking over heavily-guarded borders in the dead of night?

So there’s an effective embargo on reliable news from this dark corner of the battlefield between East and West. Yet it’s possible, if we glean facts from disparate sources, to outline how the incident unfolded. CNN, after shilly-shallying for four or five paragraphs – reporting Poroshenko’s denials and Ukrainian military measures to counteract a long-touted and entirely mythical Russian “invasion” – finally coughs up some facts, citing Tass:

“The report said Russian forces spotted the ‘saboteurs’ and while attempting to detain them, found ‘20 improvised explosive devices containing more than 40 kilograms of TNT equivalent, ammunition, fuses, antipersonnel and magnetic bombs, grenades and the Ukrainian armed forces’ standard special weapons.’ It said two Russian servicemen were killed in ensuing clashes.”

According to the Russian daily Kommersant, the Ukrainian incursion occurred on August 7, when Russian intelligence detected the entry of a group of seven armed men in an inflatable boat who passed through the Gulf of Perekop from Ukraine, entering Crimean territory near the town of Armyansk. The men were wearing “Soviet-style” camouflage uniforms, apparently trying to give the impression that they were Russian troops. They were intercepted and a shootout followed, in which several on both sides were wounded and one Russian FSB agent was killed. A second confrontation occurred when, the next day, Russian forces identified one of the saboteurs and followed him into an ambush: Ukrainian military positioned on the border opened fire and a second group crossed the border as the FSB personnel pursued their quarry. One Russian soldier was killed in the ensuing exchange.

At least two of the infiltrators were killed, and of those in the first group five were captured: a total of ten people have been detained, including Panov. Some had Russian passports and the majority are residents of Crimea. Kommersant also said those captured admitted they were engaged in sabotage, acting under orders from Ukrainian intelligence; their objective was to plant bombs at tourist sites and incite panic, effectively destroying Crimea’s lucrative tourist industry, although they denied wanting to kill anyone.

Oh, of course not!

Tass is reporting that Panov has not only confessed that the operation was carried out under the direction of the Ukrainian secret service, but he has identified some of them by name. His taped statement was broadcast over the Rossiya’24 news channel.

Now we have Newsweekreporting” the preposterous Ukrainian “spin” on this botched incursion: it was really a “shootout involving Russian federal security agents (FSB) and Russian armed forces on the Crimean regional border”! Yes, the Russians were shooting at themselves. Ukrainian propaganda usually borders on the fantastic, but this marks a new level of crudity even for them.

So why should we care about this showdown at the Ukrainian corral, anyway?

It’s important because the Ukrainians – like the rest of the world – have been watching the US presidential campaign, and they don’t like what they see. Donald Trump, while disdaining to get involved in Ukraine’s feud with the Kremlin, is asking “Wouldn’t it be good if we could get along with Russia?” This has provoked the Ukrainians into paroxysms of spittle-flecked hysteria. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is openly accusing Donald Trump of being a Russian agent: former CIA chief Mike Morrell, in the process of endorsing her, said Trump is an “unwitting agent” of the FSB. And the “mainstream” media, which is brazenly campaigning on Clinton’s behalf, has been playing the Trump-is-a-Russian-stooge card for all it’s worth.

In short, the leaders of Ukraine hate Trump, have continually denounced him, and are openly rooting for a Clinton victory in November: by launching a terrorist attack on Crimea, and before that trying to assassinate the President of the rebellious Luhansk Republic in eastern Ukraine – they put a bomb under his car, seriously injuring him – they hope to provoke Putin into taking military action. And voila!, we have an “October surprise” – with Hillary taking a hard-line anti-Russian stance, and Trump put in the position of seeming to defend Russian “aggression.”

It’s a perfect set up, for both the Ukrainians – who have been chafing at President Obama’s refusal to provide them with deadly arms – and for Hillary, whose McCarthyite campaign against Trump has taken on all the trappings of a cold war fear-fest of the sort we haven’t seen since the 1950s.

This is the price we pay as a global empire, with our noses stuck in the internal affairs of practically every nation on earth: our clients continually plot and scheme to insert themselves into our internal affairs, including our elections. Intervention is a two-way street.

Russia has lost two servicemen: Putin isn’t going to let this go. And neither are the Ukrainian coup leaders, who came to power by overthrowing the elected President and have a very tenuous hold on power. They need perpetual war scares to keep the populace diverted from their pathetic economic plight and the growing repression exercised by the regime. And certainly Hillary Clinton is ready, willing, and able to use a looming Ukrainian “crisis” to claw her way to the White House – even if she has to risk a nuclear showdown with the Russians. After all, what’s the mere prospect of World War III compared to the supreme importance of installing the First Woman President in the Oval Office?


You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.

I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).

You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].