Screen grab from the video below.
A video showing several men dressed up in full combat gear refusing to explain who they are has stirred curiosity in Ukraine. These men are not wearing any known police or army insignia, which has led to rumours swirling about their identity.
The video was filmed Saturday evening in the southern city of Nikolaev by a journalist from a local news site called Nikvesti. In the video, local journalists and activists try to talk to the men, who are decked out in army fatigues, body protection, tactical vests, combat helmets, and ski masks. They repeatedly evade questions as to who they are and why they aren’t wearing insignia – which is against the law – saying only that they “were called to patrol to ensure civil order”, and “came here to protect the eternal flame to Soviet heroes” (a monument in the city). They then walk away, refusing to answer any more questions. As they’re departing, a badge reading “CCO” is clearly visible on one of the men’s backs. (Meanwhile, that same evening, an altercation took place between police and opposition members trying to enter the city’s regional administration building, reportedly to check if “hired thugs” were hiding out there.)
Video courtesy of Nikvesti.
The news site’s theory is that the men in the video belong to the Ukrainian Special Operations Forces (for which the acronym is CCO), a division of the armed forces that has, until recently, never been seen on the streets. In 2011, the army announced plans to create such a force though little else was said about it until this past September. When questioned as to whether this force would ever be created, Ukraine’s defence minister remained vague, saying only that the plans had not been cancelled.
This video has been reposted all over Ukrainian blogs and social media, often accompanied by claims that it proves that Russian special forces are active in quashing protests in Ukraine. (This blogger, for example, reposted the video and titled it "Russian colonialist special forces loitering on streets of Nikolaev?") Russia’s army has a special operations division, whose official mission is to protect Russian interests abroad, that also uses the acronym “CCO”. However, there is currently no proof that the men in the video were Russian and not Ukrainian, as the local journalists believed them to be.
Whatever the case may be, these rumours have tapped into larger fears that Russia is trying to quell the protest movement in Ukraine. A few days ago, Anatoly Gritsenko, a former Ukrainian defence minister who is now a prominent member of the opposition, publicly claimed that Russian special forces have been involved in monitoring protests in Kiev. The Russian embassy in Kiev denied this, calling it a “provocation”.