AFP reports: The expertly armed, masked men in matching camouflage stripped of all insignia are tough, taciturn and tactically devastating.
And according to President Vladimir Putin, they are not — absolutely, categorically not — elite Russian special forces.
So who are the members of this mysterious military or paramilitary force operating in eastern Ukraine, nicknamed “little green men” by many here?
For Kiev and its Western backers, the units, observed moving in lightning-fast and cohesive team formation, are indisputably Russian commandos sent by Moscow to sow trouble, no matter what Putin says. They also appear to be almost identical to those who operated in Crimea before the peninsula’s annexation by Russia last month.
For separatist insurgents whose fealty lies with the Kremlin, they are simply preternaturally good examples of their rag-tag, homegrown “self-defence volunteer brigades”.
In many of the 10 towns in the east controlled by the rebels, the fearsome fighters guard seized public buildings and offer few, if any, words to the curious.
They do, however, easily stand out from their less disciplined brothers in arms.
They wear camouflage uniforms, black ski masks, sports shoes and bullet-proof vests. That is a far cry from the hodge-podge of military surplus and camping attire thrown on by the ordinary separatists — who are also more likely to chat proudly.
On Wednesday, when the Ukrainian military sent an armoured column to confront the rebels, it was the (not so) “little green men” who sprang into action after the vehicles were stopped by angry locals.
The capable fighters quickly took control of six of the armoured personnel carriers and drove them into the centre of the town of Slavyansk — where one of them displayed his mastery of the tracked machine by sending it spinning in high-speed doughnuts. [Continue reading…]