Everyone is curious who those unmarked men in unforms that have been seen in youtube clips from the Crimea are. Courtesy of Russian blogger Lev Shlosberg who writes for the newspaper Pskovskaya Guberniya, we now have an answer: according to him they are the officers of the 76th Chernihov (Pskov) Storm Troops Division and have slowly dispersed across key choke points in Ukraine.
According to one of the participants in the operation, officers and contractors of the 76th Shock Troops Division have been re-locating to Ukrainian territory since last week. By early this week, there were already more than 100 soldiers. The last of the famous detachments was sent on Thursday, 27 February. They are fully armed, with 5,000 rounds of ammunition per person. There is one truck per 10 soldiers, and they are completely loaded with weapons including flame-throwers. Upon arrival on the territory of Ukraine, they did not report their geographical locations to people, and they were assigned local tasks. Most likely, this was Sevastopol and Simferopol. Emergency troops remain in Yysk, and did not take part in the operation. The barracks of the 76th Storm Troops Division on Margelova Street in Pskov is practically empty.
Some background on the 76th:
Originally established in 1939 as the 157th Rifle Brigade, division gained prominence during WWII as the 76th Guards Rifle Division fighting on the USSR’s southern frontiers. From 1988-1992 the 76th Airborne Division, as it had become known, engaged in preventative security, averting the possible outbreak of war in former USSR territory. The division battled alongside Chechen paramilitary forces in the 1990s to wrest control of Chechen territories from Chechen separatists in the first and second Chechen wars. In 2006 the 76th Airborne Division became an Air Assault Division. During the 2008 Battle of Tskhinvali 76th Airborne Division assaults were instrumental in driving Georgian troops from South Ossetia in the Southern Caucasus.
The 76th Division comprises three regiments – the 104th, 234th and 237th, whose ranks are filled by full time professional servicemen, as opposed to conscripts. The division is equipped with the most sophisticated weaponry in modern warfare, such as the ‘smart’ precision guided munitions, guided missiles and 2S9 NONA self-propelled mortar vehicles.
Perhaps not surprising, it was the 76th that was also involved in Syria:
Given the worsening crisis in Syria, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper reported that the Russian army is apparently being prepared for a mission in Syria. Citing anonymous sources in the military leadership, the newspaper said that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the general staff to work out a plan for military operations outside Russia, including in Syria.
The units being prepared for an intervention are the 76th Division of airborne forces (an especially experienced unit of the Russian army), the 15th Army Division, as well as special forces from a brigade of the Black Sea fleet, which has a base in the Syrian port of Tartus.
The details of the operational plan are being prepared by the working parties of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, to which most of the post-Soviet states belong, as well as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, to which China and Russia belong.
And the 76th appears to have been busy today: Ayder Muzhdabayev, deputy editor of Moskovsky Komsomolets, reported on Facebook 2 hours ago:
Urgent from Crimea
Armed divisions have seized the state television station (GTRK) of Crimea. All the staff have gathered together at the Crimean Tatar TV channel ATR, hundreds of others have come. They are waiting for the seizure. Several APCs have arrived. For now, they’ve passed by. They are also expected seizure of the building of the Crimean Tatar’s Medjlis [Assembly]. People are already going there. Everyone is afraid of what will happen tonight. There it is.
Friends, colleagues, take care of yourself! Don’t resist the military. God save Crimea!
It would appear Putin is not exactly deterred by Obama’s harsh language.