Greystone Denies Russian Accusations of Meddling in Ukraine

The private security and aviation firm Greystone Ltd. denied Russian allegations that it had sent personnel to Ukraine to help Kiev's military prepare for a crackdown on the country's pro-Russian residents.

In a phone call with Foreign Policy, a Greystone spokesperson said "the company does not currently nor do we have any plan to send employees to Ukraine."

The spokesperson declined to reveal her name or details of the firm, which provides security training and aviation services to clients and has offices in Virginia and Abu Dhabi.

The denial came just hours after the Russian Foreign Ministry accused "American experts from the private military organization Greystone" of working with Ukrainian troops to seize control of eastern Ukraine. In the last 48 hours, pro-Russian protesters have occupied government buildings in the eastern Ukrainian cities of Kharkiv, Luhansk and Donetsk. Kiev has sent forces to reclaim some of the buildings, but the situation remains fluid.

When contacted about the Greystone allegations, the Russian Embassy in Washington forwarded an article published by the Kremlin-run Voice of Russia news broadcaster. The article discusses a "buildup" of Ukrainian forces in southeastern Ukraine "involving some 150 American mercenaries from Greystone, dressed in uniforms of the Ukrainian special task police unit Sokol."

The Russian Foreign Ministry is quoted in the article as saying that Greystone is an "affiliate body of the Blackwater private army, whose soldiers have been accused of committing rigorous and regular human rights abuses in troubled regions." 

The Greystone spokesperson denied the charge. "We're not affiliated with Blackwater," she said. "We've always been that way."

When Foreign Policy pointed out that Greystone's own company website declares that it used to be an "affiliate of what is now Xe Services," the successor to Blackwater, the spokesperson conceded: "I guess if that's what you want to call it."

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The Cable

Kerry Accuses Moscow of 'Unmistakable' Covert Ops in Eastern Ukraine

In blistering testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry accused Russian special forces of orchestrating "chaos" in eastern Ukraine this week to set the stage for a possible invasion of the region and bluntly warned that Moscow would be hit with significant new economic sanctions if it chose to launch a strike.

Kerry's comments reflected the Obama administration's growing concern that the unrest raging in the eastern Ukrainian cities of Kharkiv, Luhansk and Donetsk could offer Russian President Vladimir Putin an excuse for an armed incursion. Pro-Russian demonstrators  have seized an array of government buildings in recent days and demanded the right to secede from Ukraine, leading Kiev to send troops to retake the compounds. U.S. officials worry that Putin is trying to force Ukraine into a clash with the protesters so Moscow would be able to justify an intervention on humanitarian grounds.

"No one is fooled by what could potentially be a contrived pretext for military intervention just as we saw in Crimea," Kerry said. "These efforts are as ham-handed as they are transparent, and quite simply what we see from Russia is illegal and illegitimate effort to destabilize a sovereign state and create a contrived crisis with paid operatives across an international boundary."

Russia has denied meddling in eastern Ukraine, but Moscow has been steadily ratcheting up its war of words with Ukraine. On Tuesday, Russia's Foreign Ministry warned Kiev's fledgling government that any further use of force in the cities of Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv could lead to civil war. "We are calling for the immediate cessation of any military preparations," it said in a message on its website.

More tantalizingly, the ministry went on to accuse "American experts from the private military organization Greystone" of working with Ukrainian troops to prepare for a crackdown on the country's pro-Russian residents. 

Speaking on background, a State Department official notably did not deny the presence of Greystone personnel in the country. "I'd refer you to that company for any questions on its personnel," said the official. "As for the United States, we do not have any U.S. military units in Ukraine." 

Greystone, formerly an affiliate of the notorious private security firm known as Xe Services, broke off as a standalone company in 2010. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Its website advertises protective services and training; aviation maintenance and operations; site security and management; and vulnerability assessments and risk management.

Kerry followed his allegations against Russia with warnings that the U.S. was prepared to impose new sanctions on key sectors of the Russian economy and those "orchestrating" the actions in eastern Ukraine. Sanctions on "energy, banking, mining - they're all on the table," Kerry said. Existing sanctions have targeted Russian individuals involved with Moscow's seizure and annexation of Crimea.

The U.S. hopes to launch multilateral negotiations in the next 10 days involving Washington, Kiev, the European Union and Moscow but no date has been agreed upon. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday he was prepared for the talks, but "we need to understand the format and agenda of this meeting."

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