By Paul Goble
ISIS has designated Crimea and Western Ukraine as territories it considers part of its sphere of influence and as ones that it intends to conquer before 2025, Aleksandr Korenkov says. But the difficulties ISIS now faces in Syria and Ukraine’s low profile among its fighters suggest that Ukraine is at least not yet a priority of Islamic State militants.
Korenkov, an expert of the Kyiv Center for the Study of Rebel Movements, tells the Apostrophe portal that for the moment, Ukraine is “not among the priorities of ISIS activists because [Ukrainians] are not fighting in Syria.” But officials should not lessen their efforts to combat the arrival of ISIS operatives (apostrophe.ua/article/society/2016-09-10/do-2025-goda-igil-hochet-zavoevat-kryim-i-zapadnuyu-ukrainu/7218).
Ukrainian security services have identified ISIS fighters in Kharkhiv, Kyiv and other cities, the specialist says; but their task is made difficult by the fact that typically at least in European countries, ISIS adherents do not identify themselves as such until after they carry out a terrorist attack.
Korenkov says there is no agreement as to how many Ukrainians have gone to fight for ISIS; but that may matter less than the fact that since 2014, Ukraine has been a member of the global coalition for the fight against ISIS and is known to be such.
Asked about reports that ISIS is “a project of Russia and of Putin personally,” the Ukrainian expert says that “there is no direct evidence for this,” although there are a large number of Russian citizens in the ranks of ISIS. He says there may be as many as 2500 of them, making Russia one of the top three contributors to its ranks.
Asked whether ISIS terrorism in Ukraine was likely, Korenkov says that “theoretically it is possible” given Ukraine’s position on ISIS. And he notes that “in its materials, ISIS lists Ukraine among the enemies of the Islamic state.” But “for the time being,” Ukraine isn’t a priority, especially given the problems ISIS faces in Syria and Iraq.