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Armed men without insignia (so-called "little green men") in Simferopol Airport, 28 February 2014. The AK-74 on the right does not have a magazine inserted

"Little green men" armed with AK-74s blockading Perevalne military base, 25 kilometres south of Simferopol, 9 March 2014

"Little green men" armed with PK machine guns outside the parliament in Simferopol, 14 March 2014

Little green men (Russian: зелёные человечки, Ukrainian language: зелені чоловічки ) is a colloquial expression referring to masked unmarked soldiers in green army uniforms wielding Russian military weapons and equipment within Ukraine. It was first used during the 2014 Crimean crisis, when said soldiers occupied and blockaded the Simferopol International Airport, most military bases in Crimea[1] and the parliament in Simferopol.

Retired Russian Admiral Igor Kasatonov has revealed that the little green men belonged to the army Spetsnaz and said that according to his information the Russian troop deployment in Crimea included six helicopter landings and three landings of IL-76 with 500 people.[2]

In Russia the unknown soldiers were later called "polite people" (Russian: вежливые люди, Ukrainian language: ввічливі люди ).[3][4][5][6]

Weapons and equipment analysis

In March 2014 the Finnish magazine Suomen Sotilas (Soldier of Finland) published an analysis of the weapons and equipment seen on photos of "little green men".

The article points to a number of weapons and pieces of equipment that it asserts is issued only to armed forces in the Russian Federation:

  • New EMR camouflage combat uniforms
  • New 6Sh112 tactical vest
  • New 6B27 composite helmet
  • New 7.62 mm PKP machine guns
  • 6B26 composite helmets (used only by airborne troops of the Russian Federation)
  • 6Sh92-5 tactical vest (used only by airborne troops of the Russian Federation)
  • Gorka-3 combat uniform (used only by Russian special forces and mountain troops)
  • Smersh AK/VOG tactical vest (used only by Russian special forces)

The article goes on to conclude that with a very high probability these troops are the 45th Guards Separate Reconnaissance Regiment of VDV, Kubinka, Moscow.[7]

Official Russian reaction

At first President of Russia Vladimir Putin stated that the men in green were not part of Russian Armed Forces, but groups of local militia who had obtained their weapons from Ukrainians.[8] The SACEUR of NATO Allied Command Operations General Philip Breedlove on the other hand asserted that these "green men" were in fact Russian troops.[9]

In March 2014 Putin continued to back the Russian viewpoint,[10][11] stating "the heavily armed, tightly coordinated groups who took over Crimea's airports and ports at the start of the incursion – they were merely spontaneous "self-defence groups" who may have acquired their Russian-looking uniforms from local [military] shops (voyentorg)".[12][13] According to the Ukrainian Gun Owners Association, Ukrainian law does not allow the selling or carrying of firearms other than for hunting.[14] On 17 April president Putin admitted for the first time publicly that Russian special forces were involved in the events of Crimea, for the purposes of protecting local people and creating conditions for a referendum.[15][16][17][18][19][20] Later he admitted that Russian Armed Forces had blocked Ukrainian Armed Forces in Crimea during the events.[21]

Russian Minister of Defence Sergey Shoygu answered on the question about the presence of Russian troops in Crimea that "Regarding the statements about use of Russian special forces in Ukrainian events, I can only say one thing – it's hard to search for a black cat in a dark room, especially if it's not there," and added cryptically that searching for the cat would be "stupid" if the cat is "intelligent, brave, and polite",[3][22] from where the expression "polite men" came into being too.

Reappearance in Donbass

During the War in Donbass a Reuters correspondent reported from a settlement of Kolosky in Donetsk Oblast on 26 August 2014 that dozens of heavily-armed strangers with Russian accents have appeared at the weekend and set up a road block (about 10 kilometres from the Russian border).[23][24]

The men had white arm bands, the same identifying mark that was worn by 10 men captured a few kilometers (miles) away by Ukrainian forces and who, in a video released on Tuesday (26 August 2014), said they were Russian paratroopers.[23] A report by the BBC referred to the unmarked Russian forces in the Donbass as a "Ghost Army".[25]

On 13 January 2015 Ukrainian news outlet reported of Russian special forces in Luhansk along with footage of eight unmarked soldiers in green army uniforms patrolling a street there with several of them carrying an AS Val, a weapon exclusive to the Russian Armed Forces.[26]

International reactions

  • Latvia The Ukrayinska Pravda reported that the Minister of Defense of Latvia Raimonds Vējonis has promised to shoot the little green men if they won't act peacefully.[27]
  • Belarus On February 1, 2015, a doctrine came into effect stating "sending of armed groups, irregular forces, or mercenary groups who use arms against Belarus will trigger a declaration of war"[28] and "concentration of foreign forces along the Belarusian border" will result in invoking martial law.[29]


  1. Shevchenko, Vitaly (11 March 2014). ""Little green men" or "Russian invaders"?". BBC News Online. Retrieved 23 June 2014. 
  2. "NATO Recon Missed Everything: Admiral Reveals Details of Crimea Operation". Sputnik. 13 March 2015. Retrieved 13 March 2015. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Шойгу о "зелёных человечках" на Украине: глупо искать чёрную вежливую кошку в тёмной комнате" (in Russian). Московский комсомолец. 17 April 2014. Archived from the original on 2014-04-25. Retrieved 2015-04-10. 
  4. "Вооруженные люди захватили аэропорты Симферополя и Севастополя - СМИ" (in Russian). Armed men seized Simferopol and Sevastopol airports. 28 February 2014. Retrieved 10 April 2015. 
  5. ""Вежливые люди" как новый образ Российской армии" (in Russian). "Polite people" as the new image of the Russian Army. RIA. 16 May 2014. Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  6. "Харків, 13 липня. Напад на журналістку. Ввічливі люди…" (in Ukrainian). 16 July 2014. Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  7. Pulkki, Arto (3 March 2014). "Crimea Invaded By High Readiness Forces of the Russian Federation". Helsinki: Suomen Sotilas (Soldier of Finland). Retrieved 5 September 2014. 
  8. "Путін: В Криму діють не війська РФ, а "загони самооборони", які забрали зброю в українців". еспресо tv. 4 March 2014. Retrieved 31 March 2014. 
  9. "Головнокомандувач НАТО у Європі вважає, що всі воєнізовані формування у Криму є армією РФ". РБК Україна. 12 March 2014. Retrieved 31 March 2014. 
  10. Putin does not rule out intervention if chaos takes over Ukraine. El País. 4 March 2014
  11. Crimean crisis: Putin gives interview. Handelsblatt. 4 March 2014
  12. Putin offers Ukraine olive branches delivered by Russian tanks. The Guardian. 4 March 2014
  13. Ukraine: Putin blows hot and cold. Le Figaro. 4 March 2014
  14. Ukrainian Gun Owners Association: free people carry weapon, slaves do not. Resource center Hurt. 11 January 2012
  15. Путин: в Крыму действовали российские военные, 17 April 2014.
  16. Putin’s remarks raise fears of future moves against Ukraine The Washington Post, 17 April 2014.
  17. "President of Russia". 1 June 2010. Retrieved 2014-04-20. 
  18. Совет при Президенте РФ / Проблемы жителей Крыма, retrieved 2014-06-15.
  19. Gregory, Paul Roderick (5 May 2014). "Putin's 'Human Rights Council' Accidentally Posts Real Crimean Election Results". Forbes. Retrieved 30 June 2014. 
  20. "Putin acknowledges Russian military serviceman were in Crimea". 17 April 2014. "Putin had to touch upon the Crimea topic multiple times throughout his Q&A session. He emphasized that Russia did not acquire Crimea by force, but created, with the help of its special forces, conditions for Crimeans to decide upon their own future." 
  21. "Путин: Украинских военных в Крыму блокировали российские войска". Liga News. 11 November 2014. Retrieved 28 January 2015. 
  22. "Kiev's claims over special forces 'resemble paranoia': Russia". Zee News. 17 May 2014. Retrieved 21 March 2015. 
  23. 23.0 23.1 Tsvetkova, Maria. "'Men in green' raise suspicions of east Ukrainian villagers". Orlando Sentinel.,0,4798053.story. 
  24. "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}" (in Russian). Reuters. 26 August 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  25. "MH17 disaster: Russians 'controlled BUK missile system'". BBC News. 8 September 2014. Retrieved 8 September 2014. 
  26. "Russian special forces in Luhansk: so called insurgents armed with AS "Val" assault rifles - the weapon used by the Russian Federation Army only. VIDEO". 13 January 2015. Retrieved 5 February 2015. 
  27. "Міністр оборони Латвії пообіцяв стріляти в "зелених чоловічків"" (in Ukrainian). Minister of Defense of Latvia promised to shoot the little green men. Ukrayinska Pravda. 11 September 2014. Retrieved 22 March 2015. 
  28. "Russia May Need to Say ‘Do Svidaniya’ to Belarus". 2015-01-30. Retrieved 2015-04-08. 
  29. "‘Green men’ recognised threat to Belarus national security". Belsat. 2015-02-02. Retrieved 2015-02-02. 

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