Russia-Ukraine confrontation at sea: What we know
Russian forces fired on, boarded and captured three of Kiev’s ships on Sunday off the coast of Crimea. Moscow has detained 24 Ukrainian sailors and at least three have been wounded. Poroshenko-Putin Ukraine and Russia blame each other for the incident, the first act of open confrontation between the countries in a crisis that has lasted since 2014. Here is what we know about the incident so far: – Kerch Strait closed –
Russia’s FSB security service said that border guards on Saturday evening began warning two approaching Ukrainian vessels — a tanker and a tugboat — of a “temporary closure” of the Kerch Strait. Since its 2014 annexation of Crimea, Russia has controlled this strait, the only way to pass from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov, which is shared by both countries. Overnight, the Yani Kapu tug was joined by two gunboats, the Nikopol and the Berdyansk.
The three vessels had left Odessa in southwestern Ukraine on Friday and were heading for Mariupol, Ukraine’s main port city on the Sea of Azov. The FSB said that at 5:55 am local time (0255 GMT), the commander of the Berdyansk announced that it intended to pass through under the “right of passage” guaranteed to all ships by a 2003 agreement between Russia and Ukraine. At 0330 GMT, a Russian coast guard boat responded that they had not followed the necessary procedure by submitting a written request 24 to 48 hours in advance. Ukraine’s armed forces chief of staff Viktor Muzhenko denied this, saying the ships had followed the rules on requests and the port of Kerch had not responded to their inquiries. – Start of clashes –
The FSB said that the three ships — the tanker had by then left — continued on their route, crossing into Russian territorial waters at 0410 GMT. Hours of confrontation ensued. Images showed Russian helicopters flying over the bridge built by Russia across the strait. Two Sukhoi-25 planes were also deployed. During the day, a large cargo ship was placed across the bridge to block passage. Ukraine accused Russian border guards of using “dangerous methods” against the Yani Kapu tug, which was knocked off course. Videos published later showed a Russian border guard boat violently ramming the much smaller tug. Ukraine was swift to condemn “acts of aggression”.
The FSB insisted the Ukrainian vessels did not respond to warnings from the coast guards and on Sunday condemned “acts of provocation” whose “aim is clear: to create a conflict situation in this region.” – Firing on the Berdyansk – The naval manoeuvres continued for most of the day. Ukraine’s chief of staff said the country’s ships received no response from Russian authorities until 1200 GMT. He said the decision was taken at 1500 GMT to send the boats back to Odessa, but they were pursued by 10 Russian naval ships which immobilised them in international waters 13 or 14 nautical miles off Crimea. Under Russian law it is permitted to continue chasing ships in international waters if they have breached the Russian border. The situation then grew more tense when a Russian ship, the Izumrud, fired warning shots.
Russia said this was justified because border guards had already used all possible methods to prevent breaches of the Russian border. After the first warning shots at 1745 GMT, the Izumrud aimed at and hit the Berdyansk 10 minutes later. The Ukrainian boat was unable to continue its course and asked for medical assistance for wounded men on board. The FSB said that the Berdyansk was boarded at 1806 GMT and three wounded among its crew of seven were evacuated. The two other boats were seized minutes later. Only the Nikopol remains undamaged. The three ships were moved to Kerch, as were the 24 Ukrainian sailors taken prisoner by Russia. Vanguard