KIEV: Ukraine’s navy said on Sunday that Russia’s border guards had rammed one of its tugboats in the Black Sea off Moscow-annexed Crimea in “openly aggressive actions.” Ukraine said the incident took place as three of its ships including two small warships were heading for the port of Mariupol in the Sea of Azov, an area of heightened tensions between the countries.
Russia accused Kiev of illegally entering its waters and deliberately provoking a conflict. Russia claims the waters off Crimea after annexing the peninsula in 2014.
A Russian border guard ship, the Don, “rammed into our tugboat,” the Ukrainian navy said, adding that this damaged its engine, outer shell and guardrail.
Russia’s ships “carried out openly aggressive actions against Ukrainian naval ships,” it said.
Russia sent two military helicopters to the region to watch the ships, the Ukrainian navy said.
Russian Sukhoi-25 fighter jets were also patrolling the area, the RIA Novosti state news agency reported.
Ukraine complained its ships later got stuck at the Kerch Strait leading into the Sea of Azov, ostensibly because they were blocked by a tanker.
Naval spokesman Oleg Chalyk said on Sunday evening: “The ships are still standing in front of the Kerch Strait. Traffic is blocked.”
Russian politicians in contrast accused Ukraine of acting at the behest of its Western allies and deliberately attempting to escalate the conflict.
Crimean leader Sergei Aksyonov wrote on Facebook that he “was sure the Western masters of the Kiev regime are behind this act of provocation.” Pyotr Tolstoy, deputy speaker of the Russian parliament, warned on Facebook that “the Ukrainian puppet authorities... are risking unleashing a large military conflict.” “One thing is clear: Russia won’t allow military provocations in its territorial waters,” he said.
Russia’s FSB security service, which oversees the border guard service, said in a statement quoted by Russian news agencies that the Ukrainian ships “illegally entered a temporarily closed area of Russian territorial waters.” It said Ukraine’s ships were carrying out “provocative actions” and “their aim is clear: to create a conflict situation in this region.” Ukraine said it gave Russia advance warning of its ships’ route, which Its ships are obliged to take to reach the Sea of Azov.
Published in Dawn, November 26th, 2018