Thursday 19 September 2019

Russia attacks and seizes three Ukrainian ships in Crimea clash

Blockade: Russian jet fighters fly over a bridge connecting the Russian mainland with the Crimean Peninsula with a cargo ship blocking the only exit to the Black Sea. Photo: Reuters
Blockade: Russian jet fighters fly over a bridge connecting the Russian mainland with the Crimean Peninsula with a cargo ship blocking the only exit to the Black Sea. Photo: Reuters

Andrew Osborn

Russia seized three Ukrainian naval ships off the coast of Crimea last night after opening fire on them and wounding several sailors, a move that risks igniting a new crisis between the two countries.

Russia's FSB security service said its border patrol boats had seized the Ukrainian naval vessels in the Black Sea and used weapons to force them to stop.

The FSB said it had been forced to act because the ships - two small Ukrainian armoured artillery vessels and a tug boat - had illegally entered its territorial waters, attempted illegal actions, and ignored warnings to stop while manoeuvring dangerously.

"Weapons were used with the aim of forcibly stopping the Ukrainian warships," the FSB said.

"As a result, all three Ukrainian naval vessels were seized in the Russian Federation's territorial waters in the Black Sea."

The FSB said three Ukrainian sailors had been wounded in the incident and were getting medical care.

With relations still raw after Russia's annexation of Crimea and its backing for a pro-Moscow insurgency in eastern Ukraine, the incident risks pushing the two countries towards a wider conflict.

Ukraine denied its ships had done anything wrong, accused Russia of military aggression, and for the international community to punish Russia.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko held a meeting with his top military and security chiefs amid talk of imposing martial law.

Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and then built a giant road bridge linking it to southern Russia which straddles the Kerch Strait - a narrow stretch of water which links the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov, which is home to two of Ukraine's most important ports.

Russia's control of Crimea, where its Black Sea Fleet is based, and of the bridge, mean it is able to control shipping flows.

The crisis began earlier yesterday after Russia stopped the three Ukrainian ships from entering the Sea of Azov by placing a cargo ship beneath the bridge.

Russia backed its blockade with at least two Sukhoi Su-25 warplanes and Russian combat helicopters were also deployed in the area.

Irish Independent

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