Dangerous maneuvers of Russian seacraft around the Ukrainian boats. Source: FSB Border Service Office in Crimea
This is the first time since the beginning of the Russian aggression in February-March 2014 that Russia is engaging in an open act of aggression against Ukraine, not bothering to hide behind a veil of plausible deniability, like the “Donbas separatists” or “little green men without insignia” before.
Landlocked by the lands of Ukraine (Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia oblasts and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea) and Russia (Rostov Oblast and Krasnodar Krai), the Azov Sea has no other access to open waters than the Kerch Strait.
In fall 2017, Russia finished the construction of the bridge over the Kerch Strait to connect its Black Sea coast to the occupied Crimea. Immediately after that, Russia started hindering passage for Ukrainian and foreign ships that are calling the Ukrainian Azov Sea ports of Berdiansk and Mariupol.
The Kerch bridge reserved only one narrow passage to the Sea of Azov and some Russian officials have even referred to Azov as “Russia’s inland sea.”
Two months ago two, Ukrainian Navy ships, “Donbas” and “Korets,” made their way from the Black Sea port of Odesa sailing round the Russian-occupied peninsula of Crimea via the Kerch Strait to Mariupol, planning to start creating a naval base in Berdiansk.
Yesterday morning, on 25 November, the Ukrainian Navy sent a tugboat “Yany Kapu,” escorted by two artillery armored boats “Berdiansk” and “Nikopol” along the same route to Mariupol.
According to the Ukrainian Navy, at 03:58 (all timestamps EET, Kyiv time) “Berdiansk” notified the coastal post of the Russian border guards service and the seaports of Kerch and Kavkaz of the intended passage via the Kerch Strait. “The information was conveyed, but no reply was given,” reads the report.
Meanwhile at 04:07 the conversation of Kerch port’s operational manager with Russian Black Sea Fleet’s warship “Suzdalets” was recorded regarding finding the Ukrainian ships. At the same time, the port managers of Kerch and Kavkaz didn’t reply to calls of the Ukrainian Navy ships.
Later that day a video of “Don” ramming into “Yan Kapu” surfaced. The footage was recorded from the captain’s bridge of “Don”:
“Like pirates!” commented Andriy Shevchenko, the Ukrainian Ambassador to Canada.
Ukrainian Minister of Interior Arsen Avakov stated that the video was discovered remotely by the Ministry using special equipment.
As Ukrainian ships approached the Kerch Bridge, Russia blocked the passage under the main arch with a tank vessel and told that it had run aground. However, it wasn’t an obstacle for Russia to move it aside for several minutes to let its several ships pass northwards, and close the passage again.
Russia blocked see traffic in the Kerch Bridge officially (unblocked it only this morning on 26 November):
Dozens of ships are stuck at the entrance of the Kerch Strait due to the actions of the Russian Federation. pic.twitter.com/8QSVauMa4f
— Franak Viačorka (@franakviacorka) November 25, 2018
However, some of the Russian ships had a free passage under the blocked bridge:
— Hans Kristensen (@nukestrat) November 25, 2018
After the blockage, Ukrainian ships headed back to Odesa, but shortly after they crossed the 12-nautical-mile baseline and reached neutral waters, the Russian ships opened fire on Ukrainian seacrafts wounding at least one sailor, reported the Ukrainian Navy as of 20:33. Further reports from different sources mention 2-6 wounded Ukrainian servicemen.
Later the Ukrainian Navy reported that following the live-fire attack two of the vessels, Yany Kapu tugboat and Berdiansk armored boat, lost engines and were seized by Russian special forces. They were towed by Russian tugboats. The third seacraft, Nikopol, was surrounded by Russian ships and forced to follow their course.
This morning, the Ukrainian vessels Russia seized yesterday were spotted in Kerch, the captured Ukrainian sailors are reportedly held in the same city:
— Liveuamap (@Liveuamap) November 26, 2018
Meanwhile, Ukrainian ships operated in domestic territorial waters and the annexation of Crimea hasn’t been internationally recognized.
Chief of the General Staff Viktor Muzhenko informed the NSDC meeting that 23 servicemen were aboard the three Ukrainian vessels. Preliminary, six of them were wounded in the Russian attack, two of them were in serious condition.
All 23 were taken captive by the Russian forces.
Meanwhile, Russian media reported this morning that three Ukrainian sailors were in a hospital.
What Ukraine did
Following the Russian ramming attack on the Ukrainian tugboat, the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stressed:
“We consider such aggressive actions as a violation of the norms of the UN Charter and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.”
In its next statement, the MFA accused Russia of expanding its aggression against Ukraine:
The attack on Ukrainian ships that was carried out during a sea crossing from the port of Odessa to the port of Mariupol, in accordance with the provisions of all effective multilateral and bilateral international treaties and navigation rules, is nothing but another act of armed aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, as defined, in particular, in Article 2 of the Charter of the United Nations and the provisions of UN General Assembly Resolution 29/3314 of 14 December 1974 on the definition of aggression. Russia has de facto expanded its military aggression against Ukraine to the sea.
President Petro Poroshenko convened a closed meeting of the Military Cabinet of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) at 22:00 and later an open meeting of the NSDC at 00:00.
Following the NSDC midnight meeting, Council’s secretary Oleksandr Turchynov told that NSDC unanimously supported the proposition to impose martial law in Ukraine for 60 days. According to Turchynov, Ukraine qualifies Russian actions in the Sea of Azov as an act of aggression.
President Poroshenko supported the decision and instructed to submit it for consideration of the parliament.
The suggestion on the introduction of martial law now needs to be considered by the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine’s Parliament). The extraordinary parliamentary meeting on that is to take place on November 26 or 27 behind the closed doors.
As President Poroshenko said at the meeting, imposing martial law does not imply declaring war or holding offensive operations, but it’s intended at defending the Ukrainian territory. He stressed that no full mobilization will take place, constitutional rights and civil freedoms of the citizens will not be limited, Ukraine won’t give up its efforts for the peaceful resolution of the conflict with Russia in the Donbas, mentioning the Minsk Agreements.
Rada speaker Andriy Parubiy announced the closed session of the parliament on 26 November at 16:00.
The Armed Forces of Ukraine have been brought to full combat readiness.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin hasn’t excluded any further aggressive acts by Russia:
Given the blatant arrogance and brutality of russian aggressive actions, it is now likely possible that Russia plans further acts of aggression at sea or on the ground. We must be ready for this #RussiaAttacksUkraine
— Pavlo Klimkin (@PavloKlimkin) November 25, 2018
Ukrainian Mission to UN requested an urgent UN Security Council meeting due to Russian military aggression in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. Russia did the same, accusing Ukraine of violating what Russia believes to be its territorial waters. The meeting was scheduled to 18:00 EET (11:00 EST).
How the World reacts
Hours before the fire attack and assault on Ukrainian vessels, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevichus “strongly condemned” Russia’s blocking the Kerch Strait and ramming the Ukrainian tugboat, calling the latter an act of aggression.
Late at night, the Polish Foreign Ministry published a statement, condemning Russia’s aggressive actions and urged “both sides to show restraint.”
Estonia condemned the Russian attack on Ukrainian vessels and called on the immediate release of the seized ships.
Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs said the attack against the Ukrainian Navy should be condemned by the international community.
NATO called on Russia to ensure unhindered access to Ukrainian ports of the Azov Sea and called for restraint and de-escalation:
EU issued a statement, urging Russia “to restore freedom of passage at the Kerch Strait” and called on Ukraine and Russia “to act with utmost restraint to de-escalate the situation immediately.”
Canada has condemned the Russian aggression in the Kerch Strait:
Canada condemns Russian aggression towards #Ukraine in the #KerchStrait. We call on #Russia to immediately de-escalate, release the captured vessels, and allow for freedom of passage. Canada is unwavering in its support for Ukraine’s sovereignty.
— Chrystia Freeland (@cafreeland) November 26, 2018
US Sen. Rob Portman joined the condemnation:
#Ukraine has the right to use this international waterway. Blocking them is an unlawful, hostile action by the Russians against Ukraine and the US should join the international community in condemning it.
— Rob Portman (@senrobportman) November 26, 2018
And US Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, co-chair of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus, said, “Russia must immediately restore the freedom of navigation through the Kerch Strait to allow Ukrainian vessels to freely use Ukrainian ports,” in his statement.
UA Special Representative to Ukraine Talks Kurt Volker was surprised to know that Russia has accused Ukraine:
Russia rams Ukrainian vessel peacefully traveling toward a Ukrainian port. Russia seizes ships and crew and then accuses Ukraine of provocation???
— Kurt Volker (@SpecRepUkraine) November 26, 2018
Read the follow-up article: Russia attacks Ukrainian ships near Kerch strait – video, audio intercepts
- Ukrainian warships break Russian de-facto blockade in Azov Sea to create naval base
- Crimea’s growing water problem might provoke new Russian attack against Ukraine
- Occupied Crimea is running out of water
- Gaps in geography: Russia thinks Black Sea not European, Duma vice-speaker sees Azov Sea inland Russia’s
- Moscow boosting tensions in Sea of Azov but can’t change strategic situation there
- Moscow seeking to provoke revolts in Ukraine’s Azov Sea ports
- Ukraine has law but not force on its side in Sea of Azov
- Ukraine has law but not force on its side in Sea of Azov
- How Putin’s Crimean bridge grew over 2016-2017 – satellite images
- Scandal as Dutch companies help build bridge to occupied Crimea
- How much will Crimea cost Russians?
- Russia positioning to attack Ukraine from Sea of Azov