Ukrainian prosecutors publish reconstruction of Russian attack on Ukrainian ships in Black Sea

Russian Aggression

Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office (GPU) has published a video reconstructing the timeline of the Russian attack on three Ukrainian ships near the Kerch Strait on 25 November, in the result of which 24 Ukrainian sailors were taken captive. During the pretrial investigation, Ukrainian prosecutors gathered 17 volumes of proof that Russia committed an act of aggression against the Ukrainian Navy, having questioned 75 witnesses and three relatives of the wounded sailors, inspected the ships Horlivka and Bantu which made it back to the port of Odesa, as well as studied intercepts between the ships of the Black Sea fleet, FSB border guard service, and the Ukrainian Navy.

Eight Russian FSB operatives are suspects in the criminal case opened by the GPU, including Admiral Gennady Medvedev, head of the Russian coast guard department and deputy head of the FSB’s Border Guard Service; Alexey Salyaev, commander of the Don coast guard ship (that rammed the Ukrainian tugboat Yany Kapu); and Andrei Shipitsin, commander of the Izumrud coast guard ship (that fired at the Ukrainian vessels).

Here is the GPU’s version of events (our comments are in italics). The FSB’s version can be found here: FSB tries to explain attack on Ukrainian ships, proves Russia broke its own laws.

November 23: The cutters Nikopol, Berdiansk, and tugboat Yanu Kapu depart Odesa for Mariupol.

15:05, November 24: Russian naval vessel “Suzdalets” started escorting the Ukrainian boats.

15:17: Russian Mi-8 helicopter flew over the Ukrainian vessels.

15:37: Ukrainian side contacts Suzdalets, says boats are proceeding as planned. Suzdalets continues escorting the Ukrainian vessels.

18:35: Boat of the border service of the FSB joined the escort.

21:07: FSB boat tells the rules of passing through the strait to the Ukrainian boats, thus confirming the possibility of passing.

21:30: Russian side tells the Ukrainian side that Kerch Strait is closed for navigation from 22:00 November 24 to 22:00 November 26, offering no explanation. So far, the GPU’s chronology roughly corresponds to the FSB’s.

The Ukrainian Navy Headquarters checked the database of the coordinator of the geographic area NAVAREA-III in Spain, as well as Navtex notices, which revealed no such official restrictions for passing through the Kerch Strait. The absence of restrictions was confirmed by the Ukrainian state hydrography service Derzhhidrographia. According to international and Russian law, “the coastal State may, without discrimination in form or in fact among foreign ships, suspend temporarily in specified areas of its territorial sea the innocent passage of foreign ships if such suspension is essential for the protection of its security, including weapons exercises. Such suspension shall take effect only after having been duly published.” No suspension was published in advance. More here: Russian attack on Ukrainian ships: who has a right to do what in the Azov Sea

3:58, November 25: Berdiansk captain connected with Russian border post call sign Bereh 25 and control centers of the ports of Kerch and Kavkaz, telling about the intention to cross the 12-mile zone and pass through the Kerch Strait. Berdiansk captain cited the 2003 agreement between Ukraine and Russia on the use of the Azov Sea and Kerch Strait, according to which all naval vessels, as well as support vessels and ships, have the right of free passage through the strait, said they were ready to take a pilot on board, and that a notice about the passage through the Kerch Strait was given fou hours in advance. Bereh 25 confirms they received the message.

The FSB version says nothing about the Ukrainian ships communicating with the ports.

Screenshot from the GPU video

5:38: Berdiansk calls Russian FSB border guard vessel Velbot-354, tells that they are passing the 12-mile zone at 6:00 and are moving to pass the Kerch Strait at 8:00. Velbot-354 confirms they received the message. This is also missing from the FSB version.

6:08: The Ukrainian boats passed the 12-mile zone.

6:23: Russians started dangerous maneuvering and prohibited passage to the Ukrainian ships.

6:26: Russian ships give ultimatum to leave the 12-mile zone, Ukraine answers it is acting in according to international sea law and bilateral agreements.

6:34: Russian boats start pushing and ramming, threaten using force. Russian helicopter Mi-8 makes rounds above the vessels. The ramming of Ukrainian tugboat Yanu Kapu by Don is featured in a video that went viral: Russia attacks Ukrainian ships near Kerch strait – video, audio intercepts. According to the video, the ramming took place at 6:35 and 6:44.

7:52: Berdiansk asks to pass the strait. It is unclear whom it asks.

Around 8:00: The Ukrainian sailors managed to outmaneuver Russia’s attempt to ram Berdiansk. Instead, Don and Izumrud collided between themselves, Izumrud damaged its starboard.

8:40: The port control gives an anchorage place for standing in a line to pass the strait.

11:08: Ukrainian vessels arrive at anchorage point given by the port control. The FSB version alleges that the Ukrainian ships were blocked in the anchorage by the maneuvers of the Russian ships. However, this is contradictory, as there is no reasonable explanation for why they were blocking them there for 8 hours without undertaking actions to arrest them, or any other actions, for the violations Russia is alleging Ukraine to have committed.

11:55: Ukrainian crew gets information about the readiness of Don to “couple their anchor chains,” meaning tangling their anchor with that of another ship, in order to stop their movement.

12:00: Novorossiysk port gives an unlawful warning prohibiting passing through the Navtex post, in the moment of the Ukrainian vessels’ presence in waters of joint use. “According to international law, these actions of the Russian Federation are blatantly discriminative towards the vessels of Ukraine,” says the video of the Prosecutor’s Office. Apart from international law which prohibits discriminatory blockage of vessels’ movement through straits, Ukraine and Russia are signatories of the 2003 Ukraine-Russia Treaty on collaboration in using the Azov Sea and Kerch Strait, which states that the waters of the sea and strait are joint internal waters of the two countries, and therefore Ukraine has the right to use them as its own.

12:54: The FSB border control boat announces through its communication channels that the Ukrainians’ passage through the Kerch Strait is subject to a political decision. Then, it demands that the Ukrainian vessels come back to the 12-mile zone. This conversation is described here: Russian military leadership ordered escalation in Black Sea, Ukrainian army intercepts show

13:03: Two attack helicopters loaded with laser attack missile armament approach and fly over Ukrainian vessels.

13:42: Kerch traffic control post informs that passage through the Kerch Strait is closed in both directions due to a tanker allegedly run aground under the bridge arch. This tanker had not been operated since 2016, does not have an ensign, and was supported by two Russian tugboats under the bridge arch.
“Russian Federation suppresses the work of maritime radio and navigation, deliberately destroying the international shipping security system and unlawfully interfering in global maritime communication systems,” said the GPU.

The tanker. Screenshot from GPU video

17:36: Ukrainian vessels decide to turn back to Odesa.

17:59: FSB control boat Don orders to stop the Ukrainian vessels due to their alleged violation of Russian territorial waters.

18:03: Three Ukrainian vessels are surrounded by 11 Russian boats demanding them to stop, and blocking the exit from the Kerch Strait.

18:08: The Ukrainian vessels receive a warning about the use of weapons against them. However, international law and even Russian legislation prohibits such acts, as it demands that all disputes must be addressed through diplomatic negotiations. Russian legislation prohibits the border guards from firing first. More here: Russian attack on Ukrainian ships: who has a right to do what in the Azov Sea

Russian border control opens fire on the Ukrainian vessels. Berdiansk and Yany Kapu lost their engines, Nikopol was blocked outside the 12-mile zone. According to a distress call of Berdiansk, the attack happened shortly before 19:55. More here.

20:00: The Ukrainian Navy command receives information that Russian special forces boarded the Ukrainian vessels and captured Ukrainian Navy sailors.

A map of the events on 25 November based on open-source material and coordinates from the FSB version of events is below. The GPU version is so far consistent with available open source data.

Click to enlarge. The coordinates of the attacks are taken from: A- coordinates of two incidents when the Russian border guard ship “Don” collided with the Ukrainian tugboat “Yany Kapu” voiced in an intercepted call between the Russian military leadership and Russian border guards; B – a distress call sent by “Berdiansk” after being shot at by the Russian border guard ships; 1-6 – coordinates mentioned in an FSB communique over the incident.

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