MOSKVA – Russia and Ukraine accused each other of provoking an accident at sea on Sunday, rapidly escalating tensions between…
MOSKVA – Russia and Ukraine accused each other of provoking an accident at sea on Sunday, rapidly escalating tensions between neighbors and spurring Moscow to close a vital waterway that the two nations use.
On Sunday morning, Russia prevented three Ukrainian ships from entering the Kerch stretch, a narrow water strip connecting Azov and the Black Sea. According to the Ukrainian Navy, ships belonging to Russia’s border service opened fire on the Ukrainian Navy and injured six seamen before catching two of the vessels.
Moscow had prevented the ships from entering the Kerch stretch by placing a large cargo ship under a Russian controlled bridge . Russia then closed the route.
Russia says that the Ukrainian navy illegally entered its waters. The two artillery boats and a tugboat “illegally entered a temporarily closed area of Russia’s territorial water at 7 o’clock in Moscow,” told Russia’s border inspection service for the Interfax news agency. “It is obvious that their goal is to create a conflict situation in the region.”
Ukraine disputes this. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Russia acted “aggressively” and “illegally used force against the navy of the Ukrainian Navy”. A Russian ship collapsed into the tugboat and injured it, the Ukrainian navy allowed.
A bilateral agreement gives both countries the right to use the Azov Sea.
The standoff raises the ghosts of further confrontation between Russia and Ukraine. Ukraine demanded an emergency meeting in the UN Security Council. The European Union called on Russia to resume the Kerch Strait and called on “all to act with utmost restraint in order to escalate the situation immediately.”
Much is at stake. The two countries have been looking for a pro-Moscow government in Ukraine to disappear more than four years ago, by relocating Russia’s annex to Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine involving Russian separatists.
The struggle between the rebels and Ukrainian troops has claimed more than 10,300 lives since 2014, and continued skirmishes lead to near fatal accidents.
Ukraine has promised to respond to the Sunday event. “We will react dynamically,” said Ukrainian marine spokesman Oleh Chalyk. “Unlike the Russian Federation, we are acting under international law.”
According to the Ukrainian Navy, Russia sent two combat helicopters to the scene of the event. Local media reported that dozens of ships, both freight and tourists, stick to the Black Sea.
The Ukrainian ships were on a trip through the Black Sea after leaving the Ukrainian port of Odessa and went to Mariupol on the Azov coast, the government-controlled Ukrainian city closest to the disruptions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Since 19459024, President Vladimir Putin opened earlier this year the new bridge over the Kerch stretch – connecting the Russian mainland to the Crimea – Moscow has increased its control over the area.
Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have continually increased in recent months, and even into new battlefields.
Last month, the conflict broke out in faith when the Ukrainian Orthodox Church officially broke free from Moscow control, a move that continues to anger the Kremlin.
In the Black Sea, the popular Russian television receiver Dmitry Kiselyov, told the TV that Ukraine’s President, Petro Poroshenko, took a struggle with Russia at the request of the United States.
“What’s happening now at the bridge [Kerch] threatens to be a very unpleasant story,” says Kiselyov, one of the Kremlin’s foremost propagandaists.
Stern reported from Kiev, Ukraine.