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Ripple effects: How the Kerch Strait provocation went down

On November 25, three warships of the Ukrainian Navy illegally crossed the Russian state border at sea

Three Ukrainian warships illegally encroached on Russia’s state border in the Black Sea and entered Russia’s territorial waters, performing dangerous maneuvers. Later on, the FSB said that two more Ukrainian warships had sailed off from Berdyansk to join the three vessels. However, they soon turned back.

What happened

Early on November 25, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) border directorate for Crimea reported that three ships from the Ukrainian Navy had illegally breached the state border of the Russian Federation and entered its territorial waters. The Border Guard Service took measures to ensure the safety of navigation and control shipping traffic in the waters of the Black and the Azov Seas and the Kerch Strait.

All three Ukrainian Navy vessels, which violated the Russian state border, were detained in the Black Sea, following a chase involving gunfire forcing them to stop. During the turmoil, three Ukrainian military servicemen were wounded, yet later they received medical care, the FSB said, adding that their lives were not in danger. A criminal case has been launched over Russia’s state border being breached.

A law enforcement source of the Southern Federal District said that the intruding ships were small armored boats -- the Berdyansk and the Nikopol, as well as a sea tug Krasnoperekopsk, which apparently, was renamed by the Ukrainians.

Due to the incident, traffic had been closed in the Kerch Strait to civilian vessels for security purposes. Early on November 26, the Kerch-Yenikale Canal in the Kerch Strait was re-opened for the movement of civilian ships, Director General of Crimean Maritime Ports Alexei Volkov told TASS. So far, vessels have been passing through it, and the navigation has returned to normal.

Reports trickled in later that two more Ukrainian warships had departed from Berdyansk to the area of entry of the three ships. As a result, the FSB border guards took all necessary measures to thwart the provocation.
Later, three vessels turned back. They were detained by the FSB.

According to the agency, "weapons were used to force the Ukrainian warships to stop." As a result, all three vessels of the Ukrainian Navy were detained in Russia’s territorial waters in the Black Sea. "Three wounded military servicemen of the Ukrainian armed forces received medical assistance," the FSB said, adding that their lives were out of danger.

Consequently, a criminal charge on violating Russia’s border has been initiated.

Russia’s reaction

Spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova slammed the actions of the Ukrainian Navy as a provocation, castigating Kiev as using, "gangster methods”.
According to her, Ukraine’s charge d’affaires will be summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry over the issue. "The reason,” the diplomat emphasized was “Ukraine’s aggressive and provocative action."

Zakharova stressed, "This is not just non-compliance with legal norms, but also a thoroughly planned operation and aggressive steps." "As far as we understand, this provocation and a whole slew of provocative actions had been prepared in advance," she noted.

The FSB stressed that "before making such dangerous and irresponsible decisions, the leadership in Kiev should have thought about the possible consequences of its actions."

Russia’s Federal Security Service said it had irrefutable evidence of Kiev using the Ukrainian Navy to stage a provocation in the Black Sea and promised it would be made public soon.

According to the Kremlin, the incident involving Ukrainian navy ships was a very dangerous provocation on the part of Kiev."This is a very dangerous provocation, which requires particular attention and a special investigation," Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

According to the Kremlin spokesman, the Russian Foreign Ministry is preparing an extensive statement concerning border violations by Ukrainian ships and the Kerch Strait incident. Peskov pointed out that the Border Service of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) had already issued a statement. He added that the United Nations Security Council would also discuss the incident at Russia’s initiative.

Head of the Crimea Sergei Aksyonov believes that Western countries are the ones behind the provocation involving the Ukrainian warships in the Black Sea.

"Today, Ukrainian warships illegally crossed Russia’s border and blatantly violated the norms of international law. I am sure that the Kiev regime’s Western patrons are behind this provocation. It’s not just mere coincidence that European and American politicians have been so concerned over the situation in the Sea of Azov over the recent months. Ukraine, as a country stripped of sovereignty and being under external governance, is an instrument for whipping up international tensions," he wrote on his Facebook account.

He did feel it was possible that such provocations could resurface but vowed that it would not influence Crimea’s daily life.

Russian Federation Council Foreign Affairs Committee First Deputy Chairman Vladimir Dzhabarov told TASS that the incident was a desperate attempt by Poroshenko to boost his weak ratings before the upcoming presidential elections in the country.

Ukraine’s provocation with its vessels violating Russia’s state border was staged in order to impose martial law, Chairman of the Russian Federation Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev said.

The senator blasted Kiev saying that the regime there seeks to maximize use of "this shameful pirate PR stunt” to trumpet the beginning of Pyotr Poroshenko’s election campaign, and to put Ukraine in the international media’s top headlines. In addition, he pointed out their need to create urgent pretexts for the world community to ‘condemn’ Russia.

According to Deputy Speaker of the State Duma Pyotr Tolstoy, this provocation proves that Poroshenko is Ukraine’s ‘war’ president, and therefore a settlement to the conflict in Donbass shouldn’t be expected with him at the helm in Kiev.
Russia’s First Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Dmitry Polyansky announced that Moscow had requested an emergency UN Security Council meeting on the situation in the Sea of Azov on November 26.

"In connection with the dangerous developments in the Sea of Azov and subsequent events, Russia requested to convene an open Security Council meeting on the morning of November 26 on maintaining international peace and the security agenda item," he said. "The meeting is tentatively scheduled for 19:00 Moscow time," he said.

What Ukraine says

Kiev blamed the Russian Federation for the incident involving the three Ukrainian ships that were “conducting a passage from Odessa to Mariupol.” The ministry clarified that "the ships of the Russian Federation illegitimately used force against the ships of the Ukrainian Navy.”

Late on November 25, Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko urgently convened a military committee to discuss the turmoil. The group instructed the National Security and Defense Council to impose martial law nationwide due to the situation in the Kerch Strait. Council Secretary Alexander Turchinov voiced the initiative on imposing martial law in the country for 60 days backed by the Ukrainian president. Now this bill is to be considered by Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada. According to its speaker Andrei Parubiy, a meeting will be convened on Monday at 16:00 local time (17:00 Moscow time).

Spokeswoman for of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry Mariana Betsa also announced Kiev’s intention to submit an application to convene a meeting of the UN Security Council.

What the EU and NATO has to say

The European Union has called on Russia and Ukraine to show restraint in the Sea of Azov in order to prevent any escalation. According to the EU’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, Brussels expects Moscow to restore freedom of passage through the Kerch Strait.

In addition to appeals for restraint, NATO expressed its full support for "the sovereignty of Ukraine and its territorial integrity, including navigational rights in its territorial waters." NATO Spokeswoman Oana Lungescu noted that the alliance was in contact with the Ukrainian authorities.