Russian warships open fire on Ukrainian vessels

The Ukrainian command ship Donbass is seen moored as workers build new terminal at Port of Mariupol on the Azov Sea. Credit: Getty

Two Ukrainian navy ships have come under fire from the Russian Coast Guard while in transit from Odessa, in the Black Sea, to Mariupol, in the Sea of Azov via the Kerch Strait.

The openly aggressive actions from Russia against the Ukrainian ships left two crew members wounded. Russian Coast Guard officials then boarded the ships and subsequently seized them.

A statement issued by the Ukrainian navy following the incident in February 2019 said that the attack was sparked by a Russian coast guard vessel ramming one of its tugboats, which were under way in the Sea of Azov accompanied by two Ukrainian navy artillery boats. The navy detailed how the collision inflicted damage to the tugboat’s engine, hull, side railing, and a lifeboat.

Following the incident, Russia’s Federal Security Service told Russian news agencies that the three Ukrainian vessels had made an unauthorised crossing and violated Russian territorial waters. The Federal Security Service also accused the Ukrainian navy of staging a provocation against Russia, as reported in the local media. However, according to facts presented in the Ukrainian-issued statement, the planned journey had been communicated to Russia well in advance.

This incident follows a tense standoff amid escalating political tensions in the area emanating from Russia’s action to annexe Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. In the following five years, Russia has made noticeable efforts to increase its zone of control around the peninsula, which has had a large impact on ships sailing in its waters.

Earlier this year, Russia and Ukraine clashed involving the same three vessels.