Azov Sea Russian attacks: what we know so far

by UCMC Staff
November 28, 2018
This article originally appeared in Ukraine Crisis Media Center

November 26, 2018. Russia has provoked a conflict with Ukraine in the Kerch Strait. In the morning on November 25 a motor boat of the Russian Federation’s coast guard rammed a Ukrainian tugboat. In the evening following long-standing blocking of Ukrainian ships Russian vessels opened fire towards them. These actions come as most aggressive in the Azov Sea since the escalation started. UCMC is following the developments. We’ll keep you updated with information from trusted sources.

Russia attacks in the Azov Sea: what we know so far. LIVE

Key facts at a glance

At night between November 24 and 25 three Ukrainian vessels – two small armored artillery motor boats “Berdyansk” and “Nikopol” as well as a tow boat “Yany Kapu” left the port of Odesa headed towards the port of Mariupol. On their way the Russian motor boat of the coast guard “Don” rammed the Ukrainian tow boat. Video. Later in the day Ukrainian vessels were fired upon, six marines were wounded.

Around 8:30 a.m.

In clear violation of the UN convention on the Law of the Sea as well as the 2003 agreement between Russia and Ukraine on joint use of the sea of Azov, Russian border guards begin to aggressively intimidateUkrainian ships. Russian patrol boats, type “Sobol”, search and rescue intelligence ship “Don”, boats of “Mangust” type, search ship “Suzdalets” approach the Ukrainian navy group. “Don” ramsthe Ukrainian tugboat “Yany Kapu”, damaging its main engine, shell plating and guard rail. A life raft of the tug islost. Russian dispatchers continue to ignore Ukrainian navy messages,trying tonotify on the planned passing through the Kerch strait.

4:07 a.m. Ukrainian navy intercepts conversation of a dispatcher of “Kerch” port informing the Russian navy ship “Suzdalets” onUkrainian navy ships in the strait. “Kerch” and “Kavkaz” ports continue to totallyignore Ukrainian navy requests in the radio wave.

3:58 a.m. According to international rules ofthesea navigation safety, small armored artillery boat of Ukrainian navy “Berdyansk” is calling the coastal post of the Russian FSBborder guards, as well as ports “Kerch” and “Kavkaz”dispatchersand informs about its intent to pass the Kerch strait. It receives no answer.

00:25 a.m. President of Ukraine Poroshenko stated that he supports the suggestion of the Military Cabinet to introduce martial law resulting from the attack by the Russian Federation on Ukrainian vessels in proximity to the Kerch Strait. Poroshenko made the respective statement during the emergency meeting of the National Security and Defense Council.

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.

According to President Poroshenko martial law:

Does not imply that Ukraine will be holding offensive operations. Instead the Armed Forces will be only defending their territory.

Does not imply the disposition change at the contact line in Donbas or in other parts of the country.

Does not foresee immediate military mobilization. Poroshenko called only first-line reserve to be on alert.

Does not foresees limits to citizens’ constitutional rights and freedoms.

Does not mean that Ukraine will give up the peaceful resolution of the conflict with the Russian Federation in Donbas.

National Security and Defense Council suggested to the President introducing martial law for 60 days, the Head of the National Security and Defense Council Oleksandr Turchynov said.

23:25 The military cabinet called by the President of Ukraine stated: “The attack of the Russian military upon Ukrainian vessels is an act of military aggression,” said Oleksandr Turchynov, Head of the National Security and Defense Council

22:35 Six Ukrainian servicemen are wounded as a result of the shooting attack upon the Ukrainian motor boats, Ukraine’s Naval Forces reported. As of 22:20 the Russian side seized the motor boat “Berdyansk” and the tow boat “Yany Kapu”. “Nikopol” motor boat is blocked and is moving escorted by Russian vessels. It is not known where the vessels are headed.

What we know several hours after the Ukrainian motor boats were fired upon by Russian vessels:

  • Six Ukrainian marines are wounded. Unofficial reports say two of them are in a critical condition.
  • Russian special forces seized three Ukrainian vessels. The tug boat and one of the motor boats are damaged and are being towed. Another motor boat is blocked by Russian vessels.
  • President Poroshenko called an emergency meeting of the military cabinet. In the morning Ukrainian diplomats will start to Berlin to discuss the situation with international partners.
  • Ukraine’s Security Service and the Office of the Prosecutor General started a case on Russia waging an aggressive war.
  • NATO and EU have condemned Russia’s actions in the Azov Sea.

Main messages of the Russian propaganda regarding the crisis in the Kerch Strait, close to annexed Crimea, can be divided into two main groups: those directly concerning the seizure of three Ukrainian vessels and those on the wider political situation.

Key points for Group 1 are as follows:

  • Allegedly, Ukraine has not warned Russia about the ships’ movement beforehand and the ships seized performed dangerous maneuvers in the Russian waters;
  • It is claimed that the Ukrainian boats received a warning that they chose to ignore;
  • Soldiers are lightly wounded and their lives are not under the threat

Key points for Group 2:

  • Ukraine has violated the territorial waters of Russian Federation;
  • This “provocation” is solely aimed at imposing martial law in Ukraine and, henceforth, cancelling the elections with the President Petro Poroshenko being a main beneficiary;
  • Alleged “provocation” as well as the possible imposing of the martial law have to be coordinated with the USA
  • Supposedly, Ukraine has started heavy shelling of the residential areas in Donetsk region.

All these messages serve reaching several goals that Russia tries to promote both at home and abroad:

  1. It was Ukraine that violated international maritime law, not Russia that has acted within its authority;
  2. The idea that Crimea belongs to Russia is emphasized via action, with Kremlin demonstrating that Russia is not willing to let the territories it occupied go peacefully but is ready to raise the stakes;
  3. Ukraine is once more depicted as being heavily dependent on the US, whose image of the actual enemy is reinforced again;
  4. Ukrainian politicians supposedly are only protecting their position in power, not the national interests;
  5. Alleged “heavy shelling” with no proof serves as a distraction for public and a tool to portray Ukraine in a negative light.

Additionally, Kremlin bots are active the social networks, pushing the message that the crisis in Kerch Strait demonstrates weakness of the Ukrainian navy and strength of the Russian forces thus twisting the violation of maritime law into the matter of national pride.