Russia fires on, seizes three Ukrainian Navy ships in Sea of Azov dispute escalation

Months of rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine in the Sea of Azov escalated on Sunday when Russian forces first fired upon and subsequently seized three Ukrainian Navy vessels as they were trying to enter the Sea of Azov through the Kerch Strait.

Latest reports say six Ukrainian sailors were injured in the standoff, two seriously. Ukraine says it has lost contact with some 23 sailors who were aboard gunboats, Berdiansk (P175) and Nikopol (P176), and tug boat Yany Kapu, when they were seized.

Video footage of the standoff has also emerged and shows a Russian Coast Guard ship ramming one of the Ukrainian vessels.

According to Russian news outlet Sputnik, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said Ukrainian vessels were detained in Russian “territorial waters in the Black Sea” after they violated the “Russian state border.”

The Kerch Strait was closed for shipping on Sunday after Russia placed a tanker under the Crimean Bridge which connects Crimea and the Taman Peninsula of Krasnodar Krai, Russia.

A TASS report said the Kerch Strait was open for commercial shipping on Monday.


Ukrainian response

Ukraine’s war cabinet convened late Sunday to introduce martial law which was to take effect on Monday at 16.00 (GMT+2). The introduction of martial law does not imply an announcement of war Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko said, adding that the measure was introduced exclusively for the defense of Ukraine.

Poroshenko also demanded Russia to release Ukrainian servicemen who were detained in violation of international law.


NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu said NATO was closely monitoring developments in the Sea of Azov and calling for constraint and de-escalation.

The escalation of conflict between Ukraine and Russia over the Sea of Azov follows several months of tensions after Ukraine accused Russia of stopping and delaying passage of commercial vessels transiting to Ukrainian ports in the Azov Sea.

The Sea of Azov is shared by Ukraine and Russia under a treaty signed in 2003 which allows civil and military ships of both countries to freely transit.