Kyiv Says Russia Attacked Ukrainian Navy Ships, Seized Three In Black Sea

Kyiv: The Ukrainian Navy says Russian forces opened fire on a group of its ships in the Black Sea off the coast of the Crimean Peninsula late on November 25, striking two warships and wounding two crew members before seizing the vessels along with a Ukrainian Navy tugboat.

The Ukrainian Navy announced the incident on a day of heightened tension after Russia reportedly blocked the three Ukrainian Navy ships from passing from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov via the Kerch Strait.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova late on November 25 accused Ukrainian authorities of using "gangster tactics" in the Kerch Strait -- first a provocation, then pressure, and finally accusations of aggression.

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), which oversees the country's border guard service, said its forces fired weapons at the Ukrainian Navy ships to get them to stop after they had illegally entered Russia's territorial waters.

But the Ukrainian Navy says its vessels -- including two small-sized artillery boats -- were attacked by Russian coastguard ships as they were leaving the 12-mile zone of the Kerch Strait and moving back into the Black Sea.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said late on November 25 that "Russian special forces have taken over some ships."

Poroshenko called a meeting of his military cabinet to evaluate and determine Ukraine's next steps.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said it considered Russia's "aggressive actions" to be a violation of international law that would be met with "an international and diplomatic legal response."

Meanwhile, angry demonstrators were gathering in front of Russia's embassy in Kyiv late on November 25 after authorities announced the attack against the Ukrainian Navy ships.

Earlier the same day, Kyiv said a Russian coast guard vessel rammed the Ukrainian Navy tugboat in the same area as three Ukrainian ships approached the Kerch Strait in an attempt to reach the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.

Mariupol is the closest Ukrainian government-controlled city to Donetsk and Luhansk, the breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russia-backed separatists.

The Ukrainian Navy said the collision happened because "the invaders' dispatcher service refuses to ensure the right to freedom of navigation, guaranteed by international agreements."

It also accused Russia of demonstrating an "aggressive nature and complete disregard for the norms of international law."

"The ships of the Ukrainian Navy continue to perform tasks in compliance with all norms of international law," the Ukrainian Navy said in a statement said. "All illegal actions are recorded by the crews of the ships and the command of Ukraine's Navy and will be handed over to the respective international bodies."

After that incident, Russian authorities closed passage by civilian ships through the Kerch Strait.