Russia Fires Upon And Reportedly Captures Multiple Ukrainian Ships Off Coast Of Crimea

Russia has allegedly fired upon — and reportedly captured — ships belonging to the Ukrainian navy, the BBC reports. According to reports being issued forth from the Ukrainian navy, Russian naval vessels have seized two Ukrainian gunboats in addition to a tugboat in the aftermath of a chase. Russian special forces were apparently involved in the seizure of the Ukrainian boats, in a move which is almost certain to escalate the existing tensions between the two nation states.

Occurring off the coast of Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014 in a conflict which is still tumultuous, per CNN, it appears that neither side is offering up the same version of events. For their part, Russia remains silent on the apparent exchange, though it had earlier accused Ukraine of illegally entering waters under Russian jurisdiction. The Russians then moved to blockade a vital waterway in the Sea of Azov with a tanker placed beneath a bridge in the Kerch Strait, per Al Jazeera.

Russia had previously scrambled two helicopters and two fighter jets to conduct surveillance on the Ukrainian vessels in question.

Ukraine is reporting that two crew members on the Berdyansk and the Nikopol were injured during the event. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has also convened his “war cabinet,” per his official spokesperson.

As Al Jazeera reports, both Russia and Ukraine are supposedly allowed access to the Sea of Azov, but by placing a large cargo vessel in the midst of the 19 kilometer-long Crimean Bridge — a bridge which connects an annexed Crimea to the Russian mainland — Russia had effectively shut out the Ukrainian navy from gaining access to the Sea of Azov.

The placement of the tanker come on the heels of an incident in which Russian naval vessels had attempted to stop the aforementioned three Ukrainian ships from traversing Russian-held waters in the Black Sea. As the Ukrainian ships apparently failed to — or refused to — heed the orders of the Russian vessels, the Ukrainian tugboat was rammed by a Russian naval vessel.

After the initial incident had occurred, Moscow was quick to accuse the Ukrainian leadership of “provocative actions” in failing to give advance notice of the planned passage of the Ukrainian ships.

In response, the Ukrainian foreign ministry accused Russia of acting aggressively in a written statement.

“Russia’s provocative actions in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov have crossed the line and become aggressive… Russian ships have violated our freedom of maritime navigation and unlawfully used force against Ukrainian naval ships.”

Ongoing fighting within the recently occupied territory of Crimea has resulted in the deaths of approximately 13,000 people, Al Jazeera details, including an estimated 3,000 civilians.