Home » Foreign Forces » Ukrainian Sailors Injured, Held After Russia Seizes Three Warships


Ukrainian Sailors Injured, Held After Russia Seizes Three Warships

According to the Google translation of a Ukraine Ministry of Defense timeline, “Armored artillery boats ‘Berdyansk’ and ‘Nikopol’ were attacked by the enemy. Harbor tug ‘Yana Kapu’ was also forced to stop. Ukrainian ships are seized by Russian Special Forces. There is also information about two wounded Ukrainian sailors.” Ukraine Ministry of Defense photo.

Russian maritime forces have fired on and seized three Ukrainian naval vessels that were attempting to sail from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov.More than 20 Ukrainian sailors were also detained by Russians – several of them reportedly suffering injuries – after open hostilities erupted on Nov. 25 in the Kerch Strait, which separates Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula from mainland Russia.

Tensions between the two countries were today at boiling point as senior Ukrainian officials accused the Kremlin of initiating an “act of military aggression.” The parliament in Kiev was considering whether to impose martial law, according to media reports.

Moscow, which also scrambled fighter jets and helicopters to the area, justified its actions by claiming that the Ukrainian units had entered Russian territorial waters without permission.

Under a 2003 treaty signed by Ukraine and Russia, the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov – on the northern side of the strait, with the Black Sea being south of the strait – are shared territorial waters and vessels from both nations are entitled to navigate freely in the area.

Although Kiev is understood to have told the Russians in advance that it was sending vessels from Odessa to Mariupol, officials in Moscow insist the voyage was a “pre-planned provocation.”

Still, Russia has been acting increasingly aggressive in this region this year. Russia built a $3.7 billion bridge to connect Russia and Crimea, and Russian naval forces have been hostile to Ukrainian vessels operating in and around that choke point.

“Along with the bridge goes the entry point to the Sea of Azov. If you’re keeping up with this lately, there’s been some irresponsible activity in the Sea of Azov in the last couple months, the Ukrainians are not happy about that. The Russians have delayed shipping, held them at sea, unable to enter port, any port, unable to go to sea. This is costing the Ukraine millions of dollars a year and it’s an unfair practice,” Adm. James Foggo, the head of U.S. Naval Forces Europe, said last month. Foggo explained that NATO forces could not patrol the Sea of Azov to support Ukraine, as those waters only belong to Ukraine and Russia, but NATO and the U.S. could ensure presence in the adjacent Black Sea.

The U.S. Navy and U.S. Department of Defense did not provide comment on this week’s incident.

The incident occurred after the Ukrainian Naval Forces’ Gurza-M class (Project 58155) gunboats Berdyansk (P175) and Nikopol (P176) and the Prometey-class tug Yany Kapu (A947) left the Black Sea port of Odessa early yesterday, en route to Mariupol on the northern shores of the Sea of Azov.

The Ukrainian ships’ passage under the new Crimean Bridge was blocked by a tanker. The tug was rammed by Don, a Russian Federal Border Guard Service Sorum-class (Project 745) ocean-going tug modernized as a patrol vessel.

A video of the incident, filmed from the bridge of the Russian patrol ship, was shared widely on the internet.

According to a transcript published by the Kiev-based UNIAN news agency, a Russian officer is heard shouting: “Faster, come on! Good job! Crush it from the starboard side! Come on, come on! Stop engine, stop engine! Take hold on board! Reverse, reverse!” His instructions are littered with expletives. Another sailor exclaims after the tug is rammed: “That was great!”

Photographs also appeared online showing a Rubin-class vessel, RFCGS Izumrud (354), with a large hole beneath its bridge, although the cause of the damage unclear.

Officials in Kiev said that several other Russian military vessels – including the Grisha-class corvette RFS Suzdalets and unidentified Sobol (Project 12200) and Mangust (Project 12150) patrol craft – had also engaged in “openly aggressive acts against ships of the Ukrainian navy.”

In a statement today, Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the Kremlin’s “criminal regime” had “de facto expanded its military aggression against Ukraine to the sea,” and demanded that Russia return the captured vessels and personnel and pay compensation for the damage caused.

The ministry added: “Ukraine urges its allies and partners to take all necessary measures to deter the aggressor, i.e. by applying new and strengthening existing sanctions, as well as by providing Ukraine with military assistance to protect its territorial integrity and sovereignty within the internationally recognized borders.”

World leaders have similarly condemned the aggressive actions by Russia and stated support for Ukraine. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council today, “this is no way for a law-abiding, civilized nation to act. Impeding Ukraine’s lawful transit through the Kerch Strait is a violation under international law. It is an arrogant act that the international community must condemn and will never accept.”

Berdyansk and Nikopol are two of Ukraine’s newest combatants. Constructed at the Kuznya na Rybalskomu shipyard in Kiev and commissioned into service in December 2016 and July 2018 respectively, they are armed with two Katran-M remote-controlled close-in weapon systems (forward and aft, each comprising a 30mm gun and two grenade launchers) and have a maximum speed of about 25 knots.

  • Curtis Conway

    The US Navy should schedule a port visit with the Ukrainians at Mariupol’, Ukraine, and let the Russians try to pull a stunt like that with a DDG-51 Arleigh Burke Destroyer.

    • So we should provoke a fight with Russia because…?

      • Centaurus

        This is usually when fools rush in. No ?

      • Curtis Conway

        Standing with friends who try to gain access to their own territory through a shared waterway governed by international treaty is one thing. Picking a fight is something else. We would be standing with our friend. The Russians would be picking a fight.

        On that I’ll raise you a DDG-51 Destroyer for a total of two. One can anchor out for the port call while the other maintains a patrol around the port. They can swap places a couple of times, and then we will exit the Sea of Azov and still exit the Black Sea in a two week period.

        Coordinate operations with the Ukraine Navy so we can escort their vessels in on ingress/egress.

        • Again, why? Ukraine is not ally, does not occupy a particularly strategic location, does not posses any critical resources, and is a corrupt nation embroiled in an ethnic civil war. Why should we be putting ourselves on the line here? Further, the Crimea is now a part of Russia, making this strait Russian territorial waters and giving them the right to turn away unfriendly warships. Trying to bully Russia over this, while it may feel good, makes no sense and could easily escalate into major shooting war.

          • Curtis Conway

            I can tell that you are not a John Wayne movie fan, and would side with the greedy banker buying the town, or the greedy rancher next door who would steal your cattle. NOT this buckaroo, and I stand by my friends particularly when the neighbor needs my help.

          • DaSaint

            So why do we try to piss off China in the South China Seas?

          • Let’s use the criteria I laid out:

            1. We have several allies in the region including Japan, Australia, South Korea, and Taiwan.

            2. The South China Sea is an incredibly strategic location that dominates the shipping lanes to most of East Asia.

            3. The South China Sea is full of valuable natural resources.

          • RobM1981

            Because they claim that the South China Sea is their territory. Probably based on the name. I mean, it has “China” right there in it, but even so…

            It’s a strategic waterway that has been open-sea for as long as treaties have existed. We use it, often. China can unilaterally claim it as their own only to the degree that they can enforce the claim.

            That means haze gray ships meeting each other.

            Ukraine has the same situation. If they care to take on the Russians, that’s their business.

          • Old Coasty

            Use the ploys of both the Philippines and Republic of China. Rename the sea West Philippines Sea (oh the Philippines already have). Then get old enough paper and ink and make a map showing the West Philippine Sea on it and claim historical and customary rights. Then on a newer map before the 1947 Nine-Dash line maps do the same and use it for a counter to Communist China and Taiwan claims.

    • Centaurus

      Well, perhaps we should try by providing the circumstances, just to see if your proposal has merritt.

    • Graeme Rymill

      Mariupol is on the very shallow Sea of Azov. The port can accept ships with a maximum draft of 8 metres. The Arleigh Burke class has a draft of 9.3 metres.

      • Curtis Conway

        You got me there. I think an NSC would be the only thing I could come up with to go pierside. The FFG-7s are gone and we sure wouldn’t send an LCS.

        Of course a visit to the port would not necessarily have to be pierside. They could anchor out and run boats. The Ukrainians would be more than happy to run the Liberty Express.

        • Ser Arthur Dayne

          Bro them Ruskis would be shaking in their portyankis if we sent an LCS, the fire-hazard alone of all that aluminum burning and melting and spewing molten metallic embers onto their decks, it would get them away faster than yelling “Free Beet Soup over ———>> there!!!” … Littoral Combat Ship == Kryptonite to Naval Powers Worldwide.

      • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

        The US would need some sort of shallow-water warship.

        Alas, none exist.

        • Curtis Conway

          Even the PC-1 exist in limited numbers, and you can build and support a Squadron of them for the price of one DDG-51 Flt III.

      • SN

        Too bad all the PC’s are elsewhere.

        • Curtis Conway

          AND we didn’t build anymore. A lot of effectiveness compared to size and cost. You can build and support a Squadron of PC-1s for the cost of one DDG-51 Flt III.

    • Ed L

      Maybe Ukraine should become a NATO member

      • Curtis Conway

        They are trying. They make pretty good turbine engines, and an energy industry could be created there (oil & gas).

  • Oskar

    “It’s technically not our fight, since Ukraine is not a treaty ally.”?

    What was the Budapest Memorandum?

  • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

    “NATO” doesn’t have equipment to do that.

  • Curtis Conway

    “…That agreement was a political statement, not a legally enforceable treaty like NATO, which carries the force of law…”

    Ukraine did their part faithfully, now it’s time to watch their back like we said we would.

  • DaSaint

    Sure, no need to enforce FONOPS there…

  • DaSaint

    So should Ukraine be admitted to NATO?

    • SDW

      “So should Ukraine be admitted to NATO?”

      Russia would see that as a causus belli and is capable of closing the Strait of Kerch long before Ukraine became a full member state. Should they do that, there is little we could do short of sanctions and aid to Ukraine. It takes full membership to invoke North Atlantic Treaty Article 5 and send military units to Ukraine. Given all this, it is virtually impossible that our European allies would agree to accepting a Ukrainian request for NATO membership.

      The USA has no standing to enter the Sea of Azov since we have recognized its Russian/Soviet/Russian+Ukrainian ownership (as an internal sea) going back to Imperial times. Most recently, we have followed the Russian-Ukrainian agreements from the 1950s through 2003. By the way, these agreement were what Putin et al. unilaterally abrogated when it sent and supported the mercenary invasion that stole the Crimea.

  • DaSaint

    Well if they blockade the strait, then what? Who comes to Ukraine’s defense?

  • DaSaint

    Which older frigates or corvettes would NATO lend-lease? And if they get blown out of the water ‘accidentally’ then what? Still not our interests?

    Russia is probing how far they can go. Simple as that. They don’t think there will be severe repercussions, for one because we rely on them to carry our astronauts to and from the ISS on their Soyuz rockets. At least for now.

    And what if it was a ‘minor’ incursion into Latvia or Estonia? Would we go to war over a ‘minor incursion?’. I don’t think this President would.

    • Latvia and Estonia are NATO allies and an incursion, however minor, is very different from a naval skirmish in Russian territorial waters.

      • DaSaint

        I hope that fact stands, should it ever occur. But I’m not convinced, unfortunately. I think that currently, it may require a ‘complete’ takeover of one of these countries for the US to respond. A ‘minor incursion’ of a few miles or a border crossing or town, probably won’t be enough to trigger Article 5. At least for us anyway. I hope I’m wrong.

      • Curtis Conway

        How about an incursion in Ukraine’s territorial waters?

        • Again, Ukraine is not a US ally. Further, even if Ukraine was, an incursion into territorial waters is fully legal under UNCLOS. While the nation that owns those waters can force a warship to leave if it believes it represents a security threat, I doubt that would rise to the level of an attack under Article 5.

          • Curtis Conway

            Ukraine could invite/authorize us (US) to support them in their waters. THAT is legal.

          • Oskar

            Once more, the Ukraine IS an ally of the US.

            Go read the Budapest Memorandum.

  • Oskar

    Answer the question.

    • Curtis Conway

      “…That agreement was a political statement, not a legally enforceable treaty like NATO, which carries the force of law…” Poor Duane, always looking for a way out of doing the right thing.

      Ukraine did their part faithfully (rid themselves of the ICBMs & nukes), now it’s time to watch their back like we said we would.

  • Oskar

    So, what was the point of it, if it’s supposedly not worth anything?

  • SDW

    I would be curious to see what would happen if the Russians woke up one day to a minefield of unknown origin blocking the Sea of Azov access to both countries.

    Curiousity such as that has killed far more than a cat or two and so I’m not saying that I would *like* to see that happen. It would be interesting to war game that scenario.

    • Ed L

      With PRC mines

  • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

    How many of these mythical vessels are heading towards the Med?

  • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

    NATO doesn’t have equipment to do that.

    NATO is an office block in northern Brussels business park.

    This shouldn’t need explaining.

  • bob

    And the South China Sea remains international waters, not a Peoples Republic of China lake.

    Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, the ROC, the ROK,Taiwan the UK and the United States and others, all have the right under the Freedom of the Seas convention to navigate those waters.

  • waveshaper1

    I haven’t looked this up yet; I think the maritime/international laws for the Sea of Azov are similar to the joint US/Canadian – maritime laws that apply to the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway. I could be wrong?

  • muzzleloader

    And on this matter, I fully agree with you.

  • DaSaint

    Yes. I guess so. Not you though. You’re brilliant.

  • Graeme Rymill

    There may be good military and political reasons for the USN not to enter the Sea of Azov. You say there is zero legal justification for doing so. It is worth noting though that under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ships have the right of innocent passage through another country’s territorial waters. That right of innocent passage includes warships.

  • Oskar

    Nope.

    Go read it, Duaney.

    Heck, even Wrong-i-pedia clearly lays it out.

    “According to the memorandum,[14] Russia, the US, and the UK confirmed, in recognition of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine becoming parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and in effect abandoning its nuclear arsenal to Russia, that they would:

    Respect Belarusian, Kazakh and Ukrainian independence and sovereignty and the existing borders.[15]

    Refrain from the threat or use of force against Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine.

    Refrain from using economic pressure on Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine in order to influence its politics.

    Seek immediate United Nations Security Council action to provide assistance to Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, “if Belarus/Kazakhstan/Ukraine should become a victim of an act of aggression or an object of a threat of aggression in which nuclear weapons are used”.

    Refrain from the use of nuclear arms against Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine.

    Consult with one another if questions arise regarding these commitments.[11][16]”

  • Graeme Rymill

    Look up UNCOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) sometime:

    SECTION 3. INNOCENT PASSAGE IN THE TERRITORIAL SEA
    SUBSECTION A. RULES APPLICABLE TO ALL SHIPS
    Article17

    Right of innocent passage
    Subject to this Convention, ships of all States, whether
    coastal or land-locked, enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea.
    Articles 18, 19 and 20 are relevant too.

  • Graeme Rymill

    Chesapeake Bay is treated under international law as “internal waters” and not as “territorial sea”. Foreign vessels (regardless of if they are a warship or not) have no right of innocent passage in “internal waters”.

  • Old Coasty

    Either country can invite whomever they wish within their own or joint territory. If the Ukrainian government invites or grants permission to a request by the US (or any other country) then under the treaty between Russia and Ukraine Russia would not have any legal standing to refuse, block, impede, detain, or delay said passage. It would be like entry, search, and seizure not needing a search warrant or notification of the other party if one co-owner (or parent for a child, or landlord for a tenant) gives permission for it.

    This is not to say that Russia would not be mad and at a minimum protest, bring motions before the UN and International World Court, and at a maximum fire upon and ram us and try to capture and impound or sink our ship and crew. Beyond the worth and safety of our crew there is to much security sensitive equipment and documents that could not be destroyed before being closed and boarded in those close quarters and shallow waters.

  • Curtis Conway

    The Russians don’t own the whole of the Sea of Azov anymore than they own the Black Sea, though you couldn’t tell by their activities there most of the time. NOT good neighbors those Russians. In fact if you are on their border today, you probably have a larger police/military force because of it.

    • SDW

      Yes, the Ukraine “owns” the entire Sea of Azov. However, they own it jointly with the Russian Federation. Warships of a third party (such as the US) may enter the Sea of Azov only if invited by one of the two owners and the other agrees. The Russian Federation, claiming the Crimean Peninsula, seem to be claiming the sole right to access the Sea of Azov from the Black Sea, i.e., through the Strait of Kerch.

      UNCLOS is not as cut and dried as many would like in some situations, including this.

      Duane’s example of the Chesapeake is a very good one if you imagine the case where Maryland and Virginia were separate countries and shared, by treaty and custom, the Chesapeake Bay. The mouth of the Chesapeake is less than 24 miles wide thus the Virginian 12mi territorial limits overlap where they did not when the limit was 3 miles.

      Could Virginia get away with telling Marylanders that they can freely putter around the upper bay but may not go in and out except by Virginia’s good graces? What would it be like if the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel was rebuilt too low to allow for commercial shipping? Virginia has, after all, plenty of port facilities to the south.

      There are examples in long-standing law that access is part and parcel of ownership. The Russian/Ukrainian treaty says that disputes and issues be settled through “consultation and negotiation, as well as by other peaceful means at the choice of the parties” but does not spell out this process. Remember that when the treaty was signed and ratified Ukrainian possession of the Crimea was undisputed and, apparently, Ukraine expected Russia not to act capriciously and with malice. (This is despite centuries of sad experience.)

      • Curtis Conway

        I’m with you. However, the primary mindset and motive that drives the actions national are in review. Ukraine is trying to gain access to its Eastern ports to get goods in and manufactured items out. The Russians are using the Choke Point to facilitate their successful conquest of Eastern Ukraine so they can fully ‘Own the Sea of Azov’ with no or less competition. Who is the aggressor?

        Under any normal peaceful circumstance the straits would be dredged coordinated by both the expand traffic and increase the economic impact. Both countries have ports on the Sea of Azov and would benefit. THIS is not the Russians intention, and they have been staging things to move in the opposite direction. Force levels (which have accelerated growth very recently) indicate otherwise.

        All Law and Agreements have a Letter and Spirit. The Russians work very hard at appearing to follow the Letter while they pursue their selfish motives, and we deny the Spirit by doing same and quibbling over definitions. The Russian Bear is the Russian Bear. There is no reasoning with the Russian Bear.