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Why was the crew of the Ukrainian tug armed with heavy machine guns? Photo supplied

UK further inflames tensions in Kerch Strait

On Tuesday Britain announced that it was dispatching the HMS Echo, a UK Royal Navy survey vessel and monitoring ship to the Black Sea, after British leaders condemned what it described as "Russian aggressive actions" in seizing Ukrainian ships and their crew in the Kerch Strait.

Published: November 28, 2018, 7:51 am

    In a statement, the UK Ministry of Defence said the reconnaissance ship would “demonstrate the UK’s support to ensuring freedom of navigation”.

    A former commander of the Royal Navy, Admiral Lord West, wants to send a much more powerful and capable Type 45 destroyer, or guided missile warship, into the Black Sea to further escalate tensions.

    Not only the British, but also the Atlantic Council have been urging the Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko to fuel the flames of conflict with Russia. Some of the major contributors to the Atlantic Council are:

    Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom
    United States Department of State
    General Atomics
    United Technologies Corporation
    Lockheed Martin Corporation
    Raytheon Company
    Thales SA (a French Aerospace and Defense company)
    United States Air Force Academy
    The Boeing Company
    Textron
    Ukrainian Canadian Congress
    United States Air Force
    US Mission to NATO

    Anders Åslund, a resident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, said: “NATO and the United States should send in naval ships in the Sea of Azov to guarantee that it stays open to international shipping.”

    Elections in Ukraine are fast approaching, and all polls show Poroshenko below 10 percent and far behind two other candidates. His kleptocratic rule has been a catastrophe for his country.

    The introduction of martial law will give Poroshenko full control over Ukraine, as he would be able to remove any regional or local government, to shut down the political opposition and censor the media.

    Ukraine’s state security service have meanwhile admitted that its intelligence officers were among the crew on Ukrainian naval ships seized by Russia in a standoff in the narrow Kerch Strait. The SBU agency issued a statement Tuesday, but did not elaborate on the mission of their operators.

    According to Russia’s FSB intelligence agency the SBU officers on board the Ukrainian ships, were proof of a “provocation” staged by Ukraine. Ukrainian sailors have confirmed that they deliberately entered Russian waters.

    Rumours have been circulating on Russian social media that Special Atomic Demolition Munition (SADM), possibly with a Diver deployable device, was being transported by Ukrainian and British Special Forces to the Kerch Straight to be used to sabotage the Crimean bridge. The device may have come from the UK.

    The device was being tracked by the Russians and they knew it had been loaded on to a Ukrainian tug. It could explain the level of force used against the tug and a few Ukrainian ships by Russia. An opinion writer in the Washington Examiner had earlier urged Ukraine to “bomb the Crimean bridge”.

    Cargo vessel blocking the Kerch Strait. Photo supplied

    It is clear that Russia was not going to let the Ukrainian tugboat pass through the Strait or get close to the new Crimean Bridge. Two each Su-25 aircraft and Ka-52 attack helicopters were quickly dispatched during the Ukranian incursion. The Russian surface fleet consisted of several Sobol and Mangust class fast patrol craft, as well as a Svetlak class corvette.

    The passage under the Kerch bridge has since been blocked by a large cargo ship.

    Russia has also deployed a Bal coastal defense system near the Crimean port city of Kerch, according to a video that appeared online on November 27. The video shows at least one Bal launcher heading for the Crimean port city of Sevastopol.

    The Bal coastal defense missile system employs Kh-35 anti-ship cruise missiles, with each launcher carrying 8 containers with missiles, some capable of striking targets within the range of 130/260 km. The Kh-35 is equipped with a 145 kg High Explosive Fragmentation warhead and designed to defeat ships with the displacement of up to 5 000 t.

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday made a telephone call to Poroshenko about the situation in Ukraine and urged him to stand down. Her spokesman confirmed on Monday that the situation needed to de-escalate, Reuters reported.

    In February 1988, the USS Caron (DD-970), a Spruance-class destroyer operating with Yorktown, entered Soviet territorial waters in the Black Sea off the Crimean Peninsula.

    On this occasion, the USS Caron had onboard a ships signal exploitation spaces system, operated by a crew of 18 in support of the US National Security Agency. This system was capable of recording data on Soviet defense radars and communications.

    In response, the Soviets deployed a destroyer and a Mirka II class light frigate as well as a KGB and “civilian” ships to intercept the US flotilla. Several times, Soviet vessels obtained radar “lock” on the Caron and Yorktown and then eventually rammed both ships.

    Both US warships sent an account of the incident to the Commander in Chief of United States Naval Forces in Europe. The Yorktown, in its report stated that on 9:56, local time, it was contacted by the Soviet vessel, the Bezzavetny via channel 16 and told to leave Soviet territorial waters or “our ship is going to strike on yours.”

    Then, according to the report, the Bezzavetny came alongside port side of the Yorktown at 10:03 and rammed it.

    But the Americans were smart enough at the time to move out before the situation escalated further.

    The Trump administration, after almost a day of silence from the White House and State Department,  said that the US would refrain from further action and would instead play a supporting role to European efforts to ease tensions, Bloomberg reported.

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