Kiev to hold missile-firing exercise over Crimea, where civil aviation performs flights - Moscow

FILE PHOTO: A "Buk" anti-aircraft battery launches a ground-to-air missile during the Ukrainian army's "Duel-99" military manoeuvres at the Chauda firing ground in the Crimean peninsula October 12, 1999 © Reuters
Ukraine has made a unilateral decision to organize missile-firing exercises over Crimea, in the sovereign airspace of the Russian Federation, Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency Rosaviatsiya reported. Missiles will be fired in regions where civil and state aviation flights run.

Kiev’s move breaches a number of international laws and agreements, Rosaviatsiya said, adding that not only will the military exercise invade Russian territory, but the plans also had not been coordinated with Moscow.

On Friday, Russia's Defense Ministry voiced protests against Kiev's intention to apply restrictions to airspace above the Black Sea and the Crimean peninsula due to missile-launching training. The ministry summoned Ukraine's military attache, to present him with an official diplomatic note.

Ukraine released an aviation notification on Thursday, activating "dangerous zones" in all flight levels near Crimea and the city of Simferopol for December 1 and 2, the agency reported. It added that the “dangerous” areas included airspace above open sea which is in Russia's area of responsibility, and over Russian territorial waters.

The notifications released have not been coordinated with the appropriate Russian authorities, Rosaviatsiya said in its statement. It added that such unilateral moves demonstrate Ukraine's unwillingness to work on the normalization of air traffic above the Black Sea.

Kiev has also violated annexes of the 1944 Convention on International Civil Aviation, the agency said, while demanding the immediate cancellation of the planned actions in Russia's sovereign airspace.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian Army refused to comment on the matter, TASS reported. The head of the staff press service, Vladislav Seleznyov, told the agency it was not his department's responsibility to "comment on this information," and referred the outlet to other Ukrainian officials, including the Foreign Ministry, for more information.

Commenting on the Russian aviation agency's statement, the secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, Aleksandr Turchinov, said "Russia's airspace above the Black Sea ends in the middle of the Kerch Strait." According to the official, Kiev does not plan to perform training missile launches "in that region."

"All the remaining territory to the west of the Kerch Strait is Ukraine's sovereign airspace," Turchinov said, as quoted by TASS, implicitly denying the legitimacy of the 2014 referendum, after which Crimea reunited with Russia.

The planned missile-launch exercises are "potentially dangerous for civil aviation," Rosaviatsiya said in its statement, adding that it could lead to tragedies similar to those with Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014 and the downing of a Russian passenger plane over the Black Sea in 2001.

The investigation into the Malaysian Boeing-777 crash in eastern Ukraine, which killed all 298 people on board en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, continues.

Another incident involving military missiles happened over the Black Sea in October 2001, when a Siberia Airlines Tu-154 en route from Tel-Aviv to Novosibirsk was downed by a missile launched by the Ukrainian military during an exercise. Seventy-eight people died.

Russia has informed both Russian and international air carriers of Kiev's planned move, a Rosaviatsiya representative told TV channel Rossiya 24. Saying that Moscow is taking all measures to provide security for the flights, he added that Russia will be forced to ban all flights in the Crimea region should Ukraine not cancel its decision.