Ukraine security chief admits intel agents were on board Navy ships during Kerch standoff

Ukraine security chief admits intel agents were on board Navy ships during Kerch standoff
Ukrainian Navy ships which entered Russian waters off Crimea’s shores had counterintelligence officers on board, Kiev’s security service confirmed.

Vasily Gritsak, head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), confirmed that counterintelligence officers were on the ships which entered Russian waters in the Kerch Strait on Sunday.

The agents were routinely providing “counterintelligence support to the Ukrainian Navy unit,” an SBU statement reads.

Counterintelligence officers are usually embedded with the military and deployed to the frontline, the agency said, adding, “it will always remain so.”

Gritsak accused Russia of using excessive force against Ukrainian vessels. Citing some “confirmed intelligence,” the statement alleged that a Russian aircraft had fired two missiles at the Ukrainian vessels during the standoff, leaving one SBU officer “seriously wounded.”

It comes after the FSB said there were two Ukrainian operatives on board who coordinated the “provocation” in the Kerch Strait. Russia’s security agency also filmed three men, identified as an SBU counterintelligence agent, a Navy officer and a sailor.

Speaking on camera, they said the crews deliberately ignored orders to stop after the ships entered Russia’s territorial waters. There were small arms on board the ships as well as machine guns with ammunition, according to service members.

The FSB has also asserted that the provocative mid-sea encounter was in fact ordered by the Ukrainian government. Top Russian officials had previously voiced similar statements, accusing Kiev of trying to win sympathies in the West, put pressure on Russia and help President Petro Poroshenko cement power.

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Kiev responded conspicuously fast to the Kerch Strait incident, with Poroshenko announcing that a period of martial law would be imposed. The Ukrainian military was also put on combat alert following the naval standoff. 

Some observers, however, noted the timing of the event as it came ahead of the Trump-Putin meeting at the G20 summit and the start of presidential campaign in Ukraine. 

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