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10 Dec, 2021 09:14

Ukraine responds to Russian claims about Kerch incident

Ukraine responds to Russian claims about Kerch incident

The Ukrainian Navy ship Donbass did not enter restricted waters in the Kerch Strait, and accusations that it was a threat to navigation safety are “fake,” Ukraine’s Joint Forces Operation said on Thursday night.

The statement came after Russia’s Federal Security Service accused the vessel of heading in the direction of the Russian-controlled Kerch-Yenikalsky Canal that divides the Black Sea from the Sea of Azov. According to the law, permission must be obtained for any ship using the passage.

The Ukraine boat eventually turned around and headed back to its base at the port city of Mariupol without passing through the Kerch Strait waters.

“Regarding the fake statements of the FSB … the press service of JFO reports that the Ukrainian Naval ship ‘Donbass’ did not enter sensitive areas,” the Kiev-based government agency reported, noting that it remained within the country’s territorial waters.

The Kerch Strait came under the control of Moscow in 2014, when Crimea was re-absorbed into Russia, following a referendum.  The vote took place a month after the events of the Maidan, when violent street protests toppled Kiev's democratically elected government. Ukraine considers the referendum illegitimate and views the peninsula as illegally occupied by Moscow.

Prior to 2014, the strait was treated as shared internal waters by both Russia and Ukraine, but is now under the complete control of Moscow.

The boat at the center of Thursday’s incident was the Donbass, a former Soviet auxiliary vessel that was later converted by the Ukrainian Navy into a command ship. In 2014, it was captured by Russia, when a number of Ukrainian forces stationed in Crimea defected to Moscow. It was later returned.

The ship’s journey towards the Kerch Strait came at a time of heightened tensions between Russia and Ukraine. Western officials and the media have accused Moscow of amassing troops on its border, suggesting that the Kremlin seeks to launch an invasion of its neighbor. Russia has repeatedly denied these accusations.

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