This is the extraordinary moment a Russian coast guard vessel rammed a Ukrainian navy tugboat under the orders ‘squash him’ during an unprecedented stand-off in the Black Sea that has prompted fears of military escalation.
Crew on the Russian ship were told to ‘hold on tight’ as it ploughed in to the Ukrainian tug in the Kerch Strait, a narrow channel of water separating annexed Crimea from mainland Russia.
The same Russian ship later opened fire on and seized three of Ukraine’s vessels, injuring at least six crew members in what is a key shipping route in the region, Kiev officials said.
The crisis began on Sunday after Russia stopped the three Ukrainian ships from entering the Sea of Azov – a shared territorial area that Moscow has aggressively tried to claim after seizing the peninsula in 2014. Russia’s FSB security service said it acted because the ships had illegally entered its territorial waters, attempted illegal actions, and ignored warnings to stop while manoeuvring dangerously.
The Kerch Strait is the only passage into the Sea of Azov beyond it and Russia has increased its naval presence in the disputed waters since the completion of its multi-million pound Kerch Bridge.
Yesterday’s confrontation is a dangerous development in a conflict pitting Ukraine against Russian-backed rebels the country’s east. Thousands have died in fighting between Ukrainian troops and separatists since 2014.
There were angry protests outside Kiev’s Russian embassy where a car was torched overnight. The Ukrainian parliament will today consider whether to impose martial law for 60 days after high level talks on Sunday night.
Tensions were heightened earlier on Sunday when a Russian coast guard vessel rammed a Ukrainian navy tugboat and blocked off the strait. In audio from a clip of the incident, a man can be heard shouting: ‘Squash him, well done, squeeze him from the right, push from the right!
Flashpoint: Extraordinary footage captures the moment a Russian coast guard vessel rammed a Ukrainian navy tugboat under the orders ‘squash him’
Crew members on board the Russian ship were told to ‘hold on tight’ as it ploughed in to the Ukrainian tug in the Kerch Strait, a narrow channel of water separating annexed Crimea from mainland Russia
The conflict took place in the Kerch Strait (pictured) – where Russia said Ukrainian ships made ‘unauthorised crossings’. Russia blocked the passage using a huge cargo ship (pictured) under the Kerch Bridge connecting the Russian mainland with the Crimean Peninsula
A small armoured Ukrainian artillery ship and a tug boat are seen anchored in the Black Sea port of Kerch, Ukraine, after being seized by Russia
Russia says three Ukrainian Navy vessels (pictured) illegally crossed the Russian border and intruded into Russia’s territorial waters
One Ukrainian navy tugboat was travelling with two artillery boats from Odessa on the Black Sea to Mariupol in the Sea of Azov
Russian fighter jets were seen flying low over the Kerch Bridge as tensions increased on Sunday. Yesterday’s confrontation is a dangerous development in a conflict pitting Ukraine against Russian-backed rebels the country’s east
‘Push, I’ll get him here ****! Push him! Straight ahead! Yes to straight ahead. Go, go ****! Push him!! Straight ahead! (Midships!) Yes to straight ahead.’
He then warns crew members to ‘hold on tight’.
Russia claims it was forced to cut off the Kerch Strait with a cargo ship because the Ukrainian navy ships had made an ‘unauthorised crossing through Russian territorial waters’. The Kerch Strait was reopened by Monday morning, according to the RIA news agency.
Though a 2003 treaty designates the Kerch Strait and Sea of Azov as shared territorial waters, Russia has been asserting greater control over the passage since 2015. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry in a statement said Russia’s actions were a violation of the UN Charter.
The statement added Russia was informed in advance about the planned transit.
The Ukrainian navy said its tugboat’s engine, hull, side railing and a lifeboat had been damaged in the conflict.
‘Intercepted video’ showing the tugboat being rammed by the Russian border service ship was shared by Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.
In a tweet, he described it as a an ‘act of aggression’ that ‘will be used as proof in international court’.
Russia’s FSB security service justified its actions in a statement: ‘Having breached this morning the Russian border, the three Ukrainian ships – the Berdyansk, the Nikopol and the Yani Kapu – tried again on November 25 at 19:00 (Moscow time) to conduct illegal actions in Russian territorial waters.’
A 2003 treaty designated the Kerch Strait and Sea of Azov (shown) as shared territorial waters, but Russia has been asserting greater control over the passage since 2015
The incident began earlier on Sunday when a Russian coast guard vessel rammed this Ukrainian navy tugboat (pictured)
Tensions: A Ukraine army APC moves towards a position at an undisclosed location in eastern Ukraine a day after the Black Sea confrontation
The Ukrainian parliament will today consider whether to impose martial law for 60 days after high level talks on Sunday night
A Ukrainian National Guard serviceman extinguishes a torch thrown by a protester during a rally against the seizure by Russian special forces
About 50-100 people gathered outside the Russian Embassy in Kiev overnight to protest Moscow’s actions. A man is pictured trying to put out a fire after one of the embassy’s cars was torched
The FSB, which oversees the border guard service, also said the Ukrainian ships had failed to respond to the ‘legal demands’ of the Russian authorities and that they were aiming ‘to create a conflict situation in this region’.
Pro-Kremlin media suggested Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko sent the ships through the Kerch Strait in a provocative attempt to boost his approval ratings in the upcoming presidential elections.
The European Union issued a statement saying: ‘We expect Russia to restore freedom of passage at the Kerch strait and urge all to act with utmost restraint to de-escalate the situation immediately.’
NATO in a statement also urged ‘restraint and de-escalation’, and called on Russia ‘to ensure unhindered access to Ukrainian ports in the Azov Sea, in accordance with international law’.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called a meeting of his military cabinet to evaluate and determine his country’s next steps.
A man places a paper boat outside the Russian Embassy in Kiev, Ukraine, during a protest against the seizure by Russian special forces of three of the Ukrainian navy’s ships
The paper boats have been placed just metres away from security guards policing the entrance to the Russian embassy
The boats have been placed along the walls that surround the consulate in the Ukrainian capital
The protest comes after three crew were injured in conflict in the Kerch Strait and tensions between Ukraine and Russia heighten
Ukraine’s foreign ministry said it considered ‘these aggressive actions’ a violation of international law that would be met with ‘an international and diplomatic legal response’, and its envoy to the United Nations said on Twitter that the country will make an immediate appeal to the Security Council.
Russian politicians accused Ukraine of acting at the behest of its Western allies and deliberately attempting to escalate the conflict.
Crimean leader Sergei Aksyonov wrote on Facebook that he ‘was sure the Western masters of the Kiev regime are behind this act of provocation’.
Pyotr Tolstoy, deputy speaker of the Russian parliament, warned on Facebook that ‘the Ukrainian puppet authorities… are risking unleashing a large military conflict’.
‘One thing is clear: Russia won’t allow military provocations in its territorial waters,’ he said.
The office of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko described the Russian action against the Ukrainian navy ships as ‘an act of aggression aimed at deliberately escalating the situation in the waters of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait,’ and called for international condemnation of Moscow and new sanctions.
Police officers stand near smoke flares which were thrown by protesters during a rally against the seizure of Ukrainian ships
Flares were hurled over the fence at the embassy upon the news that three crew members had been injured in the conflict
Crowds gather outside the consulate in the Ukrainian capital to protest the violence in the Kerch Strait
Two Ukrainian forces navy ships are seen near Crimea in a photo handed out by the Ukrainian Navy Press Service
It follows months of growing tensions between Ukraine and Russia, which annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and has steadily worked to increase its zone of control around the peninsula.
Transit under the bridge has been blocked by a tanker ship and dozens of cargo ships awaiting passage are stuck.
Russia’s Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, told Russian news agencies the Ukrainian ships held their course and violated Russian territorial waters, which were temporarily closed.
The FSB accused the Ukrainian navy of staging a provocation against Russia.
‘Their goal is clear,’ an FSB statement said, ‘to create a conflict situation in the region’.
The statement did not mention ramming a Ukrainian tugboat.