World On board a small Ukrainian patrol boat challenging Russian naval might

00:10  05 may  2021
00:10  05 may  2021 Source:   cnn.com

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The message from the Russians to the Ukrainian patrol was clear: Go no further. As Russian ships deploy to the Sea of Azov for what Moscow says are exercises, the Ukrainians ready their defenses.

Russian ships block Ukrainian navy from entering Sea of Azov. The Russian military seized three Ukrainian naval ships and 23 crew following alleged shoot outs off the coast of the Crimean peninsula. Two of the craft - the Berdyansk and the Nikopol - were damaged in the Black Sea clash which left six The Ukrainian navy said that a Russian coastguard vessel, named the Don, rammed one of its tugboats in "openly aggressive actions". All three vessels continued towards the Kerch Strait, but were then stopped from entering the Sea of Azov by a huge cargo ship Russia had installed beneath the

Painted a camouflage patchwork of gray and green, Ukrainian coastguard Boat 23 cuts through the rolling swell of the turbulent Sea of Azov.

a person sitting on a boat in the water: A gunner watches for threats on the Sea of Azov. © Aleksey Filippov/AFP via Getty Images A gunner watches for threats on the Sea of Azov.

At the aft, a gunner tightly grips the handles of a single heavy machine gun bolted to the rear, carefully scanning the horizon for any threat.

An hour into the coastal patrol, in rough seas about 5 nautical miles off the Ukrainian coast, a crackled radio message cuts through the dull drone of the diesel engines and the lightly armed vessel abruptly comes about.

"Boat 23, this is Boat 444," says a stern Russian voice across the airwaves.

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Russia could be planning a “Normandy-style landing” between Odessa and Mykolaiv, he claimed. Putin has huge forces in occupied east Ukraine - which fell under his sway in 2014, and in Crimea which was occupied. “Obviously, a major operation is being prepared, and other forces will be brought in as well,” he said. Or Russia could seek to extend his control devouring Ukraine as far as Transnistria, a landlocked, Moscow-controlled no man’s land ‘unofficial state’ with its own KGB secret service.

"We are reminding you to keep a safe distance," the operator warns.

Up ahead, a Russian coastal protection ship looms on the horizon, a floating steel gatekeeper to the growing naval force assembling in the seas beyond.

The message is clear: go no further.

"If we don't turn around, there will be trouble," says Cmdr. Nikolay Levitskiy, of the Ukrainian Marine Guard.

The Russian defense ministry makes no secret of what that trouble could involve. In its muscle-flexing show of naval strength in one of the world's smallest seas, it has released dramatic images of ships launching barrages of missiles screeching across the waves.

The Kremlin insists this is just a naval drill, an exercise that does not pose a threat to anyone. It talks of the achievement of a flotilla of 15 vessels heading from the landlocked Caspian Sea via a 60-mile (100km) canal with 13 locks to the Black Sea basin.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (right) handshakes with a soldier during his visit to a front in Donbas, Ukraine on April 08. The White House has said it is "increasingly concerned by recent escalating Russian aggressions in eastern Ukraine " and US officials have also hinted they might send warships to It still persists, along with the broader challenge for Moscow of maintaining a passable standard of life in Crimea through sea supplies, and over a small , new bridge it has made across the Kerch Strait. It is not a sustainable state of affairs for Russia 's latest acquisition in the long term.

The actions of Russia infuriated Washington, which just sent its US Coast Guard warship to patrol the northern part of the Black Sea. “The US condemns Russia for blocking vast waters with 20 ships and intercepting foreign ships during missile launches. In addition, Washington also dispatched the Prior to that, the USCGC Hamilton coast guard crossed the Atlantic with two other USCGC patrol boats Charles Moulthrope and USCGC Robert Goldman. Having reached the Mediterranean Sea, the group of ships split into two directions - USCGC Hamilton crossed the Turkish Bosphorus to enter the Black

But Ukrainian military officials, just a few miles away, are watching the buildup with concern.

"The last two weeks, it has become more dangerous because the Russian Federation has sent several landing ships from Baltic Sea and the North Sea," says Capt. Roman Goncharenko, of the Ukrainian Navy in Mariupol.

"Officially it's exercises. But those ships are still here in this area, and in our vision it can be dangerous," he told CNN from the deck of the Soviet-era Donbas, a rusty search and rescue ship, built in 1969 and docked in the port city.

Buildup on land and sea

The naval buildup follows international alarm at a recent surge of Russian land forces near the border with Ukraine and in Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014.

Tens of thousands of Russian troops, backed by armored columns, were spotted heading towards eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed rebels have been fighting a grinding separatist war with government forces in which thousands have died.

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The Russian antisubmarine ship 'Vice-Admiral Kulakov' was the first to help out a Ukrainian ship in distress in a part of the Mediterranean with "intensive naval traffic," the Russian Ministry of Defense has said. In the meantime, the Russian Defense Ministry has published a video showing the Ukrainian boat 's captain saying that the boat had been adrift in the Mediterranean for two days due to a failed engine. "During the storm some water got into the engine. Then it started emitting black smoke and we heard the valves clank.

2 Vessels captured by the Russian navy . 3 Decommissioned and sold ships. 4 Never finished ships (at shipyards on Ukraine mainland - never subject to seizure). 5 Uncertain status. List of captured ships of the Ukrainian Navy .[1] On 8 April 2014, an agreement had been reached between Russia and Ukraine to return captured vessels to Ukraine and "for the withdrawal of an undisclosed number of Ukrainian aircraft seized in Crimea".[2] At the time, Russian naval sources claimed that the Ukrainian ships were "not operational because they are old, obsolete, and.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gave CNN unprecedented access last month when he went to the most forward positions in a show of support for his frontline troops.

The Kremlin also said the troop movements were "military drills," eventually announcing a drawdown of forces late last month, although US officials say it is unclear how many Russian troops have been pulled back.

US Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said on Monday there were "still quite a few" Russian forces along the border with Ukraine, and in Crimea.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will be in Kiev this week to meet his Ukrainian counterpart and Zelensky. The State Department says he intends to "reaffirm" US support for Ukraine in "the face of Russia's ongoing aggression."

Ukraine asserts that aggression now violates international law by restricting access to the Sea of Azov, which Russia and Ukraine agreed to share in a 2003 agreement.

Ukrainian officials say commercial shipping along a key route to the east is facing additional checks and delays, but Russia insists the traffic is not banned.

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This is not the first time Russia has exerted its naval power toward Ukraine. In 2018, the Russian coast guard rammed a Ukrainian tugboat in the area. Russian ships fired on Ukrainian naval vessels, seizing three and detaining 24 sailors. Both sides accused the other of violating the laws of the sea.

American ships have been challenged too. Earlier this year, a low pass by a Russian warplane in the Black Sea was witnessed from the deck of US destroyer USS Donald Cook.

'Creeping occupation'

The tension on the choppy waters of the Sea of Azov is visible on land too. In Mariupol, a dozen Ukrainian marines, dressed in combat fatigues and balaclavas, practice maneuvers, patrolling the harbor with their rifles at the ready, conducting what they say are anti-sabotage drills.

Ukrainian naval officials say they have no choice but to plan for a possible Russian assault and that more ground forces are on standby to be deployed in the event of an attack.

They already call Russian action on the Sea of Azov a "creeping occupation" of the region.

"Russian ships increasingly behave aggressively, entering forbidden areas, or places where they should have permission from the Ukrainian authorities," says Levitskiy, the patrol boat commander.

After the Ukrainian coastguard vessel was warned by the Russian ship about getting too close, CNN asked him what would happen if we didn't turn back. The helmsman shouted, "it would be very dangerous."

Levitskiy looked at him disapprovingly and demurred, saying only, "it may not be good."

a person standing on a sidewalk: A Ukrainian marine stands guard in the port of Mariupol. © CNN A Ukrainian marine stands guard in the port of Mariupol. a man sitting in a car: Russian forces radioed the Ukrainian patrol boat to warn it to stay away. © CNN Russian forces radioed the Ukrainian patrol boat to warn it to stay away.

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usr: 1
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