Ukrainian adventurism in Black Sea risks pulling NATO into war with Russia – senators

NATO support is encouraging Ukraine's recklessness in relations with Russia, but such provocation could lead to a military conflict in which the US-led alliance itself could become involved, the Russian Federation Council said.

Senators released a joint statement dedicated to NATO's 70th anniversary on Tuesday, paying special attention to the latest anti-Russian remarks coming from the organization.

US Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison said last week that a special “package” had been designed within the bloc “to assure that there is a safe passage for Ukrainian vessels” through the Kerch Strait.

The narrow waterway connecting the Black Sea and Azov Sea, which Russia controls, became the venue of an intense standoff last November, when several Ukrainian vessels deliberately violated Russia's maritime border near the Kerch Strait. They were detained by the Russian coast guard, which chased the intruders and fired shots at them.

The Federal Council clarified that “the passage of Ukrainian ships through the Kerch Strait is not a question of balance of power or NATO's presence in the Black Sea region, but solely the Ukrainian side's problem with observing the procedures, which it is well aware of and has successfully fulfilled before.

“The attempts by Kiev to bypass those procedures carry the risk of a military conflict between Russia and Ukraine, in which NATO may also become involved,” the statement warned.

In fact, Russia hasn't banned Ukrainian vessels from crossing the Kerch Strait, and civilian ships do it on a daily basis. Military vessels have to notify the Russian port authorities of their passage in advance – something that wasn't done during the November crisis, which Moscow decried as a “provocation” by Kiev.

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The senators said that NATO's backing of non-member states Ukraine and Georgia “pushes the leadership of those countries, who feel their impunity, to get involved in even more adventurism.”

Their statement also condemned NATO's eastward expansion and its military buildup around Russian borders. It also urged the bloc to resume dialogue with the Russian military based "on mutual respect" as the only way to reduce tensions.

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Russian navy on combat alert as Ukraine begins missile launch drills near Crimea – reports

Russian warships from the Black Sea Fleet reportedly took up positions off the Crimean Peninsula to provide air defense as Kiev conducted its missile launch drills near the Russian border.

Ukrainian forces conducted 16 successful launches of S-300 medium-range surface-to-air missiles during the drills, presidential spokesman Svyatoslav Tsegolko said in a Facebook post.

“The Defense Ministry and the General Staff chief have just reported to the president on today’s drills, which were successfully completed. Sixteen Ukrainian missiles were launched. All of them have reached their targets,” Tsegolko said.

“We’ve received the first reports about the success of the launches carried out this morning,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said in Kiev. “These latest exercises involved combat and transport aircraft, as well as divisions of anti-aircraft and radar troops.” 

“I want to emphasize that the launches are taking place in open sea over Ukrainian airspace, in full accordance with international law. The launches will go on regardless of any statement released by Moscow.”
“The only reason that makes us conduct these exercises is the need to be consistently ready for any full-scale invasion from the side of our aggressive neighbor.”

“The purpose of the exercise is to gain experience in using these anti-aircraft missile systems and to check the quality of the rockets, which were repaired, as well as to improve the skills of the anti-aircraft missile troop units,” he said, as cited by TASS.

Kryzhanovsky said that there had been no response to the launches from the Russian side. He noted that the missiles will come as close as 30 kilometers to Crimean airspace. The missiles are being launched from a spot some 90 kilometers from Crimea’s shores. The Ukrainian military stressed that its current exercises pose no danger to the residents of the Crimean Peninsula.

Still, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that Ukrainian missile tests near Crimea were a "dangerous precedent," as cited by Interfax.

Russian ships from the Black Sea Fleet have taken up positions to the west of the Crimean Peninsula to provide air defense over Russian territory, RIA Novosti news agency reports, citing sources in the military.

The Black Sea Fleet warships integrated in the air defense system of the Southern Military District have taken position off the west coast of Crimea for Ukraine’s missile launch drills, which are scheduled for December 1st and 2nd. The ships’ air defenses are in on high alert,” the source told the agency.

Ukraine announced that it would be conducting missile-firing exercises close to Crimea in areas used by civil and state aviation flights earlier this week, warning that they would not be safe for flights. Later, it declared that adjacent areas, partly over neutral waters and partly over Russia’s territorial waters in the Black Sea to the southwest and southeast to Crimea, would also be dangerous.

The Russian aviation agency said that Kiev’s drills breach a number of international laws and agreements, noting that they had not been coordinated with Moscow.

Russia asked the authorities in Kiev to abstain from the exercises, but received no response, Russian transport minister Maksim Sokolov said today, while noting that Moscow had also requested that the International Civil Aviation Organization declare Crimean airspace a danger zone, but that also went unanswered.

There were no emergency incidents detected in the airspace over Crimea, Sokolov later said.

Earlier, the Russian Defense Ministry submitted a military-diplomatic note to the Defense Attaché at the Embassy of Ukraine, in which they protested the illegal restrictions on the use of Russian airspace imposed by Ukraine during the exercises, noting that “the southeastern boundary of the danger area declared by the Ukraine violates the territorial sea borders of the Russian Federation, which is a violation of international law and Russian legislation.”

However, according to the Russian Federal Air Transport Agency, the Ukrainian government changed the boundaries of the danger zone for civil aviation in the Crimea region just ahead of the drills so that they no longer breach Russian airspace.

The boundaries of the danger zone for civil aviation has been shifted to the west of the Russian Federation,” the agency’s representative told Interfax.

The Ukrainian military has a record of suffering from accidents while conducting air defense missile drills. In October of 2001, a Siberia Airlines Tu-154 en route from Tel-Aviv to Novosibirsk was accidentally brought down by a missile launched by the Ukrainian military during an exercise over the Black Sea. Seventy-eight people died in that tragedy. Kiev has also been condemned by the relatives of the victims of the , in which a civilian plane was downed in the eastern part of Ukraine, for not closing the airspace over the war-torn area.

The full-scale drills are to continue on Friday, according to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry.

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Top army general calls Russia ‘#1 threat’ to US

Fresh back from Kiev, Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley called Russia “aggressive” and “adversarial to the interests of the United States,” claiming that having nuclear weapons and the ability to use them makes Russia the foremost threat to the US.
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