Warships from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet have taken up position off Crimea’s western coastline to help strengthen the peninsula’s air defences in response to the start of Ukrainian missile tests nearby, the RIA news agency reported on Thursday. Kiev began two days of missile tests on Thursday, angering Russia, which has put its air defence forces on high alert saying it hopes the war games won’t disrupt international flights. “Warships of the Black Sea Fleet … have taken up positions near Crimea’s western coast for the duration of Ukraine’s planned missile tests from Dec. 1-2,” a military source in Crimea told RIA.
“The ship’s air defence units have been put on a higher state of alert. Their equipment is designed in the first instance to shoot down heavy anti-ship missiles and cruise missiles. Together with land-based air defence units on the peninsula, the ships have thrown up a practically impenetrable shield against the enemy’s rockets.”
Vladimir Krizhanovsky, a Ukrainian military official, earlier on Thursday told the 112 TV channel that the exercises had begun and that everything was going smoothly. “The tests are being carried out in accordance with international law,” said Krizhanovsky. He said they were taking place at least 30 kilometres (18.64 miles) from Crimean air space. “Therefore it would be wrong to reproach Ukraine,” he said.
Ukraine’s military said its two-day missile drill starting on Thursday would avoid the airspace over Crimea, sidestepping a possible confrontation with Russia which annexed the peninsula in 2014. News of the tests had angered the Kremlin, prompting it to put its air defence forces on high alert and manoeuvre warships in the Black Sea. The disagreement marked a fresh escalation in tensions between the neighbours and one-time allies, whose relations collapsed after Russia seized Crimea and backed pro-Russian separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine.