The Ukrainian Navy has threatened to fire on patrol vessels of the Russian FSB Security Service in a worrying hotspot for fear of sparking war between the nations.
In the last of several raids, five ships of the Federal Security Service carried out “provocative maneuvers” in the Sea of Azov around three Gyurza-M-class artillery boats of the Ukrainian Navy.
“In response to threats from Russian ships, our seafarers had to warn of readiness to use weapons,” said Andrii Klymenko, editor of Black Sea News.
After the Kiev sailors issued the threat to shoot, they were allowed to proceed, he said.
There are fears that Russia is trying to provoke a response from Ukraine that could act as a catalyst for a wider conflict and even full-scale war.
Vladimir Putin is expected to have 115,000 soldiers deployed by the beginning of next week.
It comes after Ukraine warned that it could unilaterally build a nuclear arsenal if NATO refuses to allow membership in the Western military alliance.
It used to be a nuclear state with 176 ICBMs and 44 strategic bombers after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and agreed to eliminate its weapons in exchange for legally binding guarantees of safety from the UK, US and Russia.
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“We have to do everything we can to ensure that Putin does not attack us tomorrow or the day after tomorrow,” said Andriy Melnik, the Ukrainian ambassador to Germany.
“The only way to do this is for Ukraine to finally become a member of NATO.
“If Ukraine were a NATO member in 2014 … it would never have come to the annexation and this terrible war in the east,” he said.
He warned bluntly: “Ukraine has no other choice, either we are part of an alliance like NATO and we do our part to strengthen this Europe, or we have the only option: to arm ourselves and perhaps through nuclear status think again.
“How else can we guarantee our defense?”
In a plea for the West to strengthen its security guarantees, he said: “Almost 90,000 [Russian] Soldiers and their armed systems were drawn to the border and region of occupied Crimea and Donbass.
“This mission is not just about muscle tension.
“We are dealing with the largest movement of troops in Russia since World War II.”
Russian state news agency Sputnik said in a report that Ukraine “is likely to retain the technical capability to build a nuclear arsenal”.
But it said: “The state of its civil nuclear power program leaves something to be desired.
“Last year, workers in the Ukrainian nuclear industry sounded the alarm about the threat of ‘another Chernobyl’ spearheading a ‘dire situation’ they said was in the country’s nuclear energy sector due to a lack of oversight, safety permits and funds.”
Kiev strongly warned of the danger that tensions in Sea of Azov could turn into a major incident.
“Russia continues to violate international law,” said the Ukrainian Navy.
“Russia’s FSB made another attempt to interfere with the lawful acts of a group of Ukrainian Navy boats in combat.
“The Ukrainian Navy’s tactical boat group continued its mission despite Russian provocations and deliberate efforts to restrict free navigation.”
On Thursday, Ukraine protested against Russia’s decision to block foreign warships and state ships from parts of the Black Sea in the direction of the Kerch Strait from next week to October.
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said: “Such actions by the Russian Federation are another attempt to usurp in violation of the norms and principles of international law [our] sovereign rights as a coastal state.
“It is Ukraine that has the right to regulate shipping in these parts of the Black Sea.”
According to Information Navigator, there were satellite imagery showing that Russia has installed S-400 air defense systems in Crimea with a range of 250 miles.
This enables “the Russian occupation forces to control almost the entire airspace of the Black Sea”.
Meanwhile, new videos show the continuation of Russian troop movements east of the Ukrainian border.