Ukraine strikes Russian tanker in Kerch Strait amid Black Sea tensions

A day after hitting a Russian warship, Ukraine targets a chemical tanker near Crimea

Ukraine has escalated its conflict with Russia in the Black Sea region by carrying out a drone attack on a Russian chemical tanker in the Kerch Strait, according to Russian officials. The incident occurred a day after Kyiv claimed to have damaged a Russian landing ship with a sea drone at a naval base near Novorossiysk.

The Russian Federal Agency for Marine and River Transport said on Saturday that the tanker, named SIG, received a hole in the engine room near the waterline on the starboard side, presumably as a result of a sea drone attack. The agency added that there were no casualties and no fuel spillage from the ship, which had 11 people on board. Two tugboats were at the scene to assist the tanker.

Ukraine strikes Russian tanker

The attack briefly halted traffic on the Kerch Bridge, the strategic highway linking Russian-occupied Crimea to the Russian mainland. Explosions were heard near the bridge early on Saturday, and local residents reported seeing smoke rising from the tanker. The bridge, which was completed by Russia in 2018, four years after Moscow annexed the peninsula from Ukraine, has been subjected to two major attacks by Ukraine in the past two months.

Ukraine has not officially confirmed or denied its involvement in the attack on the tanker, which is under US sanctions for supplying jet fuel to Russian forces in Syria supporting President Bashar al-Assad. However, a Ukrainian government official told The Washington Post on Friday that Kyiv had carried out a “special operation” against a Russian warship at Novorossiysk naval base, using two surface drones loaded with explosives.

Russia accuses Ukraine of provoking a military confrontation

Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Friday that it had repelled an attempted attack on its naval base by the Ukrainian armed forces “with the use of two unmanned sea boats”. The ministry said that the drones were destroyed by the Russian warships and that no damage was caused to the base or its personnel.

However, the Ukrainian official said that the attack had successfully targeted a large Russian amphibious landing ship, named Olenegorsky Miner, and rendered it “unable to perform its combat tasks”. The official said that the ship was carrying 100 Russian crew members and that the drones were detonated near its hull. The Post could not independently verify the claims.

Russia accused Ukraine of provoking a military confrontation and violating international law by attacking its sovereign territory. Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that Kyiv was “playing with fire” and warned of “serious consequences” if it continued its aggressive actions. She also blamed the US and its allies for encouraging Ukraine’s “destructive behavior”.

Ukraine, on the other hand, said that it was defending its national interests and sovereignty against Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea and aggression in eastern Ukraine, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting against Kyiv’s forces since 2014. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said that his country was ready for dialogue with Russia but also prepared for any scenario.

The Black Sea region becomes a flashpoint of geopolitical rivalry

The recent attacks in the Black Sea region come amid heightened tensions between Russia and Ukraine, as well as their respective allies. The conflict has been exacerbated by Moscow’s withdrawal from a UN-backed deal last month that had allowed Ukrainian grain exports via the Black Sea shipping hub during the war.

The deal, known as the Black Sea Grain Initiative, was signed in 2015 and aimed to facilitate trade and cooperation among countries bordering the Black Sea. However, Russia announced its exit from the agreement in July, citing Ukraine’s “unfriendly actions” and “unilateral sanctions”. Russia also accused Ukraine of using its grain shipments as a cover for smuggling weapons and military equipment to its forces in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine denounced Russia’s move as a violation of international law and an attempt to strangle its economy. Kyiv also vowed to retaliate for Russia’s repeated strikes on its port cities, such as Mariupol and Berdyansk, which have been hit by rockets and artillery fire from Russian-controlled territory. Ukraine said that it would use all means available to protect its territorial integrity and maritime rights

The Black Sea region has also become a flashpoint of geopolitical rivalry between Russia and the West, especially after NATO’s expansion into eastern Europe and Turkey’s purchase of a Russian-made missile defense system. The US and its allies have increased their military presence and exercises in the region, while Russia has deployed more troops and weapons along its borders with Ukraine and in Crimea. Both sides have accused each other of provoking instability and endangering security in the region.

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