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09 December 2016

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Crimean missile crisis

This week we have witnessed another round of escalation of the already strained Ukrainian-Russian relations. In response to the announcement by the Ukrainian military to conduct missile tests near the Crimean peninsula, Russia threatened to hit Ukraine with missiles instead.

mil.gov.ua
mil.gov.ua

The reason for a new escalation of Ukrainian-Russian relations were the plans of the Ukrainian military to hold December 1-2, 2016 test missile launches over the Black Sea. But these actions (quite normal for any state conducting military exercises on its own territory), for some reason, made the Russians way overexcited. However, we shouldn’t really be looking for any logic in another wave of aggression on the part of the state, which has shamelessly stolen part of Ukraine’s territory, maintaining a military conflict beyond its own borders.

Returning to the "missile scandal", we should note that over the last year, Ukraine has moved forward significantly with its "missile shield" program and implemented a series of successful tests of new missiles. In August, a new "Olkha" multiple rocket launcher was tested, while in November reports came on the preparation of test launches of a new "Hrom" missile, which was announced to be held in December 2016.

According to Ukraine’s top officials, the weapon should become a deterrent to the aggressive policy of Russia, and, if necessary, could be used for a pre-emptive strike on enemy territory.

Russia was anything but happy with these developments and tried by all means to interfere with the tests. In a letter addressed to the military attache at the Embassy of Ukraine in the Russian Federation dated November 26, Russia said that "if the missiles launched in that area are detected, they will be shot down by Russia’s air defense forces."

The Ukrainian side called this threat "an attempt to shift into an active phase the hybrid war that Russia has been waging against our country for the last three years." And Ukraine kicked off the launches as scheduled.

"The only reason forcing us to carry out this exercise (of the Air Force) is the need to remain in constant readiness for a full-scale invasion by our aggressive neighbor," said President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko.

Everything is legal and secure

The Ukrainian leadership is 100% sure that all actions of the Ukrainian side are absolutely legal and involve no risk to the civilians (the subject actively spun by the Russians propaganda). "Ukraine operates in the framework of all international agreements and international obligations undertaken. Therefore, we draw attention of our international partners to deliberate provocations by the Russian Federation with a view to a further escalation of military aggression in the region," said Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Oleksandr Turchynov.

Turchynov: Ukraine operates within the framework of international agreements / Photo from UNIAN
Turchynov: Ukraine operates within the framework of international agreements / Photo from UNIAN

At the same time, the Air Force Command point out that the borders of a "danger zone" of test launches lies some 27-30 km off the northwest coast of Crimea, while the launch site - at a 90km distance, which eliminates any threat to the Crimean residents.

The position of the military is confirmed by director of information and consulting company Defense Express Serhiy Zgurets: "What Ukraine has declared is done based on the law and in accordance with international practice. Crimea is our territory, so we can carry out tests where we see fit."

According to Zgurets, after the annexation of Crimea, Ukraine has practically no firing ranges suitable for such purposes, adding that before the Russian seizure, the launches were held in Crimea, where there was a State Test Center in Feodosia with the appropriate ranges.

The expert reminded that Russia had annexed the territory of Crimea, seizing these ranges as well. And now, having illegally captured the land, Russia is trying to tell Ukraine where they can or cannot test their weapons. "For Russia, it is a political issue," says Zgurets.

In fact, it’s not just these tests that cause a negative reaction among the Russians. More recently, a test launch of the Ukrainian "Olkha", held in Odesa region, had also thrown Moscow into tantrums.

Test launch of the Ukrainian
Test launch of the Ukrainian "Olkha" also made Russia hysteric / facebook.com/yuri.biriukov

“A sector of the Black Sea was sealed down for the test launches. So they brought in their vessels to monitor the launch from a distance," the aide to the Defense Minister of Ukraine, Yuriy Biryukov said, uploading a video showing the "observers".

Unsuccessful saber rattling

However, this time the reaction of the Russian side came out much more demonstrative: On November 29, photos of S-300 Antey air defense systems deployed at the Ukrainian-Russian border were published. These launchers allow engaging modern aircraft and missile targets at a 2,500km distance. The Russian Federation went further. The Kremlin showered Ukraine with threats, saying that if necessary, Russia would not be limited only by means of ground-based air defense, but also involve the forces of the Black Sea Fleet. "The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation warns that if the missiles launched in that area are detected, they will be shot down by air defense forces of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation... In case if the missiles launched pose a threat to Russian objects in this area of the Russian Federation (on land, at sea and in the air), retaliatory strikes will be carried out to destroy the launchers," the Russian Ministry of Defense wrote in the mentioned letter to the Ukrainian military attache at the embassy Ukraine in Russia.

One of the vehicles in a convoy spotted in the occupied Kerch / Screenshot
One of the vehicles in a convoy spotted in the occupied Kerch / Screenshot

However, according to Zguerts, a retaliatory strike from Russia shouldn’t be expected. "If we are talking about a retaliatory strike, what should it target? The Black Sea waters? The tests are being held in the Ukrainian area of responsibility," he said.

Thus, any Russian military reaction to the Ukrainian drills will be another fact confirming the aggressive policy of the Russian Federation with regard to Ukraine.

This view is evidenced by the fact that the official Kremlin chose to bury their heads in the sand once its threats were leaked to the media. On November 30, commenting on media reports that Russia would shoot down Ukrainian missiles near the occupied Crimea and engage Ukrainian launchers in the territory of Ukraine, if such launches ever take place, as well as answering a question on whether the Russian president gave appropriate instructions to the Russian military, press secretary of the Russian leader Dmitry Peskov said: "I cannot answer your question. To be honest, that’s the first time I hear about this, so I need to clarify this."

Moreover, the Russian propaganda media immediately tried to impose onto the public an opinion that Ukraine had just attempted to find another PR-event and was simply going to test another modernized Soviet-era missile. "In particular, we can talk about the attempts to revive the ADMS "Pechora", put into service in the Soviet Union back in 1961. There is evidence that a company named "Aerotekhnika-MLT" is dealing with the modernization of these systems. This is a hardly known Kyiv-based firm which sealed a contract with the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. That is why the danger is very high that another test launch of these and other "products", carried out by incompetent specialists... " the Russian propaganda TV channel Zvezda assessed the situation.

***

In the morning of Thursday, December 1, there came first reports on the first successful launches of the Ukrainian missiles. According to the Air Force Command, first the air defense system S-300s were tested, similar to those deployed on the Russian-controlled side of the Crimea border. "Today, despite Russia’s tantrums and their threats to use missiles against us, we have carried out military exercises with test launches of medium-range missiles. And, importantly, we did it, according to the approved plan, at a predetermined time and a publicly announced location. The missiles successfully engaged the targets," Turchynov said.

mil.gov.ua
mil.gov.ua

But what about Russia’s threats? They remained just threats. Yet another worthless rattling of the occupiers’ rusty sabers.

Vladyslav Shvets

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