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Ukraine carries out missile-firing exercise near Crimea Russia threatens to shoot down missiles and destroy the launcher

Meduza
13:37, 1 december 2016

Photo: Sergei Supinsky / AFP / Scanpix / LETA

On December 1, 2016, Ukraine began Air Force missile firing exercises in the south of the country. Even before the exercise, Kiev said that exercise would affect including Crimean airspace. In response, Moscow threatened to destroy both the missiles and launchers if they pose a hazard. "Medusa" briefly tells about the next aggravation of the territorial dispute between Russia and Ukraine.

On November 25, Ukraine warned that it would be conducting its exercises. Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency immediately responded that the designated area encroached on Russian territorial waters off the west coast of the Crimea by 12 kilometers. Then Ukraine further extended its zone, entering Russian territorial waters by 18 kilometers. Kiev announced at the outset that the exercises would be performed in the airspace, which is internationally recognized as belonging to Ukraine. The country plans to conduct exercises with S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems, amongst others.

Russia’s Defense Ministry has threatened to shoot down and destroy Ukrainian rocket launchers. This information first appeared on December 1, 2016. The Ministry said that missiles that appear in the zones of Simferopol and Odessa will be shot down, and if Russian objects are threatened, the country plans to bomb the launchers on Ukrainian territory. Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has also moved its ships to to Crimea’s west coast.

Satellite image: Google Earth

Right before the start of exercises, Ukraine resituated its zone of operation. The new exercise area is now located to the west of Russia’s territorial waters. The Ukrainian Air Force Command established that the new zone extends 27-30 km from the western tip of Crimea and that the launchers are located 90 kilometers from the peninsula. Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko announced the start of successful missile launches “in spite of the Russian threat.”

The question of who has control of the airspace over and near Crimea is still not settled. The international community did not recognize Russia’s annexation of the peninsula in March 2014, so, technically, the area is considered to be under Ukrainian jurisdiction. Nevertheless, because Kiev cannot technically control movement over the Crimea, this area is closed to Ukrainian flights and is accessible only to Russian airlines. In February 2016, the European Aviation Safety Agency gave control of two air routes near Crimea to Ukrainian authorities. Russia protested this decision.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has set up a special working group to address the issue of air space over Crimea. Some of its members spoke in favor of giving the area over to Russian control. No final decision has been made.