According to Kryzhanovsky, the drills will test S-300 medium-range surface-to-air missiles. “The launches have already begun, so everything is going according to plan,” Vladimir Kryzhanovsky, the head of the Ukrainian military’s southern branch press-service said on Thursday, as cited by TASS news agency.
“The purpose of the exercise is to gain experience in using these anti-aircraft missile systems and to check the quality of the rockets, which were repaired, as well as to improve the skills of the anti-aircraft missile troop units,” he said.
Kryzhanovsky said that there had been no response to the launches from the Russian side. He noted that the missiles will come as close as 30 kilometers to Crimean airspace. The missiles are being launched from a spot some 90 kilometers from Crimea’s shores. The Ukrainian military stressed that its current exercises pose no danger to the residents of the Crimean Peninsula.
Meanwhile, Russian ships from the Black Sea Fleet have taken up positions to the west of the Crimean Peninsula to provide air defense over Russian territory, RIA Novosti news agency reports, citing sources in the military.
“The Black Sea Fleet warships integrated in the air defense system of the Southern Military District have taken position off the west coast of Crimea for Ukraine’s missile launch drills, which are scheduled for December 1st and 2nd. The ships’ air defenses are in on high alert,” the source told the agency.
The Russian aviation agency said that Kiev’s drills breach a number of international laws and agreements, noting that they had not been coordinated with Moscow.
Ukraine announced that it would be conducting missile-firing exercises close to Crimea in areas used by civil and state aviation flights earlier this week, warning that they would not be safe for flights. Later, it declared that adjacent areas, partly over neutral waters and partly over Russia’s territorial waters in the Black Sea to the southwest and southeast to Crimea, would also be dangerous.
Russia asked the authorities in Kiev to abstain from the exercises, but received no response, Russian transport minister Maksim Sokolov said earlier today, while noting that Moscow had also requested that the International Civil Aviation Organization declare Crimean airspace a danger zone, but that also went unanswered.
Earlier, the Russian Defense Ministry submitted a military-diplomatic note to the Defense Attaché at the Embassy of Ukraine, in which they protested the illegal restrictions on the use of Russian airspace imposed by Ukraine during the exercises, noting that “the southeastern boundary of the danger area declared by the Ukraine violates the territorial sea borders of the Russian Federation, which is a violation of international law and Russian legislation.”
However, according to the Russian Federal Air Transport Agency, the Ukrainian government changed the boundaries of the danger zone for civil aviation in the Crimea region just ahead of the drills so that they no longer breach Russian airspace.
“The boundaries of the danger zone for civil aviation has been shifted to the west of the Russian Federation,” the agency’s representative told Interfax.
The Ukrainian military has a record of suffering from accidents while conducting air defense missile drills. In October of 2001, a Siberia Airlines Tu-154 en route from Tel-Aviv to Novosibirsk was accidentally brought down by a missile launched by the Ukrainian military during an exercise over the Black Sea. Seventy-eight people died in that tragedy.
Kiev has also been condemned by the relatives of the victims of the, in which a civilian plane was downed in the eastern part of Ukraine, for not closing the airspace over the war-torn area.