Russian Military Forces Fire on Ukrainian Vessel and Aircraft Within Ukraine’s Exclusive Economic Zone in the Black Sea
On February 1, 2017, a Ukrainian An-26 transport aircraft came under small arms fire from Russian military personnel, stationed on a drill rig, while flying over the Odesa gas field in the Black Sea. This gas field is located within Ukraine’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), not off the Crimean peninsula (which is also part of Ukraine’s EEZ). While the rig in question has not been named, the Ukrainian military spokesman said it was amongst those stolen by Russian forces in the aftermath of the annexation of Crimea. According to the Ukrainian military, the plane was on a training flight and was hit by small caliber shells. More importantly, the aircraft detected Russian military radar active in the area of the type normally used in surface-to-air missile systems.
This is the second time in less than a week that Ukrainian military forces have been fired upon from Russian-controlled drilling platforms. On January 27, 2017, the Ukrainian vessel Pochaiv was hit by sniper fire from the Tavrida drilling platform, originally operated by Chernomorneftegaz (prior to being seized by Russian forces). Tavrida has reportedly been operating within Ukraine’s EEZ ever since its theft.
The militarization of drill rigs and platforms by Moscow greatly increases the likelihood of a geopolitical crisis in the Black Sea (including more serious shooting incidents). Moscow appears to be taking a page out of Beijing’s playbook and is using offshore drilling platforms to extend its territorial control over what the Kremlin wishes to regard as “disputed waters” (which are clearly part of Ukraine’s sovereign EEZ). The placement of surface-to-air missile systems on a drill rig would mark a significant increase in the lethality of the weapon systems being placed in this volatile region of the Black Sea and would upgrade Moscow already significant area-denial capability.