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A Ukrainian military plane has reportedly made two low passes over Russian oil rigs in the Black Sea, with Russia calling the incident a clear provocation, and Ukraine claiming that its aircraft was fired on.
"This morning, between 11:30 and 12:00 a.m. Moscow time, an An-26 plane of the Ukrainian armed forces with board No. 53 made two clearly provocative passes at an extremely low altitude near Russian oil rigs Tavrida and Crimea-1 in the Black Sea," a spokesman for the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters told media.
Ukraine claims that Russian forces fired on its military aircraft.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak told reporters that the military transport aircraft in question took on small arms fire over the Black Sea, and that the shots came from a “Russian-captured oil rig”. The defense minister was referring to a rig near the Odessa gas fields, in territory usurped by the Russians when they annexed Crimea.
Minister Poltorak said the aircraft was damaged, but landed with the crew safely. The defense minister indicated that the military had recently detected the deployment of Russian radar installations in the region, which could be used for missile guidance.
Russia denies Ukraine’s claims, saying that no shots were fired, and that security guards used flash signals to prevent the plane from crashing into the drilling tower.
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"All the statements by the Ukrainian side that the An-26 plane was allegedly fired at are an absolute lie. During the Ukrainian An-26’s second pass, an employee of the drilling platform’s security guard gave four flash signals from a signal pistol to prevent a possible air crash from collision with the drilling tower," the spokesman said.
The incident in the Black Sea comes as relations between Russia and Ukraine simmer amid geopolitical changes that give further impetus to the conflict over Russia’s annexation of the Crimea.
The Odessa gas fields are in a particularly sensitive area. In December 2015, Russia hijacked two drilling rigs in Ukrainian waters in this gas field, some 100 kilometers off the coast of Ukraine. Russian Tass news agency at the time claimed that the deposits were Russian due to its takeover of the Crimea.
By Damir Kaletovic for Oilprice.com
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Damir Kaletovic is a veteran investigative journalist covering Europe and the Middle East, and a senior consultant for Divergente Research.