CNN was joined aboard a Ukrainian navy gunboat that was attacked last week by a Russian warship, as the Ukrainian government and its Western allies continued to hold out hope that diplomacy could end Moscow’s renewed aggression in eastern Ukraine.
The CNN crew on board the KNM Avtovenska, known as “mother ship,” was the network’s second to be on board the gunboat, which had been escorted by a naval vessel from the Russian Black Sea Fleet, according to reporting by Ukrainian state television’s Army Channel and newspapers in the Kiev Post and Dozhd, citing Ukrainian government sources.
The vessel, known in Ukrainian by its NATO code name, KNM Star, was moving through the Sea of Azov, which separates Russia from Ukraine, when its escort cut in line and boarded the gunboat, Ukrainian reports said.
While Moscow said its ship acted in self-defense, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said later the use of force was “intolerable.”
Russia did not send the Avtovenska to engage in what Ukrainian officials called a “provocation,” instead responding to what appeared to be peaceful gestures by Ukraine’s navy. Ukrainian Parliament Speaker Volodymyr Rybak, who was on the vessel, told members of Parliament during a session that a convoy of self-propelled vehicles were being escorted by the Russian Navy ship before the situation turned violent.
The Ukrainian ship, like its successor, the KNM Star, is one of the floating finger holsters of Ukraine’s navy, armed with medium- and heavy-caliber machine guns, surface-to-air missiles and tactical radar. While military-grade weapons have proven to be more effective in restricting Russian military activity in the Sea of Azov than tanks and heavy artillery, the guns aboard the two “finger holsters” are highly accurate and difficult to return fire against.
Authorities said last week the attackers came armed with multiple launchers and 120 mm mortars.
During a briefing with Western reporters in Kiev, Poroshenko said the use of artillery against vessels was “unacceptable.”
“It does not matter that the ships were not boarded. We need to stop such provocations on the Sea of Azov,” Poroshenko said.
Asked whether there was proof that there was any Russian interference in Ukraine, the president said: “I would like to be careful not to reveal any details of what exactly happened during the incident last Thursday. But it is enough that the Russian side used heavy and direct artillery.”
The Russians said the vessel was conducting a training mission near the coast of Russia’s Perevalnoye range when it was boarded, which raised questions over how it got to that position.
The KNM Avtovenska was a product of the late 2010s as part of plans to update Ukraine’s fledgling navy. Ukraine first commissioned the vessel in May 2011, setting a Russian arms embargos as the deadline for new military hardware to exit Russia.