Five out of 12 staff members have been rescued, the region’s head says
Suspected Ukrainian attacks targeted drilling rigs off the coast of Crimea in the Black Sea on Monday morning, the head of the Russian region, Sergey Aksyonov, said in a statement. He added that the rigs were manned by 12 workers, five of whom have been rescued so far, including three with injuries.
Aksyonov did not disclose the exact locations of the facilities, but said they were owned by Chernomorneftegaz, a company that develops offshore gas and oil fields. Its ownership has been disputed by Ukrainian energy giant Naftogaz since 2014, when it was nationalized after Crimea voted to re-join Russia.
The head of Crimea later said that three missile strikes hit three separate rigs. Aksyonov said a total of 109 people were in the area at the time of the attacks and that the evacuation of the workers was underway.
The attack targeted offshore rigs located about 71km from the Ukrainian port of Odessa, Olga Kovitidi, who represents Crimea in the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, told RIA Novosti.
Some Ukrainian media reported that earlier in the day, dozens of missiles hit Snake Island, a small islet off the Ukrainian coast, which has been controlled by Russia for months. Ukrainian MP Aleksey Goncharenko claimed that some of the missiles hit the gas rigs instead of the island.
Ukrainian troops have been slowly losing territory to Russia and allied forces in Donbass, even as Western nations supply more sophisticated weapons to Kiev. Several Ukrainian officials have stated that the pledge to not use foreign weapons to attack targets in Russia does not apply to Crimea, which Kiev considers part of its territory. Major General Dmitry Marchenko said last week that the bridge connecting the peninsula with mainland Russia is “absolutely our number one target.”
This month, Kiev reported deploying US-made Harpoon anti-ship missiles as part of its coastal defense systems. Last week, Kiev claimed it had attacked a Russian military tugboat with two of these missiles.
Russia attacked the neighboring state in late February, following Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, first signed in 2014, and Moscow’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German- and French-brokered protocols were designed to give the breakaway regions special status within the Ukrainian state.
The Kremlin has since demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two republics by force.