Russia's coast guard opened fire on and seized three of Ukraine's vessels Sunday, wounding two crew members, after a tense standoff in the Black Sea near the Crimean Peninsula, the Ukrainian navy says. Russia blamed Ukraine for provoking the incident, which sharply escalated tensions that have been growing between the two countries since Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, and it has worked steadily to bolster its zone of control around the peninsula, the AP reports. Earlier in the day, Russia and Ukraine traded accusations over a separate incident involving the same vessels, prompting Moscow to block passage through the narrow Kerch Strait, which separates the peninsula from the Russian mainland.
The Ukrainian navy says two of its gunboats were struck and Russian crews boarded and seized them and an accompanying tugboat. Russia's Federal Security Service, known as the FSB and which oversees the coast guard, says there was "irrefutable evidence that Kiev prepared and orchestrated provocations ... in the Black Sea. These materials will soon be made public." The FSB confirmed early Monday that it fired on the vessels to force them to stop, and then seized them. The European Union and NATO called for restraint from both sides and for Moscow to restore access to the strait, which Ukraine uses to move ships to and from ports on either side of the peninsula. Ukrainian authorities say they gave advance notice to the Russians that the vessels would be moving through the strait, which connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov. (Allegedly hidden beneath a Russian's coat: an antenna.)