While President Petro Poroshenko boasted of conducting missile firing exercises not far from Russia’s Crimea as an incredible “drive in my Ukrainian nation,” there might be a very down-to-earth explanation to why Kiev had to relocate the drills and ultimately scrap the second day of the “drive.”
Moscow had been protesting against Kiev’s intention to hold the drills on December 1-2 because the uncoordinated launches would extend into Russia’s airspace and could endanger civil flights, thus breaching international law.
The Russian Defense Ministry even summoned the Ukrainian military attache to hand in a note of protest. Kiev relocated the drills from Russian territorial waters to neutral ones, but seemed adamant in indulging an apparent whim of flexing its muscles close to the peninsula that almost unanimously preferred rejoining with Russia to Ukraine’s post-coup turmoil in spring 2014.
Ukraine conducted 16 missile launches on December 1 and announced it was preparing to continue in full swing on December 2, but then out of the blue the chief of the general staff declared the missile firing exercises over, praising the armed forces for “increasing combat capabilities.” Poroshenko demonstrably tried to soften the change of course of the drills: “You can’t even imagine what kind of drive engulfed my Ukrainian nation and how many calls defense minister [Stepan] Poltorak and I have received.” But you can’t hide the obvious, according to Crimean lawmaker Dmitry Belik. “Kiev was scared by steps Russia could take in response to the drills near Crimea. The clear line of air defense, Black Sea ships at Crimea’s western coast and new Bastion missile systems made the Ukrainian leadership relocate the exercises,” he told RIA Novosti. The lawmaker said Russia sent Kiev a clear message that the “game was over.” “Air defense crews were ready to shoot down any missile which would cross into the peninsula’s airspace,” he underscored. Belik echoed Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov who said on December 1 Russia could strike Ukrainian missiles in case they represented any threat. Russia asked the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to respond to the drills but the agency has not commented yet.