Flash floods sweep through northern Turkey in new natural disaster

ISTANBUL (Reuters) -Seventeen people were killed in flash floods in Turkey’s Black Sea region on Thursday that sent water and debris cascading through streets, damaged bridges and ripped up roads in the second natural disaster to strike the country this month.

The floodwaters brought chaos to northern provinces just as authorities were declaring that some of the wildfires that had raged through southern coastal regions for two weeks had been brought under control.

The floods and the fires, which killed eight people and devastated tens of thousands of hectares of forest, struck in the same week that a U.N. panel said global warming is dangerously close to spiraling out of control.

Fifteen people were killed in the floods in Kastamonu province and two people died in Sinop, authorities said, adding that search and rescue operations were continuing.

More than 1,400 people were evacuated from the areas affected, some with the help of helicopters and boats, and about 740 people were being housed in student dormitories, the Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD) said.

Helicopters lowered coast guard personnel onto the roofs of buildings to rescue people who were stranded as flood water swept through the streets, footage shared by the Interior Ministry showed.

The deluge damaged power infrastructure, leaving about 330 villages without electricity. Five bridges had collapsed and many others were damaged, leading to road closures, AFAD added. Parts of the roads were also swept away.

Television footage showed the floods dragging dozens of cars and heaps of debris along the streets. The heavy rainfall in the region was expected to ease on Thursday evening, AFAD said.

Authorities said that 299 forest fires which had burnt across southwestern provinces for the last two weeks had been brought under control.

President Tayyip Erdogan said they were the worst fires Turkey had faced in its history. Thousands of Turks and tourists were evacuated as the flames spread through Aegean and Mediterranean coastal regions, fanned by hot, dry weather and strong winds.

(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun and Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Dominic Evans, Angus MacSwan and Sonya Hepinstall)

Romanian Black Sea refinery blast kills one, injures five

By Radu-Sorin Marinas

BUCHAREST (Reuters) – A blast and fire on Friday at Romania’s biggest crude oil refinery killed one person and injured five others, authorities and the company which runs the Petromidia plant on the Black Sea said.

Video footage from a nearby beach in the coastal resort of Mamaia showed black smoke rising from the area next to the refinery and some tourists reported hearing a loud bang.

Rompetrol Rafinare, part of KMG International Group, said the explosion was inside the diesel hydrotreating unit, and that processes had been halted safely.

At 1615 GMT it said the fire had been completely put out, the incident “was neutralized successfully” and Rompetrol would continue to provide fuels for its stations in Romania and the Black Sea region.

“Five of our colleagues are in medical care at Constanta County Hospital, and we are sorry to inform you that a person has been identified as deceased,” its statement added.

The company declined to comment on the likely financial damage but said an assessment of the impact on technological processes will be performed to provide a clear picture and predictability in terms of restarting the refinery facilities.

Petromidia is based on the shores of the Black Sea in Navodari, 20 km (12.5 miles) north of the country’s biggest port, Constanta.

It said it processed a total of 1.26 million tonnes of raw materials in the first quarter of this year, a similar level to a year before, and had been running at 84% capacity.

Rompetrol closed 1.96% down at 0.05 lei.

(Editing by Jane Merriman, Jan Harvey, Alexander Smith and Philippa Fletcher)

Russia warns UK and U.S. not to tempt fate in Black Sea

By Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber

MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russia warned Britain and the United States on Friday against “tempting fate” by sending warships to the Black Sea, and said it would defend its borders using all possible means including military force.

In a statement broadcast on state television, the Defense Ministry said it was ill-advised for British and U.S. vessels to approach the coast of Crimea, a peninsula Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

“We call on the Pentagon and the British navy, which are sending their warships into the Black Sea, not to tempt fate in vain,” Major General Igor Konashenkov, the ministry’s spokesperson, said.

HMS Defender, a British destroyer that sailed through waters off Crimea on Wednesday, was “not more than a target” for the Black Sea fleet’s defenses, he said.

Russia considers Crimea part of its territory, but the peninsula is internationally recognized as part of Ukraine.

Russia said on Wednesday it had fired warning shots and dropped bombs in the path of a British warship to chase it out of Black Sea waters off the coast of Crimea.

Britain rejected Russia’s account of the incident. It said it believed any shots fired were a pre-announced Russian “gunnery exercise”, and that no bombs had been dropped.

It confirmed HMS Defender had sailed through what it said were waters belonging to Ukraine.

The British embassy in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgian the South Caucasus, wrote on Twitter on Friday that HMS Defender was set to arrive in the port city of Batumi on the eastern coast of the Black Sea.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said separately that Washington and London were sowing strife by failing to accept Crimea was part of Russia, and that Russia was ready to defend its borders using all means, including military force.

Moscow warned Britain on Thursday that it would bomb British naval vessels in the Black Sea if what it called provocative actions by the British navy were repeated off the Crimean coast.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said separately on Friday that it was beginning joint navy and air force exercises in the eastern Mediterranean, where Moscow operates an air base on Syria’s coast.

(Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy, Alexander Marrow and Vladimir Soldatkin; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Editing by Katya Golubkova, Timothy Heritage, William Maclean)

Russia warns Britain it will bomb ships next time

By Guy Faulconbridge and Katya Golubkova

LONDON/MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russia warned Britain on Thursday that it would bomb British naval vessels in the Black Sea if there were any further provocative actions by the British navy off the coast of Russia-annexed Crimea.

Russia summoned the British ambassador in Moscow for a formal diplomatic scolding after the warship breached what the Kremlin says are its territorial waters but which Britain and most of the world say belong to Ukraine.

Britain said Russia was giving an inaccurate account of the incident. No warning shots had been fired and no bombs had been dropped in the path of the Royal Navy destroyer Defender, it said.

In Moscow, Russia summoned Ambassador Deborah Bronnert for a reprimand over what it said were Britain’s “dangerous” action in the Black Sea – while foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused London of “barefaced lies”.

“We can appeal to common sense, demand respect for international law, and if that doesn’t work, we can bomb,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Russian news agencies.

Ryabkov, referring to Moscow’s version of events in which a Russian aircraft bombed the path of the British destroyer, said that in future bombs would be sent “not only in its path, but also on target.”

The Black Sea, which Russia uses to project its power in the Mediterranean, has for centuries been a flashpoint between Russia and its competitors such as Turkey, France, Britain and the United States.

Russia seized and annexed the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and considers areas around its coast to be Russian waters. Western countries deem the Crimea to be part of Ukraine and reject Russia’s claim to the seas around it.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the British warship, which was travelling from the Ukrainian port of Odessa to the Georgian port of Batumi, was acting in accordance with the law and had been in international waters.

“These are Ukrainian waters and it was entirely right to use them to go from A to B,” Johnson said. British Defense Minister Ben Wallace accused Russian pilots of conducting unsafe aircraft maneuvers 500 feet (152 m) above the warship.

“The Royal Navy will always uphold international law and will not accept unlawful interference with innocent passage,” Wallace said.

Under international law of the sea, innocent passage permits a vessel to pass through another state’s territorial waters so long as this does not affect its security.

Britain disputed the Russian version of events, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab calling it “predictably inaccurate”.

BLACK SEA DISPUTE

During its 2008 war with Georgia, Russia bristled at U.S. warships operating in the Black Sea, and in April the United States cancelled the deployment of two warships to the area.

Ties between London and Moscow have been on ice since the 2018 poisoning with a Soviet-developed nerve agent known as Novichok of ex-double agent Sergei Skripal, a mole who betrayed hundreds of Russian agents to Britain’s MI6 foreign spy service.

The British destroyer visited the Ukrainian port of Odessa this week, where an agreement was signed for Britain to help upgrade Ukraine’s navy.

Russia said it had ventured as far as 3 km (2 miles) into Russian waters near Cape Fiolent, a landmark on Crimea’s southern coast near the port of Sevastopol, headquarters of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea fleet.

Britain’s BBC released footage from the ship showing a Russian coast guard warning that he would shoot if the British ship did not change course.

“If you don’t change the course, I’ll fire,” a heavily accented Russian voice said in English to the British ship. The BBC said shots were fired and that as many as 20 Russian aircraft were “buzzing” the British ship.

Britain said the shots were part of a Russian gunnery exercise. Russia released footage filmed from a Russian SU-24 bomber flying close to the British ship.

“These aircraft posed no immediate threat to HMS Defender, but some of these maneuvers were neither safe nor professional,” Britain’s Wallace said.

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Additonal reporting by Michael Holden and William James, Joe Brock in Singapore and Dmitry Antonov and Tom Balmforth in Moscow; Editing by Kate Holton and Angus MacSwan)

Russia says it chases British destroyer out of Crimea waters with warning shots, bombs

By Maria Kiselyova and Andrew MacAskill

MOSCOW/LONDON (Reuters) -Russia said on Wednesday it had fired warning shots and dropped bombs in the path of a British warship to chase it out of waters Moscow claims in the Black Sea off the coast of the Crimea peninsula.

Britain rejected Russia’s account of the incident, saying it believed any shots fired were a pre-announced Russian “gunnery exercise,” and that no bombs had been dropped. But it confirmed that its destroyer, HMS Defender, had sailed through what it described as waters belonging to Ukraine.

The ship was “conducting an innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters in accordance with international law,” Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said: “It’s incorrect to say either that it was fired upon or that the ship was in Russian waters.”

Military experts said that whether or not the details of the Russian or British accounts were accurate, the incident appeared to represent an escalation in confrontation between the West and Russia over disputed sea lanes.

Russia’s foreign ministry called the passage of the British warship through the area an act of “blatant provocation” and said it would summon the British ambassador over the incident.

Russia seized and annexed the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and considers areas around the peninsula’s coast to be Russian waters. Western countries deem the Crimea part of Ukraine and reject Russia’s claim to the seas around it.

“Innocent passage” is an internationally recognized right for ships to sail through territorial waters of a country provided they mean no harm.

“This was done to test Russian resolve over Crimea,” Mark Gray, a maritime security specialist and a retired colonel with Britain’s Royal Marines, told Reuters.

“Russia is trying to create facts on the ground and get them respected internationally, so that their annexation is in effect rubber-stamped by the world,” he said, comparing Moscow’s Black Sea claims to those of Beijing in the South China Sea, also rejected by the West.

“Nonetheless, the Russian response is extraordinarily robust, a tad undiplomatic and way over the top.”

SEA BREEZE

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the incident showed that Russia’s “aggressive and provocative policies” in the Black Sea and nearby Azov Sea constituted a “continuous threat to Ukraine and its allies.” In a tweet, Kuleba called for more cooperation between NATO and Ukraine in the Black Sea.

Western countries are conducting naval exercises this week in the Black Sea known as Sea Breeze. Hours before the incident, Russia’s embassy in Washington had called on the United States and allies to cancel them.

The British destroyer visited the Ukrainian port of Odessa this week, where an agreement was signed for Britain to help upgrade Ukraine’s navy.

Russia’s defense ministry, quoted by Interfax news agency, said the British destroyer had left Russian waters soon after Russia fired the warning shots. A Russian bomber dropped four high explosive fragmentation bombs in its path, it said.

The Russian ministry said the British ship had ventured as far as 3 kilometers (2 miles) into Russian waters near Cape Fiolent, a landmark on Crimea’s southern coast near the port of Sevastopol, headquarters of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea fleet.

“The destroyer had been warned that weapons would be used if it trespasses the border of the Russian Federation. It did not react to the warning,” the ministry said.

(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov, Pavel Polityuk, Andrew MacAskill, William James and Jonathan SaulWriting by Olzhas Auyezov and Peter GraffEditing by Mark Heinrich and Gareth Jones)

Russia holds naval drills as U.S. vessel heads to Black Sea

MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russia’s Black Sea fleet launched naval combat exercises on Tuesday as a U.S. coastguard vessel made its way to the region amid simmering tensions between Russia and the West.

Moscow recently alarmed Kyiv and Western capitals by building up its forces along the Ukrainian border, though last week it ordered a withdrawal of some troops.

Russia’s Black Sea fleet said on Tuesday its Moskva cruiser would hold live-fire drills with other ships and military helicopters, the Interfax news agency reported.

The fleet’s announcement came hours after U.S. Naval Forces in Europe said cutter Hamilton, a U.S. Coast Guard vessel, was moving into the Black Sea to work with NATO allies and partners in the region.

Russia has accused the United States and NATO of fueling military tensions in Europe. It has said the Russian troop build-up near the Ukrainian border were part of drills in response to what it called NATO’s threatening behavior.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday that Russia had not pulled back its forces from the Ukrainian border because of external pressure, adding that Moscow moved troops around on its own territory as it saw fit.

“The actions of the U.S. and NATO in the European region to increase the combat readiness of troops and strengthen their forward presence is contributing to an increase in military danger,” Shoigu said in comments circulated by the defense ministry.

Kyiv and the West have said it is too early to assess Russia’s troop drawdown.

“We cannot guarantee 100% that Russian troops won’t turn around,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a statement on Tuesday.

A senior U.S. defense official told Reuters on Friday it was seeing some Russian personnel withdrawing and that Moscow’s announcement of its redeployment alone was “insufficient to give us comfort.”

Relations between Moscow and Kyiv have been dire since Russia annexed the Crimea peninsula in 2014 and backed a pro-Russian separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov in Moscow and Matthias Williams and Natalia Zinets in Kyiv; Writing by Alexander Marrow/Tom Balmforth/Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Gareth Jones)

Russia tells White House it will not return Crimea to Ukraine

Submarine in Crimea

By Andrew Osborn

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Wednesday it would not hand back Crimea to Ukraine or discuss the matter with foreign partners after the White House said U.S. President Donald Trump expected the annexed Black Sea peninsula to be returned.

Moscow says an overwhelming majority of Crimeans voted to become part of Russia in a 2014 referendum wanting protection from what the Kremlin cast as an illegal coup in Kiev.

Ukraine says the referendum was a sham held at gunpoint after Russian troops illegally annexed the peninsula, that Russia-friendly president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted by people power, and that Moscow should return Crimea.

“We don’t give back our own territory. Crimea is territory belonging to the Russian Federation,” Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, told a news briefing on Wednesday.

The 2014 annexation prompted the United States and the European Union to impose sanctions on Russia, plunging Western relations with the Kremlin to their worst level since the Cold War.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Tuesday that Trump expected and wanted to get along with Russia, but was expecting Moscow to hand Crimea back.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, when asked about Spicer’s comments, said President Vladimir Putin had already explained why Crimeans had turned to Russia.

“The theme of returning Crimea will not be discussed … Russia does not discuss its territorial integrity with foreign partners,” Peskov told a conference call with reporters.

Trump had not raised the Crimean issue in a Jan. 28 phone call with Putin, Peskov noted, saying the Kremlin would try to make contacts with the Trump administration to try to improve ties which he said were in “a lamentable state.”

Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, told MPs any talk of Crimea’s status amounted to a challenge to Russia’s territorial integrity.

Volodin, a close Putin ally, told the Interfax news agency Trump had promised in his election campaign to work to improve relations with Russia.

“Let’s wait for some first-hand words from the U.S. president,” said Volodin. “When people get elected by voters it’s not merely for warm words and the ability to speak, but for concrete promises … that will be fulfilled.”

(Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova/ Alessandra Prentice; editing by John Stonestreet)

Russian jets in ‘unsafe’ encounters with destroyer: U.S. official

Navy ship

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Multiple Russian military aircraft came close to a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Black Sea on Feb. 10, incidents considered “unsafe and unprofessional,” a U.S. official said on Tuesday.

The Russian Defense Ministry said no such incidents had occurred.

“There were no incidents of any kind on Feb. 10, related to flights by Russian military jets in the Black Sea near the U.S. Navy destroyer Porter,” Russian news agencies cited a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, Major-General Igor Konashenkov, as saying.

But Captain Danny Hernandez, a spokesman for U.S. European Command, cited three separate incidents involving Russian aircraft and the USS Porter. One involved two Russian Su-24 jets, another a separate Su-24, and the third a larger IL-38.

“USS Porter queried all aircraft and received no response,” Hernandez said. “Such incidents are concerning because they can result in accident or miscalculation,” he added.

The incidents involving the Su-24 were considered to be unsafe and unprofessional by the commanding officer of the Porter because of their high speed and low altitude, while the IL-38 flew at an unusually low altitude, Hernandez said.

Another U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the lone Su-24 came within 200 yards (meters) of the Porter at an altitude of 300 feet (90 meters).

In April 2016 two Russian warplanes flew simulated attack passes near a U.S. guided missile destroyer in the Baltic Sea so close that they created wake in the water.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington and Jack Stubbs in Moscow; Editing by James Dalgleish)

Russia finds main black box from Black Sea crash jet

Flowers in memory of passengers and crew members of Russian military Tu-154, which crashed into the Black Sea on its way to Syria on Sunday, are placed at an embankment in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, Russia

By Andrew Osborn and Peter Hobson

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has found the main flight recorder from a military plane that crashed into the Black Sea killing all 92 on board, the Defence Ministry said on Tuesday, amid unconfirmed reports that authorities had grounded all aircraft of the same type.

The recorder, one of several reported to be on board, contains information that could help investigators identify the cause of Sunday’s crash, which killed dozens of Red Army Choir singers and dancers en route to Syria to entertain Russian troops in the run-up to the New Year.

Investigators have so far said that pilot error or a technical fault, rather than terrorism, are most likely to have caused the Defence Ministry’s Tupolev-154 to crash into the sea.

The black box, which was found by a remote-controlled underwater vehicle at a depth of around 55ft (17 metres) and 1 mile (1,600 metres) from the resort of Sochi, has been sent to a Defence Ministry facility in Moscow for analysis.

“The casing holding the flight recorder is in a satisfactory condition,” the ministry said in a statement.

“After it is technically cleaned in distilled water we will start transcribing it.”

The ministry said numerous fragments of the plane had been found, including the engine, the landing gear and pieces of the fuselage.

The Interfax news agency cited an unnamed source as saying Russia had grounded all TU-154 planes until the cause of Sunday’s crash became clear. There was no official confirmation of that.

The Defence Ministry says the downed jet, a Soviet-era plane built in 1983, had last been serviced in September and underwent more major repairs in December 2014.

Russian pilots say the TU-154 is still flight worthy, though major Russian commercial airlines have long since replaced it with Western-built planes. Experts say only two are registered with Russian passenger airlines with the rest registered to various government ministries.

The last big TU-154 crash was in 2010 when a Polish jet carrying then-president Lech Kaczynski and much of Poland’s political elite went down in western Russia killing everyone on board.

The Interfax news agency, citing a law enforcement source, said a second flight recorder had also been found in the wreckage of Sunday’s crash, but not yet raised to the surface.

The Defence Ministry said that search and rescue teams have so far recovered 12 bodies and 156 body fragments.

(Editing by John Stonestreet and Raissa Kasolowsky)

All 92 on Syria-bound Russian military jet killed in crash

A woman lays flowers in memory of passengers and crew members of Russian military Tu-154 plane, which crashed into the Black Sea, at the Russian embassy in Minsk

By Polina Devitt and Andrew Osborn

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian military plane carrying 92 people, including dozens of Red Army Choir singers, dancers and orchestra members, crashed into the Black Sea on its way to Syria on Sunday, killing everyone on board, Russian authorities said.

The Russian Defence Ministry said one of its TU-154 Tupolev planes had disappeared from radar screens at 0525 MSK (9.25 p.m. ET), two minutes after taking off from Sochi in southern Russia, where it had stopped to refuel from Moscow, on its way to Syria.

Major-General Igor Konashenkov, a ministry spokesman, told reporters that nobody had survived.

“The area of the crash site has been established. No survivors have been spotted,” he said. An unnamed ministry source told Russian news agencies no life rafts had been found, while another source told the Interfax agency that the plane had not sent an SOS signal.

In televised comments, President Vladimir Putin, speaking in St Petersburg, declared Dec. 26 a national day of mourning.

The jet, a Soviet-era Tupolev plane built in 1983, had been carrying 84 passengers and eight crew members.

At least 60 were members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, better known internationally as the Red Army Choir, and were being flown out to Russia’s Hmeymim air base in Syria to entertain troops in the run-up to the New Year.

Nine Russian reporters were also on board as well as military servicemen.

Konashenkov said fragments of the plane had been found at a depth of about 70 meters (yards) in the Black Sea about 1.5 km (1 mile) off the coast near the city of Sochi.

“The search operation is continuing,” said Konashenkov. “Four ships, four helicopters, and a plane and a drone are working in the area,” he said, saying a military commission had flown to Sochi to look into what happened.

Six ships from Russia’s Black Sea fleet were on their way to the crash site, and more than 100 divers were being drafted in to search the area along with a mini-submarine.

Konashenkov said four bodies had been recovered from the sea. Russian news agencies cited a higher figure.

Russia’s RIA news agency, citing an unidentified security source, said preliminary information indicated that the plane had crashed because of a technical malfunction or a pilot error. Another source told Russian agencies that the possibility of a militant act had been ruled out. The weather had been good.

Konashenkov said the plane had last been serviced in September and undergone more major repairs in December 2014. He said the pilot was experienced and that the plane had about 7,000 flying hours on its clock.

According to the defense ministry’s passenger manifest, Elizaveta Glinka, a member of Putin’s advisory human rights council, was on the plane.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters it was too early to say what had caused the crash. Putin was being kept constantly informed of the latest developments, Peskov said.

Russian military investigators said in a statement they had opened a criminal investigation into the crash.

The Kremlin said Putin expressed his deepest condolences to those who had lost loved ones in the crash and ordered Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to head a government investigatory commission.

Russia’s Defence Ministry regularly flies musicians into Syria to put on concerts for military personnel. The base they were heading for, Hmeymim, is in Latakia province. It is from there that Russia launches air strikes against Syrian rebels.

The last big TU-154 crash was in 2010 when a Polish jet carrying then-president Lech Kaczynski and much of Poland’s political elite crashed in western Russia killing everyone on board.

Russian news agencies cited Denis Manturov, the Russian Transport Minister, as saying on Sunday it was premature to talk about withdrawing the TU-154 from service.

On Dec. 19, a Russian military jet crashed in Siberia with 39 people on board as it tried to make an emergency landing near a Soviet-era military base. Nobody was killed in that incident, though 32 people were airlifted to hospital.

(Additional reporting by Denis Pinchuk and Svetlana Reiter; Editing by Louise Ireland)