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Old 11-25-2018, 10:49 AM
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Post Russia-Ukraine Feud Heats Up the Sea of Azov

Russia-Ukraine Feud Heats Up the Sea of Azov

Tensions between Ukraine and Russia dramatically escalated on November 25 with Kyiv saying a Russian coast guard vessel rammed one of its navy tugboats in the Sea of Azov, while Moscow shut off access to the sea accusing Ukrainian vessels of passing through its territorial waters without permission.

Anders Åslund, a resident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, said: “NATO and the United States should send in naval ships in the Sea of Azov to guarantee that it stays open to international shipping.”

Such action, he explained, “would be in full compliance with the UN Law of the Sea Convention of 1982 and the Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits of 1936.”

The incident involving the Ukrainian vessel happened when two Ukrainian navy artillery boats and a tugboat were traveling from Odessa on the Black Sea to Mariupol in the Sea of Azov via the Kerch Strait, a narrow passage between the Crimean Peninsula and Russia.

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said: “Russia’s provocative actions in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov have crossed the line and become aggressive.”

“Russian ships have violated our freedom of maritime navigation and unlawfully used force against Ukrainian naval ships,” it added.

Åslund said Ukraine was right to protest. He noted that so far only Estonia and Latvia had lodged similar protests.

“The United States, NATO, the European Union, and all major Western countries should protest sharply against this violation of the freedom of the sea under several international sea conventions,” he said.

Russian media, meanwhile, quoted authorities who accused Kyiv of seeking to “create a conflict situation.”

Ukraine said it had provided prior notice to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) about the passage of its vessels. It accused Moscow of violating the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and a 2003 treaty between Russia and Ukraine that designates the Kerch Strait and Sea of Azov as shared territorial waters.

The Sea of Azov has become a point of friction between Moscow and Kyiv since Russia seized Crimea in March 2014.

“Ever since Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014, it has prepared for turning the international Sea of Azov into internal Russian waters, blocking a large share of the Ukrainian coasts and two major commercial ports, Mariupol and Berdyansk,” said Åslund.

In May, Russia opened a bridge linking Crimea with Russian territories across the Kerch Strait.

Russia blocked off passage through the Kerch Strait on November 25 by placing a huge cargo ship under the bridge.

In August, the US State Department condemned “Russia’s harassment of international shipping in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait.”

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said “Russia’s actions to impede maritime transit are further examples of its ongoing campaign to undermine and destabilize Ukraine, as well as its disregard for international norms.”

About the writer: Ashish Kumar Sen is deputy director of communications, editorial, at the Atlantic Council.

O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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