Thursday, November 29, 2018

Russia's shameful blockade of the Kerch Straits

While I understand that Brexit is taking up a lot of the attention of the UK press, it is a matter of great regret that less attention has been paid to Vladimir Putin's outrageous and extremely dangerous acts of aggression in the Kerch Straits and the Sea of Azov.

In 2003 a treaty between Russia and Ukraine guaranteed ships of both nations passage through the Kerch straits, a narrow stretch of water between the Crimea and Russia which is the only way to sail from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov and therefore the only access to the open sea from several Russian and Ukrainian ports on that sea.

Last Sunday, in what appears to have been an unprovoked and egregious violation of that treaty, Russian units fired on several Ukrainian ships which were attempting to pass through the Kerch straits on their way from the Ukrainian port of Odessa to the Ukrainian port of Mariupol. Russia seized the Ukrainian vessels and 23 members of their crews.

This is the latest chapter in a campaign of Russian harassment of Ukraine in the Sea of Asov which has been going on since 2015, as Andrew Foxall writes here. By building a bridge over the straits, parking a tanker underneath it, and now ramming and shooting at Ukrainian vessels Putin's regime has been gradually turning up what now amounts to a blockade.

Russia is playing a dangerous game which could easily exacerbate the undeclared war that they have effectively been waging against Ukraine. I would have liked to see more vigorous protests from the West against this breach of both an international treaty and the principle of freedom of the seas.

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