Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 28.11.2018
At the invitation of Ukraine, NATO should sail a naval vessel to a Ukrainian port on the Sea of Azov. Doing so would be peaceful, unprovocative, and effective way to support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It would also achieve the goals of the Free World to liberate 23 Ukrainian Navy sailors who are Prisoners of War held by the Russian Federation since the Battle of the Kerch Strait on November 25.
NATO has been following Ukraine’s lead – not very effectively – since Russia invaded Ukraine on 20 February 2014. The Russian invasion battlefront in Donbas is NATO’s forward defence against Russian imperialist aggression. This is so even though NATO has recklessly failed to make Ukraine a member of the alliance. Putin has expanded his European war to the Black Sea basin because he desperately wants to stop Ukraine’s effective forward defence of Europe on the Sea of Azov – which weakens his tenuous grasp of illegally Russian-occupied Ukrainian Crimea.
Ukraine leads the way in confronting Russian imperialist aggression against Europe. To assert its sovereignty over its own territory, Ukraine sailed small, practically unarmed naval vessels to a Ukrainian port of the Sea of Azov on September 23rd. This turned out to be a victory for the Ukrainian Navy, confirming that the Sea of Azov is not a “Russian lake.”
On November 25, Ukraine attempted to do the same thing under the same circumstances: reposition Ukrainian naval vessels from the Ukrainian port of Odesa to a Ukrainian port on the Sea of Azov. But this time the Russian Federation launched a purposeful and unprovoked attack against the Ukrainian Navy. Russian boats rammed the Ukrainian Navy boats, shot at them (wounding six Ukrainian sailors), captured them, and took three vessels they had pirated to illegally Russian-occupied Kerch, Crimea, Ukraine.
The Kerch Strait lies between Krasnodar Krai in the Russian Federation and Crimea in Ukraine. The Russian Federation invaded Ukraine’s territory of Crimea in February 2014 and now holds it under illegal occupation. Russia invaded Ukraine’s territory of Donbas in April 2014 and has been waging trench warfare against Ukrainian defenders in Luhansk and Donetsk regions ever since. The Kerch Strait connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov. The coast of the Sea of Azov consists of Ukrainian territory, Ukrainian territory of Crimea illegally occupied by the Russian Federation, Russian Federation territory, and Ukrainian territory of Donbas illegally occupied by the Russian Federation.
Ukrainian ships sailing from Odesa to Mariupol are moving from one Ukrainian port to another Ukrainian port through the Kerch Strait. This is as normal and as unprovocative as a Spanish ship sailing from Bilbao to Valencia through the Strait of Gibraltar. The Russian Federation committed a blatant act of war on November 25 in the Kerch Strait.
A naval ship from a NATO member country should make a port visit to Mariupol or Berdyansk. Friends of Ukraine should make good on what Ukraine was properly doing on September 23rd and was unjustifiably and violently stopped from doing on November 25th.
Ukraine has the sovereign right to deploy naval forces to its ports. The Russian Federation has chosen to expand its war in Europe rather than allow Ukraine to exercise that right. If NATO does not counter Russian imperialist aggression in the Black Sea basin, then it will be abandoning peace and security in the wider North Atlantic region.
The Russian invaders of Europe in Ukraine are now committing war crimes against Ukrainian Navy sailors. The Western civilized world has called on Muscovy to stop what it is doing, release the sailors, release the three ships, and open the Kerch Strait for passage for vessels to and from Ukrainian ports. The West has an effective tool it can wield right now to make good on its demands to the Putin regime: sail a NATO ship to a Ukrainian port on the Sea of Azov.