Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 04.04.2018
Russia’s war of aggression against the West, particularly against Ukraine, is limitless. There is no moral boundary Muscovy will not cross, no rule of war it will not break, in Putin’s relentless campaign of nihilist destruction. The Azov Sea was active as a theatre of Putin’s War in the first campaigns of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in Crimea and Donbas. On 31 August 2014, for example, Russia attacked two Ukrainian patrol boats in the Azov Sea, sinking one and damaging the other. But almost three years afterwards the north-east corner of the Black Sea has been relatively quiet.
This changed on 7 August 2017 when Russia closed the Kerch Strait, an international strait, to shipping traffic. This is a violation of international maritime law. The effect of Russia closing the Kerch Strait was to impose a blockade of the ports of Berdyansk and Mariupol in Ukraine. This is an act of war. The excuse the Russian invaders of Europe gave was the construction of a bridge between Russia and Ukraine, across the Kerch Strait. This bridge construction is illegal, is done without the consent of the Ukrainian government, and the builders and everyone involved with the Kerch Strait bridge has been sanctioned by Western nations as constituting a threat to international peace and security.
Kerch Strait bridge construction, closing the Kerch Strait, and blockading the ports of Berdyansk and Mariupol are violations of Ukrainian sovereignty by Russia and acts of war by Russia against Ukraine.
Ukraine closed all Crimean ports in 15 April 2014, when it became clear that Russia was not going to stop its invasion and occupation of Ukraine’s southern peninsula. The ports of Kerch, Theodosia, Sevastopol, Yalta and Yevpatoria were closed and their respective port administrations were liquidated. Vessels calling at these ports without a special permit from the government of Ukraine are subject to seizure.
On April 1 – April Fool’s Day – aggressor Russia launched a fresh provocation into the Azov Sea when it had the fishing vessel “Nord” sail from the the closed port of Kerch. The State Border Guard Service of Ukraine detained the “Nord” when it was discovered in Ukrainian territorial waters off of Obytichna Spit in the Azov Sea, south-west of Berdyansk, Zaporizhia region, Ukraine. Ukrainian authorities took the vessel to the port of Berdyansk. The crew face charges of illegally entering the territory of Ukraine, and the master of the “Nord” is charged, more seriously, with violating the 15 April 2014 Crimean ports closure law, Law No. 1207-VII, “On Securing the Rights and Freedoms of Citizens and the Legal Regime on the Temporarily Occupied Territory of Ukraine.”
Ukraine has enforced its laws and its sovereign rights without violence against the sailors of the “Nord.” The “Nord” is registered in Kerch, Crimea, Ukraine. What happens to a Ukrainian fishing vessel with a Ukrainian crew in Ukrainian territorial water is none of Russia’s business. Nevertheless, Russia is reacting with exaggerated outrage and with excessive military escalation. Russia has accused Ukraine of “state piracy.” This is a ridiculous charge, especially coming from a country that committed acts of high seas piracy by seizing Ukrainian oil rigs in the Black Sea – to say nothing of pirating Crimea itself from the Ukrainian nation.
Russia is threatening to establish a permanent base for the Black Sea Fleet on the Azov Sea. The Black Sea Fleet is currently based at illegally Russian-occupied Sevastopol, Crimea, Ukraine.
Europe-invader Russia is trying make the Azov Sea a theatre of war again, but Europe-defender Ukraine is having none of it. The level-headedness of the Ukrainians is denying the Russians the provocation they desire to spark expanded warfare. Friends of Ukraine, other Western democracies, can do their part by actually enforcing the sanctions they say they have put on Russian individuals and entities for invading Ukraine in Crimea. In particular, vessels that call at Crimean ports must be arrested, as the fishing vessel “Nord” has been. The maritime blockade of Berdyansk and Mariupol by Russia must be lifted. Kerch Strait bridge construction must be stopped. Most importantly, the international border between Ukrainian Crimea and Russian Kuban at the Kerch Strait must be restored.
The Azov Sea is not a Russian lake. Defeating Russia’s war against the West will ensure that it never becomes one.