Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 13.12.2018
The Russian Federation attacked the Ukrainian Navy in the Kerch Strait and Black Sea on November 25. The Russians captured 24 Ukrainian Navy sailors, seized three Ukrainian Navy vessels, and blocked navigation of the Kerch Strait to Ukrainian shipping going to and from Ukrainian Sea of Azov ports. The Russian Federation’s act of war has been followed by Russian war crimes, as the captors of the Ukrainian sailors refuse to treat them as prisoners of war in accordance with the Geneva Convention.
The commander of the Ukrainian Navy tug “Yany Kapu,” Oleh Melnychuk, has become a hero in Ukraine because of his courage and resilience as a prisoner of war of the Russian Federation. When Russian agents in occupied Crimea attempted to interrogate him in Russian, he insisted on a translator so he could understand what they were saying in Ukrainian. When commander Melnychuk was brought before a criminal court in Moscow on December 12, he said that under the Geneva Convention he is a prisoner of war. As he is a POW he cannot be brought up on criminal charges in connection to carrying out his duties. Commander Melnychuk refused to testify.
Russian courts are a sham, and never more so when they are used by the Putin regime as an instrument of state terrorism against Ukrainians. Ukrainian Navy sailors captured on November 25 are prisoners of war and it is a gross violation of the Geneva Convention not to treat them that way. Delegates from the International Committee of the Red Cross must be allowed to visit the Ukrainian POWs, but the rogue regime of Vladimir Putin won’t let that happen.
The President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, is on a working visit to Brussels. On December 12 he met with the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, and gave him a list of Russian citizens and Russian naval vessels involved in the Russian Federation’s attack on three Ukrainian Navy vessels in the Kerch Strait and Black Sea on November 25. The European Union needs to sanction the Russian individuals and entities responsible for the open act of war committed by the Russian Federation. The EU must act to free the 24 Ukrainian Navy POWs, release the three Ukrainian Navy vessels, and reopen Kerch Strait navigation to lift the blockade of the Ukrainian ports of Berdyansk and Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.
The EU said in a statement that “there is no justification for the use of military force by Russia.” As the Russians have used military force, there is no justification for the EU to fail to impose sanctions on the Russian individuals and entities responsible.
Consular officials of Ukraine in the Russian Federation have visited all 24 Ukrainian POWs. They are being kept in the Matrosskaya Tishina and Lefortovo detention facilities in Moscow that are meant for accused criminals, and not in facilities meant for prisoners of war as the Geneva Convention requires. The Ukrainian diplomatic officials reported that the captive Ukrainian sailors “are aware of what is happening.” At least the know that the Ukraine has not forgotten them, nor has much of the rest of the world.
The European Parliament passed a resolution on December 12 condemning Russia’s aggression in the Kerch Strait. Members of the European Parliament demanded the immediate and unconditional release of all Ukrainian vessels and sailors. MEPs also said that the Russian Federation must guarantee the freedom of navigation through the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov. The European Parliament resolution also condemned the construction of Nord Stream 2, “as it is a political project that poses a threat to European energy security.” MEPs therefore called for it to be cancelled.
Putin’s War against Europe is expanding. It will get much worse unless all Europeans act to stop Russian aggression. Right now, the way to start is to secure the release of 24 Ukrainian POWs.