Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 09.04.2018
The saga of the “Nord” took another turn on April 7. Russian diplomats tried to smuggle some of the crew of the arrested fishing vessel out of Ukraine into Russia but were thwarted by alert Ukrainian border guards. This was another defeat for the Russians in an unusual cat-and-mouse game they are playing with Ukraine over the status of Crimea and the Azov Sea.
The “Nord” is a fishing vessel registered in Kerch, Crimea, Ukraine. Ukraine closed all Crimean ports, including Kerch, on 15 April 2014 because Russia invaded Ukraine and violated Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in Crimea. All vessels which call at closed Crimean ports – without a permit from Kyiv – are subject to seizure. Last week the “Nord” was caught in territorial waters of Ukraine near Berdyansk, Zaporizhia region. Ukrainian authorities arrested the vessel and began an investigation into the master and crew of the “Nord.”
Russia railed against Ukraine for seizing a Ukrainian vessel from a Ukrainian port, and for detaining and investigating Ukrainian citizens. The reason is that the Russians pretend that Ukrainian Crimea is a part of the Russian Federation.
On the night of April 7, Russia tried to use diplomatic cover to smuggle nine members of the crew of the “Nord” into Russia. Two vehicles with diplomatic plates of the General Consulate of the Russian Federation approached the Ukraine-Russia border at Hoptivka, Kharkiv region. The nine non-diplomats in the vehicles did not have passports, but only “certificates of return to the Russian Federation.” They were recognized as members of the crew of the “Nord” and as citizens of Ukraine.
Russian consular officials forced a stand-off with the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine, sealing the nine “Nord” crew members in the two vehicles and interfering with the functioning of the border crossing for almost three hours. By the early morning of April 8, the Ukrainian border guards had succeeded in bringing more charges against the “Nord” crew: violating the state border of Ukraine. They were not allowed to cross the border and they were sent back into the interior of Ukraine. The Russian consular officials went with them, and no one crossed the border that night.
The sailing of the “Nord” out of the closed port of Kerch and the attempted border crossing at Hoptivka are a provocation by Russia. They are part of the Muscovy strategy of trying to show that Ukraine is “not a real country” and that it is not able to enforce its own laws on its own territory. It can only come as a shock to the Putin regime that it has suffered two quick defeats: the “Nord” was spotted and arrested in Ukrainian territorial waters and the crew were spotted and arrested at a Ukrainian border crossing.
This isn’t 2014. The State Border Guard Service of Ukraine is increasingly a professional and competent arm of state power of the Ukrainian nation. Ukraine has proven in the case of the “Nord” that it can face up to the trickery of masked warfare by the Putin regime, going into the fifth year of Russia’s invasion of Crimea and Donbas.