Robert Harneis –TDO- (FRANCE) - The Russian navy fired on a Ukrainian navy ship in the Sea of Azov near the new Crimean bridge. Russian special forces have also seized three Ukrainian naval vessels. A number of Ukrainian sailors were injured.
Trouble has been brewing in the area since the Ukrainians seized three Russian cargo vessels and their crews for the ‘crime’ of trading with Crimea, now reunified with Russia but claimed by Ukraine. Since then Moscow has retaliated by strictly controlling all Ukrainian maritime traffic through the Kerch Straits causing considerable delays and expense at the two Ukrainian ports in the Azov Sea.
As an additional measure, to prevent Ukrainian vessels passing under the bridge without Russian control and consent, the Russians have parked a cargo vessel beneath the bridge completely blocking access to maritime traffic. Russian jets and military helicopters have been active in area.
The European Union issued a statement saying, ‘We expect Russia to restore free passage in the Kerch Straits and we call on all parties to act with the maximum restraint so as to bring about a de-escalation of the situation.’ The statement continued, events in the Sea of Azov show what ‘disregard for the basic rules of international cooperation’ can bring about. The spokesman noted that the construction of the Kerch Bridge was completed without the consent of Ukraine and constitutes a new violation of the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of this country.’ The statement concluded that ‘the European Union does not recognize and will not recognize the illegal annexation of the Crimea by Russia’.
NATO also called for ‘restraint and de-escalations’ stated that it ‘totally supports the sovereignty of Ukraine and its territorial integrity including its navigation rights in its territorial waters.’
The Russian authorities claimed that the Ukrainian ships ‘illegally’ crossed into Russian waters.
President Poroshecko has announced the introduction of martial law in Ukraine as a result of the clash.
This latest affair is unlikely to have occurred without the support of the United States. The pattern of behavior by the Ukrainian navy echoes provocative actions by the then similarly pro US Georgian government after the war with Russia in 2008 and the Russian military presence in Abkhazia.