Russian Navy Seizes Ukrainian Ships In Azov Sea

In a serious escalation of conflict in the Sea of Azov, ten Russian warships have fired on, disabled and seized 2 Ukrainian gunboats and a tug in the Sea of Azov.

The Ukrainian Navy reports that two Ukrainian crew members were injured in the incident. The vessels were reported to be on a routine trip from Odessa to the Ukrainian commercial port of Mariupol which can only be accessed through the Kerch Strait at the mouth of the Azov Sea as it joins the Black Sea. The ships had been waiting for several hours to pass through the Kerch Strait.

Tensions have risen in this region in recent months, and this represents the most serious belligerent naval action by Russia to date. It appears that Russia has now blocked the passage to the Kerch Strait between the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea for civilian ships. Traffic on both sides of the Kerch bridge is reportedly blocked by a tanker stranded in front of the bridge in the the only navigable channel through the strait, according to the Kerch traffic control system. But there is no international confirmation of this at the time of writing. By blocking the Kerch Strait Russia is violating multiple provisions of international maritime law.

Earlier on Sunday morning a Ukrainian tugboat, the Yany Kapu”, was intentionally rammed by the “Don” a Russian FSB coast guard vessel. The assault was captured on film on the Facebook Page of Andrey Kovalenko confirming that the aggressive action was deliberate, hostile and unprovoked.

Ukraine has lodged a complaint with the United Nations Security Council quoting United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3314 (XXIX) dated 1974, which states  "Any of the following acts, regardless of a declaration of war, shall, subject to and in accordance with the provisions of article 2, qualify as an act of aggression: “… an attack by the armed forces of a State on the land, sea or air forces, or marine and air fleets of another State.” 

At the same time as the “Don” ramming the tugboat “Yany Kapu” two Russian Ka-52 attack helicopters flew on a dummy attack run with their onboard weapon control systems aimed at the Ukrainian Navy's boats, according to the press service of the Ukrainian Navy.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry stated that the provocative actions by the Russian Federation in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov had violated the norms of the UN Charter and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Both Russia and Ukraine share sovereignty over the Sea of Azov in accordance with an international treaty dating back to 2003 which designates the Kerch Strait and Sea of Azov as common territorial waters. But since building a bridge across the Kerch Straits, which opened earlier this year, Russia has increasingly been trying to control access through the Kerch Straits.

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Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright is publishing editor of EU Today. 

An experienced journalist and published author, he specialises in environment, energy, and defence.

He also has more than 10 years experience of working as a staff member in the EU institutions, working with political groups and MEPs in various policy areas.

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