Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Moscow Now Views Sea of Azov like Occupied Crimea -- as Exclusively Its Own, Ukrainian Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 17 – Russia has now stopped and detained 148 Ukrainian and foreign ships in the Sea of Azov, Ukrainian officials report (, an indication, Mikhail Shamus says, that Moscow views the sea as its own in much the same way it views occupied Crimea.

            According to the deputy director of the Kyiv Center for Research on the Army, Conversion and Disarmament, Moscow is acting on the sea as on the land on the basis of the principle that “might makes right,” something Ukraine must challenge (

            Earlier this week, President Petro Poroshenko said that he had ordered the Ukrainian armed forces to take measures to prevent Russia from continuing to block ships on international waters, a directive Shamus says means that “everything will be carried out by force” rather than only by legal appeals.

            In this case, the Ukrainian military specialist says that this means that “convoys will be established and they will accompany merchant ships from point A to point B thus not permitting ships of Russia’s FSB to inspect them.” Such arrangements are entirely legal under international law; and if Russia challenges them, it would be an act of war.

            Shamus says that Ukraine has “sufficient forces” for establishing convoys because patrol boats from the coastal forces can be used. “Here is the issue is not the number of guns ona ship. The Sea of Azov is so small that in principle, if some conflict situation begins, then support can be provided by air, helicopters and shore complexes.”

            “This is not an open ocean;” he continues. “These are coastal waters.” At the same time, he acknowledges, “Ukraine undoubtedly needs to build up its forces in the Azov region.”

            No Ukrainian official has yet echoed Shamus’ words, a reflection of two things. On the one hand, the balance of forces on the Sea of Azov is so much in Russia’s favor that any step Ukraine might take, Russia would be able to counter, undoubtedly in the current environment able to blame Kyiv for any escalation.

            And on the other, Kyiv is certainly aware that as much as right and international law are on its side, many Western governments would be angry if the Ukrainian side did anything that would lead to a new upsurge in violence in the region. They likely are delivering exactly that message already.

            Consequently, it is likely that the statements by Poroshenko and Shamus are intended primarily to ratchet up pressure on international bodies to move quickly to find for Ukraine in its suits against Russia involving the situation in the Sea of Azov by sending them a message as to what could happen if the international community fails to take a stronger stand.

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