Tension between Russia and Ukraine over the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov

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Publication Date 2018
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Three Ukrainian ships were seized by Russia on 25 November 2018 as they were sailing into the Kerch Strait, the only route for ship to enter the Sea of Azov from the Black Sea. Tension immediately escalated between the two countries, leading to the martial law to be implemented in parts of Ukraine thereafter for a period of 30 days. On 4 December, it was announced navigation in the Sea of Azov had been partially restored.

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Ukraine authorities accused Russia of an 'act of aggression' and called the incident a violation of international law. Russia argued the Ukrainian boats had violated territorial waters, which led to its forces opening fire and seizing the vessels. Russia had reportedly closed that area of water to shipping on a temporary basis.

On 27 November, the Ukrainian Parliament voted to impose martial law in the border regions for 30 days. The country's President Petro Poroshenko later urged NATO to send ships to the Sea of Azov. Russia's President Vladimir Putin accused Mr Poroshenko of staging a 'provocation' to boost his approval ratings.

The Sea of Azov and its access point through the Kerch Strait are shared by Ukraine and Russia through a bilateral treaty signed in 2003. This agreement means that vessels of both countries are free to navigate as they wish on those waters - as Russian authorities controlled the eastern side and the Ukrainians the western flank of this territory. The dynamics changed following Crimea's annexation by Russia, which brought the area fully into Russia's control. Adding to this, a bridge across the Strait was built by Russia to connect Crimea and the Russian territory.

Leading up to the incident, the number of Russian armed vessels near the Strair and in the Sea of Azov progressively increased and the inspections to cargo ships using the Ukrainian ports in the region became more frequent.

Related Link(s)
Commentary and Analysis
OSW: Commentary No 279, 08.08.18: A closely watched basin: The Russian–Ukrainian tensions in the Sea of Azov http://aei.pitt.edu/94361/
ECFR: Commentary, 02.10.18: Strait to war? Russia and Ukraine clash in the Sea of Azov https://www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_strait_to_war_russia_and_ukraine_clash_in_the_sea_of_azov
Euro|topics, November 2018: Moscow and Kiev: What's going on in the Azov sea? https://www.eurotopics.net/en/210566/
Deutsche Welle, 26.11.18: What you need to know about the conflict in the Sea of Azov https://p.dw.com/p/38win
Foreign Policy, 26.11.18: Stand-Off in the Kerch Strait; Chaos and Tear Gas at the Border https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/11/26/security-brief-stand-off-in-the-kerch-strait-chaos-and-tear-gas-at-the-border/
BBC News, 27.11.18: Ukraine-Russia sea clash: Who controls the territorial waters around Crimea? https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-46345317
EurActiv, 28.11.18: Yatsenyuk: Azov Sea tensions reveal lack of cooperation between Ukraine and NATO https://www.euractiv.com/section/defence-and-security/interview/yatsenyuk-azov-sea-tensions-reveal-lack-of-cooperation-between-ukraine-and-nato/
Carnegie Europe: Strategic Europe, 29.11.18: Crimea Annexation 2.0 https://carnegieeurope.eu/strategiceurope/77828
EurActiv, 30.11.18: Chizhov: The Ukraine conflict is not in Russia’s interest https://www.euractiv.com/section/defence-and-security/interview/chizhov-the-ukraine-conflict-is-not-in-russias-interest/
Euro|topics, November 2018: Kerch crisis: is there a way out? https://www.eurotopics.net/en/210725/
EurActiv, 05.12.18: Kerch Strait attack testifies that Kremlin’s aggression has no limits https://www.euractiv.com/section/defence-and-security/opinion/kerch-strait-attack-testifies-that-kremlins-aggression-has-no-limits/
Wikipedia: Kerch Strait incident https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kerch_Strait_incident
BBC News, 04.12.18: Ukraine-Russia clash: Nato's dilemma in the Black Sea https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-46425777
Spiegel Online International, 04.12.18: Russia Tries to Strangle Ukraine with New Maritime Strategy http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/russia-tries-to-strangle-ukraine-in-new-maritime-strategy-a-1241293.html

TASS, 22.11.18: Russia warns Ukraine against attempts to revise Sea of Azov status http://tass.com/politics/1031934
Sputnik International, 23.11.18: 'Created Out of Thin Air': Kiev, West Invented Azov Sea Issue to Pressure Moscow https://sptnkne.ws/kdx6
BBC News, 26.11.18: Russia-Ukraine tensions rise after Kerch Strait ship capture https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-46340283
The Economist, 26.11.18: Russia fires on and seizes Ukrainian vessels https://www.economist.com/europe/2018/11/26/russia-fires-on-and-seizes-ukrainian-vessels
EUObserver, 26.11.18: Russia mocks Western appeals to end Azov Sea crisis https://euobserver.com/foreign/143501
Politico, 26.11.18: Ukrainian parliament votes to impose martial law https://www.politico.eu/article/ukraine-martial-law-imposed-by-parliament-kiev/
EurActiv, 26.11.18: EU calls for de-escalation after Russia fires on and seizes Ukrainian ships in Azov Sea https://www.euractiv.com/section/defence-and-security/news/eu-calls-for-de-escalation-after-russia-fires-on-and-seizes-ukrainian-ships-in-azov-sea/
Reuters, 29.11.18: Ukrainian leader says Putin wants his whole country, asks for NATO help https://uk.reuters.com/article/idUKKCN1NY22M
The Guardian, 29.11.18: Ukraine president calls for Nato warships in Sea of Azov https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/29/russia-blocked-ukrainian-azov-sea-ports-minister
The Guardian, 29.11.18: 'Danger never went away': Ukrainian cities feel cornered by Russia https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/29/danger-never-went-away-ukrainian-cities-feel-cornered-by-russia
Deutsche Welle, 29.11.18: Angela Merkel sidesteps military aid to Ukraine https://p.dw.com/p/398OG
TIME, 29.11.18: Ukraine Urges NATO to Deploy Naval Ships Amid an Escalating Standoff With Russia http://time.com/5466423/ukraine-appeals-nato-russia-tensions/
Reuters, 04.12.18: Ukraine resumes grain shipments from Azov Sea https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSKBN1O30M8
BBC News, 04.12.18: Russia 'partially unblocks' Ukraine ports https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-46439190
Sputnik International, 04.12.18: US, NATO Coordinating Alliance-Wide Response to Kerch Incident https://sptnkne.ws/khZU

NATO: Press Release, 27.11.18: North Atlantic Council statement on developments near the Sea of Azov https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_160859.htm
President of Russia: Events, 27.11.18: Telephone conversation with Federal Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/59195
President of Ukraine: News, 26.11.18: This is an act of aggression against our state and a very serious threat - President on the attack on the Ukrainian Navy’s warships https://www.president.gov.ua/en/news/ce-akt-agresiyi-proti-nashoyi-derzhavi-i-duzhe-serjozna-zagr-51338
EU: EEAS: Statement by the Spokesperson on the escalating tensions in the Azov Sea https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/54392/
United States: Department of State, 26.11.18: Russia's Dangerous Escalation in the Kerch Strait https://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2018/11/287554.htm
Council of the European Union: Press Release, 28.11.18: Declaration by the High Representative on behalf of the EU on the escalating tensions in the Azov Sea https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2018/11/28/declaration-by-the-high-representative-on-behalf-of-the-eu-on-the-escalating-tensions-in-the-azov-sea/

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