The Sea of Azov is considered international waters and Ukraine has the right of free passage by Articles 2, 3 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Russia, however, is de facto “occupying” these waters and has already detained two ships in passage from Mariupol.
Ukraine risks war with every step. Russia is pushing all the buttons to provoke Ukraine. Ukraine has not acted, perhaps this is the reaction Russia wants. Perhaps not.
Is this preparatory actions towards war, hybrid war, or merely provocations?
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Russia’s hybrid activities on the Azov coast of Ukraine: preparation for a military invasion?
After the transformation of the Anti-Terrorist Operation into the Joint Forces Operation in the east of Ukraine, occupational Russian troops became much more active. As a result, the number of attacks and casualties among the military and civilian population has increased. Another dangerous signal is the situation on the Azov coast.
“Last week was the worst since the beginning of the year due to many factors. In total, we recorded almost 7,700 ceasefire violations. On some days, the level of violence resembled the stage of the conflict, which we hoped has long been in the past,” said Alexander Hug, Principal Deputy Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) at a press conference in Kyiv.
Ihor Kabanenko, admiral, defense and security expert, politician, believes that the indicators of the crisis at the sea are creeping up — on May 18 this year, in connection with combat training, Russia declared the area in the Sea of Azov that indents into the territorial sea of Ukraine to be a dangerous one. That area is an integral part of Ukraine’s territory, the right to which is enshrined in Articles 2, 3 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and is determined by the Decree of the President of Ukraine of 1989 No. 515.
In fact, this is a hybrid intention of a military invasion, which first of all requires political and diplomatic response. Unfortunately, the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine has been keeping silence for three days in regard to this issue.
Another aspect is practical realization of this intent, which depends on a number of military and political, physical and geographical and other conditions. Russia may begin combat training in the area, including live-fire exercise with maneuvers near the territorial sea of Ukraine, that is, carry out provocative activities. Nothing prevents it from doing this.
This is a problematic thing, but there is another, more serious one. This is the crossing of the maritime state border of Ukraine by warships. It will be an invasion, even under the guise of a so-called “innocent passage.” This is a principled thing, because a passage cannot be innocent if it is “prejudicial to peace, good order or security of a coastal state” (Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea).
Does Moscow defer to it? Of course, it does. It also weighs possible consequences of Ukraine’s actions or inaction. Despite all the diversity, each of the possible scenarios has at least one common strategic feature concerning crisis response – this will be the moment of truth concerning Ukraine’s ability of an adequate response in order to neutralize the worst scenarios from the sea direction…
On May 20, Russians closed two thousand square kilometers of the Azov Sea for Ukrainian vessels under the pretext of alleged live-fire exercise, reports the TSN. In some areas, the distance to the Ukrainian coast is no more than ten miles, which is a violation of the Convention on the Law of the Sea.
What is the Kremlin up to? Should we expect the resumption of hostilities in the eastern part of the country?
Andriy Klymenko, editor-in-chief of the BlackSeaNews project, informs that on May 22, 2018, at about 7:15 – 7:20 pm, Russian troops detained two more vessels opposite Berdyansk: SOUTHERN BREEZE, IMO 9437763 (owner from Croatia), and EREN C IMO 9344734 (owner from Turkey). The vessels with cargo were moving from the port of Mariupol.
The expert reminds that it has been four days since Russia started live-fire exercise on Ukraine’s coast and detained vessels close to Berdyansk and Mariupol. Despite the information wave, there is not even a note or statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Commander-in-Chief.
The Treaty on the Azov Sea gives the Russian warships freedom of navigation. And soon we will have to forget about the traffic to Berdyansk and Mariupol ports in view of such “forbearance” of Ukraine’s state authorities. This is exactly what the adversary needs.
Russia’s actions on land and at sea are a hybrid intention of a military invasion, which will be the moment of truth concerning the ability of Ukraine’s adequate response, admits Ihor KABANENKO.
What should Ukraine immediately do in connection with the situation in the Azov Sea?
Mutual proposals from the Maidan of Foreign Affairs and experts on maritime law and military on how to deal with current situation are as follows:
- The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine should circulate a note on the fact that the Russian Federation has limited access to the Sea of Azov for Ukrainian ships near Berdyansk. Ukraine consider these actions to be an act of aggression and unlawful. Ukraine should also inform international (including maritime) organizations of this fact.
- Ukraine should request the UN Security Council to immediately convene a meeting of the Security Council in connection with the RF preparation for a new military operation in the area of Berdyansk-Mariupol (there are more than enough data on this).
- Ukraine should immediately denounce the Agreement between Ukraine and the Russian Federation on Cooperation on the Use of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait of December 24, 2003. (As long as it remains, Ukraine officially has no 12-mile zone (territorial waters). Therefore, Russian warships and boats may take advantage of this Agreement and go wherever they want, formally using the right of innocent passage).
- At the same time Ukraine should declare the territorial sea, inland waters and the exclusive maritime economic zone at Azov, and inform international organizations thereof.
- Ukraine should order the State Border Guard Service and the Armed Forces to take the territorial waters of Ukraine in the Sea of Azov (that is, the 12-mile zone) under protection and ensure marine patrolling by the Mariupol detachment of Marine Guard.
- Ukraine should break all agreements with the Russian Federation on the use of the Sea of Azov (including those on fishing, under which the Russian Federation can conduct a “fishery research” – that is, exploratory fishing – 100 m from the shore of Henichesk and Berdyansk).
- Ukraine should work with partner countries on imposing sanctions against all ports of the Russian Federation in the Black and Azov Seas in connection with their participation in the supply of goods and troops to the occupied Crimea as well as in the schemes of circumvention of international sanctions against Crimea.
- Ukraine should develop a plan of crisis measures to minimize the negative consequences of the loss of the opportunity to use Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov for export-import operations (including restructuring and development of compensation infrastructure – railways, highways, and aviation), employment programs for port workers who lose work, etc.
- Ukraine should offer partners the creation of an international naval connection (Ukraine-Georgia, Ukraine-Romania, Ukraine-Georgia-Romania, possibly with the participation of Turkey) of special purpose (protection of marine and coastal infrastructure).
- Ukraine should analyze and ensure its accession (ratification) to the full list of international maritime conventions and agreements (for example – the Convention on Work in Sea Navigation 2006, the Paris Memorandum, etc.).
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