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Ambassador's Article "Russia aggregates tension in the Black Sea and Azov Sea areas"
21 April 2019 17:56

Russia aggregates tension in the Black Sea and Azov Sea areas

March 27, 2019 marks the fifth anniversary of the adoption of the UN General Assembly resolution 68/262 "Ukraine's Territorial Integrity".

It was as a respond to the brutal aggression of the Russia, the international community reaffirmed its full commitment to the sovereignty, political independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.

The General Assembly emphasized that the so-called "Referendum" on March 16, 2014 is illegal and cannot become the basis for any change in the status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea or the city of Sevastopol, and called on all states, international organizations not to recognize any change in the status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol on the basis of the referendum mentioned above.

Since that time, Russia has engaged in numerous blatant violations of Ukraine’s rights under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and other relevant rules of international law:  Russia has unlawfully excluded Ukraine from exercising its maritime rights in the Black Sea, Sea of Azov, and Kerch Strait;  Russia has exploited Ukraine’s sovereign resources in those waters for its own ends; and Russia has usurped Ukraine’s right to regulate within its own maritime areas in those waters.

Through these violations of international law, Russia is, among other things, stealing Ukraine’s offshore hydrocarbons and fisheries resources, harming the livelihoods of Ukrainian fishermen, and interfering with navigation, including the navigation of vessels heading through the international Kerch Strait and toward Ukraine’s Sea of Azov ports.

Since then, the Russian Federation has continued its unlawful actions in the Black Sea, Sea of Azov, and Kerch Strait, and it has aggravated its dispute with Ukraine in multiple different ways. 

With respect to navigation in the Kerch Strait and Sea of Azov specifically, Russia has aggravated the dispute in at least two significant respects.

Over the past two years, Russia has completed the construction of three projects across the Kerch Strait: submarine power cables; a gas pipeline; and a road and rail bridge.

These actions violate numerous provisions of UNCLOS, including those pertaining to Ukraine’s rights in its territorial sea, Russia’s obligations to protect the marine environment, and Russia’s obligation not to impede transit passage through the Kerch Strait — a busy and narrow stretch of water connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov, and to Ukraine’s ports at Mariupol and Berdyansk.

In particular, while the effect of Russia’s submarine cables and gas pipelines on navigation is not yet known, it is clear that the Kerch Strait Bridge is a hindrance to international navigation.  The bridge is only 35 meters high, and only vessels with an air draft of less than 33 meters and a length of less than 160 meters may safely pass under it.  As a result, Panamax vessels and many Handymax vessels are now prevented from transiting the Kerch Strait.  This has had a major impact on traffic to Ukraine’s ports. Russia’s ports, in contrast, are unlikely to have been affected.  The only significant Russian ports in the region are river ports that were never capable of accepting the sorts of large vessels that routinely called at Mariupol and Berdyansk. 

Since 29 April 2018, Russia has engaged in a new campaign to interfere with Ukraine’s rights in the Sea of Azov.

The Russian Federation has stopped more than 200 vessels bound for Mariupol or Berdyansk in the Kerch Strait or Sea of Azov. In many cases, the vessels have been subjected to multiple stoppages on their way to and/or returning from these ports, resulting in significant delays and attendant economic losses.

Vessels bound for Russian ports in the Sea of Azov have not, so far as Ukraine is aware, been subjected to similarly disruptive stoppages.

The Russian Federation’s actions are a blatant violation of the navigational rights of Ukraine and of the flag States of the stopped vessels:

  • Russia has an obligation under UNCLOS not to hamper or impede transit passage through an international strait.
  • Nor may Russia interfere with navigation in Ukraine’s territorial sea in the Kerch Strait, in Ukraine’s territorial sea in the Sea of Azov, or in the exclusive economic zones of either State in the Sea of Azov.

The Russian Federation’s discriminatory stoppages of vessels bound for Ukraine’s Sea of Azov ports are inconsistent with Russia’s fundamental obligations under UNCLOS, and have resulted in significant costs not just to Ukraine, but also to the crews, owners, and flag States of the vessels that Russia has harassed.

On 25 November 2018 Russia engaged in a new wave of violation of the UNCLOS by blocking, attacking. Detaining and seizure of Ukrainian military vessels in the Black Sea and near the Kerch Strait. Such actions constitute grave violation of UNCLOS provisions that regulate territorial waters, international straits and exclusive economic zone.

Amid these brutal violations from Russian aggressor, Ukraine continuous build partner`s relationships with EU and US to defend its legitimate interests ashore and at sea in its exclusive economic zone and is very grateful, particularly, to the Republic of Cyprus for its firm stand in support Ukrainian territorial integrity and our European Union aspirations.

Borys Humeniuk, Ambassador of Ukraine to the Republic of Cyprus

KATHIMERINI Newspaper dated 21.04.2019,

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