- An act of military aggression by Russia near the Kerch strait constitutes the latest phase of Russia’s aggressive policy on the Azov Sea as it moves towards de-facto occupation by Russia.
- On November 25, 2018, a group of Ukrainian naval vessels was deliberately attacked by the Russian border guard patrol near the Kerch strait.
- Russia adopted a ‘shoot to kill’ policy by openly firing on the Ukrainian soldiers and then ramming Ukrainian boats, which were in the process of conducting legitimate and peaceful maneuvers. This represent yet another blatant and barefaced use of military aggression against Ukraine by the Russian Federation.
- Three Ukrainian military vessels were shot at and then seized by the Russians in neutral waters on their way back to Odesa port. 24 Ukrainian servicemen have been seized and imprisoned (6 wounded, including 2 in critical condition) with the expectation that they will be paraded on Russian television as part of a show trial
IMMEDIATE RELEASE OF CAPTURED UKRAINIAN SERVICEMEN IS OUR PRIMARY TASK
- 24 Ukrainian servicemen have been seized and imprisoned by Russia’s military forces and now have the status of prisoners of war.
- In accordance with the Third Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war we demand that the aggressor state treat these persons humanely at all times.
- The application of international humanitarian law (IHL) does not depend on whether a state of martial law has been declared or not. IHL comes into effect from the moment that armed conflict breaks out.
RUSSIA’S ACTIONS CLEARLY FALL UNDER THE UN DEFINITION OF ‘AGGRESSION’
- The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea guarantees the rights of Ukraine as a coastal state in waters near the Crimea and the Kerch Strait.
- Thus, according to Article 2 of the Convention, the sovereign rights of Ukraine as a coastal state extend to its territorial waters (within 12 miles) including in the vicinity of the Crimean peninsula, despite the unlawful temporary occupation of the Crimean Peninsula by the Russian Federation.
- The actions of the Russian Federation with respect to the prevention of the passage of warships in the territorial sea of Ukraine and Russia’s attack on the Ukrainian naval forces’ ship ‘Yani-Kapu’, constitute a grave violation of Article 2 of the Convention.
- On November 25, 2018 Russia’s next step was to blockade three Ukrainian ships in the Kerch Strait. The Russian Federation created artificial obstacles in the way of ships looking to make peaceful and lawful passage through the Kerch Strait, which is an international duct with respect to Article 38 of the UNCLOS. Russia's actions therefore constitute the blocking of navigation through an international duct, which is a direct violation of Articles 38 and 44 of the Convention.
- Actions in the Kerch Strait are also a violation of the bilateral Agreement on the use of the Azov Sea and the Kerch Strait, which provides for free passage of the parties’ warships through the Kerch Strait. By way of its actions, Russia has made a de facto declaration that the Treaty is null and void.
- Ukrainian ships left the Kerch Strait and were moving towards Odesa, after their exit from the territorial waters in the exclusive economic zone of Ukraine they were attacked, stopped and then detained by the Russian Federation. These actions constitute a flagrant and deliberate violation of the UNCLOS, namely the interference with and prevention of free navigation and freedom of navigation in the exclusive economic zone, guaranteed by Articles 56, 58, 88, 92, as well as violations of the immunity of warships, envisaged by Article 32.
- The attacks by the Russian Federation on the Ukrainian naval forces’ ships, which were moving towards the port of Berdyansk initially in the Black Sea, and then also in the region of the Kerch Strait, constitute another flagrant act of aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine.
- In accordance with UN GA resolution 29/3314 of 14 December 1974, notwithstanding the declaration of war, the act of aggression is an attack of the armed forces of one country on land, sea or air, or on the naval or air forces of another country (article 3d).
MARTIAL LAW IN UKRAINE IS A CRITICALLY NECESSARY RESPONSE TO RUSSIAN ESCALATORY POLICY
- Russia is trying to turn the Sea of Azov into its internal lake by blockading Berdiansk and Mariupol and through a military buildup in the Crimea and Azov Seas.
- The November 25 incidents represent the first time, since the start of Russia’s “hybrid” war against Ukraine in 2014, that the Russian military has carried out an unmistakably open attack against Ukrainian forces.
- For the first time since Russia began its ‘hybrid’ war against Ukraine in 2014, the Russian military has carried out an act of direct and open military aggression as evidenced by its attack on Ukrainian naval vessels that were lawfully moving within international waters.
- Russia has ratcheted up its aggression from covert, hybrid attacks on Ukraine through to overt acts of military aggression.
- Actions in the Kerch Strait indicate Russia’s determination to blockade the seaports of Berdyansk and Mariupol, as well as the possible preparation of a full blockade of the Black Sea coast of Ukraine.
- As Ukraine enters a critical election phase, Russia is looking to use this opportunity to destabilize Ukraine through hybrid and military means. The recent military escalation is one such tool for meddling in its attempt to destabilize and weaken Ukraine.
- In response to the heightened state of risk and vulnerability that Ukraine finds herself in, on 26 November 2018 the Parliament of Ukraine agreed to a limited implementation of martial law for a 30 day period of time in 10 regions within Ukraine. The purpose of this is to ensure that Ukraine is in a position to defend herself should an even greater act of aggression from Russia arise.
- Martial law does not restrict the constitutional rights of the citizens of Ukraine. This law would only affect these rights in the event of direct armed aggression by Russia against Ukraine.
- Martial law does not mean a declaration of war against Russia; it is a defensive implementation to protect the people of Ukraine and the country’s sovereignty.
PROMPT AND CONSOLIDATED INTERNATIONAL REACTION MUST ENSURE THAT RUSSIAN AGGRESSION WILL NOT GO UNPUNISHED
- The Russian Federation is wholly responsible for the escalation in the Azov and Black Seas and for having undermined the rules-based, internationally agreed framework that has been in place to manage the current volatile situation between Ukraine and Russia.
- At the request of Ukraine, a special meeting of the UNSC was held. The international community has not believed Russia’s narrative and retelling of what happened in the Kerch strait. Russia is isolated and is once again operating with contempt for international law and by extension, all nations who abide by it.
- The dramatic escalation of the situation in the region needs a prompt and consolidated response from the international community. Our common objectives are to:
ü demand that Russia immediately releases the 24 captured Ukrainian servicemen and 3 ships;
ü de-escalate the current security situation;
ü ensure sustainable unblocking of the free crossing of the Kerch-Yenikale canal and freedom of navigation in the Azov sea in full accordance with international law;
ü establish permanent OSCE monitoring in the area of the Sea of Azov and Kerch strait;
ü impose a new set of sanctions, including against Russia’s Azov ports, imposition of additional individual sanctions against persons responsible for the aggressive actions against Ukrainian military ships in the Kerch Strait and their crew;
ü ensure enhanced permanent posture of allies, including NATO military ships, in the Black Sea;
ü conduct NATO+partners joint trainings in the Sea of Azov;
ü strengthen economic support of the EU to Mariupol and Berdyansk ports as well as in the whole region, including through the realization of the President’s initiative on the “patronage” over certain cities in Donbas;
ü implement the European Parliament Resolution on the situation in the Sea of Azov, including provision on the EU Special Envoy for Donbas;
ü secure support for Ukraine’s UN GA draft resolution on the militarization of the Crimea and the Sea of Azov;
ü achieve recognition that Russia’s recent military aggression is clear evidence that NS2 should be immediately blocked. If Ukraine were to lose her significance as a transit country, it would untie Putin’s hands and give him a pretext to start a full-scale war against Ukraine.
- 1. G7 foreign ministers’ statement on recent events near Kerch Strait - https://www.canada.ca/en/global-affairs/news/2018/11/g7-foreign-ministers-statement-on-recent-events-near-kerch-strait.html
- 2. President in the interview to Sky News: We must put pressure on Russia to bring it back to a civilized world, because it is a threat to global security - https://www.president.gov.ua/en/news/prezident-v-intervyu-sky-news-mayemo-chiniti-tisk-dlya-pover-51542
- 3. Statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine in connection with another act of aggression against Ukraine - https://mfa.gov.ua/en/press-center/comments/9487-zajava-mzs-ukrajini-u-zvjazku-z-chergovim-aktom-agresiji-rosiji-proti-ukrajini
- 4. Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine on Russia’s armed provocation in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov - https://mfa.gov.ua/en/press-center/comments/9476-zajava-mzs-shhodo-zbrojnoji-provokaciji-rosiji-u-chornomu-ta-azovsykomu-mori
- 5. President called on the world to demonstrate unity and solidarity with Ukraine - interview to CNN - https://www.president.gov.ua/en/news/prezident-zaklikav-svit-do-yednosti-ta-solidarnosti-z-ukrayi-51438