GP Insights # 52, 30 May 2019
On 27 May 2019, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Sergeyevich Peskov, press secretary for the President of Russia Vladimir Putin, rejected a call from the Hamburg- based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) to release the 24 Ukrainian sailors and three naval ships. In 2018, the Russian Navy had captured them in the Kerch Strait which links the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.
What is the background?
In November 2018, Russia ships stopped and fired on the Ukrainian ships and captured 24 sailors and 3 naval ships in the Kerch Strait, as they attempted to pass through the road bridge (built by Russia) illegally into the Sea of Azov, which lies between Russia and Ukraine, where both countries shares the sea by a bilateral treaty. Federal Security Service said that they had been forced to fire because the ships had illegally entered the country's territorial waters and ignored their warnings. They also said that three Ukrainian ships had been heading for the Kerch Strait without having Russian permission where they had temporarily closed the area for shipping.
Ukrainian Navy said that they had informed in advance to the Russian’s of their ships sailing from Odessa to Mariupol, a Ukrainian port city on the Sea of Azov and claimed that its ships had done nothing wrong and blamed Russia of their military aggression towards them. The Ukrainian Navy also said that when the three ships had attempted to draw back towards Odessa, their ships were fired upon by the Russian border guards which left six of its sailors injured but Russia stated that three of Ukrainian were wounded.
In March 2014 Russia occupied Ukraine Crimea Peninsula where neither Ukraine nor the European Union and the United Nations and other international court or tribunal never considered that Crimea had been legally occupied by Russian’s. Russia had constructed the Kerch Strait which connects between Crimea and the Taman Peninsula. Ukraine and other countries criticised the bridge construction as illegal.
In 1954, the Soviet Union issued an order of transferring the Crimea Peninsula from the Russia Soviet Federative Socialist Republic to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Crimea matters to Russia because Crimea has a strong historical and cultural ties with Russia and one of the pretexts for Russia’s military invasion is to defend its citizens and interest in Ukraine, especially in Crimea. Russia wanted Crimea back because of oil and gas, which can be found in maritime zones around Crimea and to control over Sevastopol, which is strategically important for military reasons.
What does it mean?
The increased tensions between Russia and Ukraine is because Russia occupied Crimea Peninsula in March 2014. Russia considers it as a part of its territory and claims the strait too. For Russia, it doesn’t fall into the category of international water. Hence, for Moscow, the UN Convention of the Law of Sea does not come into the act in the Kerch Strait issue between Russia and Ukraine.
Since there is a confusion of jurisdiction, there is a problem in arbitration and conflict resolution.