Constructive actions needed to ease Russia-Ukraine tensions over Black Sea clash

Thursday, 2018-11-29 13:14:33
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Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko speaks during a parliament session to review his proposal to introduce martial law for 30 days after Russia seized Ukrainian naval ships off the coast of Crimea, in Kiev, Ukraine November 26, 2018. (Reuters)
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NDO – Tensions between Russia and Ukraine are on the rise after Russian forces seized three Ukrainian naval ships in the Black Sea, followed by mutual accusations and criticisms between Moscow and Kiev. Not only that, the case also risks escalating seriously, causing negative impacts on the Russia-West ties as a whole and the relations between Russia and the United States in particular.

Russian news agency TASS cited a report by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) as saying that the FSB’s border guard forces captured three Ukrainian navy vessels in the Black Sea as they were “attempting to illegally enter the Russian waters”, and Russia’s ships were forced to use weapons. Russia has also instituted criminal proceedings against that act of national border infringement. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian side reported that Russian ships blocked its three navy ships traveling freely through Kerch Strait to the Sea of Azov. Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry has asked Moscow to return the seized sailors and compensate for the damage caused by the incident.

The aforementioned case has caused a tense atmosphere in Ukraine because of security concerns. The Ukrainian parliament voted in favour of President Petro Poroshenko’s proposal to impose martial law over 30 days in border areas. Kiev has also urged its allies and partners to take appropriate measures, such as imposing new sanctions and strengthening existing sanctions, and granting military aids to help Kiev defend its territory and sovereignty. President Poroshenko even called on the Ukrainian parliament to declare the state of war.

For its part, Moscow flatly rejected the charges of Ukraine. After an urgent meeting of the United Nations on the incident, a representative of the Russian delegation at the UN said three Ukrainian navy vessels had illegally violated Russia’s waters and refused to withdraw as the Russian ships warned, affirming that the action has violated the UN Charter as well as international law and practices. According to the spokesperson of the Russian President, Ukraine’s imposition of martial law is an interior affair of its own, adding that this, however, risks increasing conflicts in Ukraine, especially in the southeastern region.

The UN and countries have expressed deep concern about the conflict in Kerch Strait, calling on the two sides to resolve the issue through peaceful negotiation, refrain from actions or words that could hike tensions, and keep tight control to prevent the case from dangerous escalations. The European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) have urged the cooling of Russia-Ukraine tensions in the Black Sea, while asking Moscow to restore free movement in Kerch Strait. NATO called on Russia to ensure free access to Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov in accordance with international law. Germany’s Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen also urged Russia to free the captured Ukrainian ships and crew. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl emphasised that the tensions should be resolved through negotiations and that the West should seek dialogue with Russia, as in the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) framework.

Meanwhile, the confrontation at sea between Russia and Ukraine is threatening to become a “new obstacle” in Russia-US relations, which have inherently been not so smooth. In an interview granted to The Washington Post on November 27, US President Donald Trump revealed that he is likely to cancel a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 Summit 2018, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, this weekend, due to the Russia-Ukraine collision case in Kerch Strait. Ukrainian media said a US reconnaissance plane has entered the Black Sea.

The Moscow-Kiev relations, which have long been tense over territorial issues, have now worsened more seriously. The relations between Russia and the West, especially the Russia-US ties, have also become difficult to heal after a series of “turbulences” over the past few years. In that context, the only solution to remove the conflict “detonator” towards normalising relationships is that the parties concerned calm down and sit at the negotiating table. At a recent urgent meeting of the UN Security Council, UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo emphasised that only constructive actions could help the stakeholders remove deadlocks concerning the confrontation in Kerch Strait.

International observers said there is presently an urgent need for the parties to take constructive actions with aims to cool down the tensions following the recent clash in an area of sea with strategic significance to both Russia and Ukraine.