By Paul Goble
The Russian Federation has shown itself ever more ready to take steps to bottle up Ukrainian shipping in the Sea of Azov by the use of its naval power, a violation of international law that would severely harm Ukraine’s economic and security situation if it goes unchallenged.
There are some short-term solutions like shifting Ukrainian sea traffic away from Azov ports to Odessa and longer term ones like building a canal between Ukraine and Russian-occupied Crimea (rusjev.net/2018/05/23/kryimskiy-poluostrov-mozhet-stat-ostrovom-ukrgidroproekt-rassmatrivaet-proekt-stroitelstva-chernomorsko-azovskogo-kanala/).
But according to Andrey Klimenko, an expert on Crimea for the Maidan of Foreign Affairs, there are ten steps that Ukrainian specialists on maritime law and military affairs say Kyiv needs to take now or in the immediate future (nv.ua/opinion/a_klymenko/kak-nam-sokhranit-kontrol-nad-azovskim-morem-10-shahov-2471500.html).
- Ukraine must send a note to the Russian foreign ministry stating that it will not respect Moscow’s effort to close the sea near Berdyansk because that it an act of aggression, and Kyiv must also inform all international organizations and especially those who deal with maritime law.
- Kyiv must call for an immediate session of the UN Security Council.
- It must “immediately denounce the 2003 treaty between Ukraine and the Russian Federation on cooperation in the use of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Straits.
- Kyiv must declare the Sea of Azov a territorial sea, its internal waters and exclusive maritime economic zone.
- It must give orders to the Ukrainian navy and security forces to “take under control the territorial waters of Ukraine in the Sea of Azov.
- Kyiv must denounce all agreements with the Russian Federation regarding the use of the Sea of Azov.
- It must seek to work with partners to impose sanctions “against all ports of the Russian Federation on the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov” to block Russian schemes to avoid existing sanctions regimes.
- Kyiv “must develop a plan of crisis measures in order to minimize the negative consequences of the loss of the possibility of using ports on the Sea of Azov.”
- It must urge its partners to “create an international naval union (Ukraine-Georgia, Ukraine-Romania, Ukraine-Georgia-Romania, possibly with the participation of Turkey” to protect naval and coastal infrastructure in Ukraine.
- Kyiv must “do an analysis and secure ratification by Ukraine” to the full list of international conventions and agreements concerning maritime operations.
These ten measures are likely to inform Kyiv’s policies in the coming days if as expected Russia moves to tighten its control over the Sea of Azov and the Kerch straits.