On November 25, 2018 three Ukrainian warships illegally entered Russian territorial waters in the Black Sea, close to the Kerch Strait, in an area that was officially recognised by all sides, including Ukraine, as the territorial waters of Russia even before Crimea’s reunification with the Russian Federation in 2014.
The ships did not respond to the legal demands of Russia’s Coast Guard and conducted dangerous manoeuvres which created a threat to the normal movement of vessels in those waters.
These actions violated the Charter of the United Nations, the norms of international law, including articles 19 and 21 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which determine the right of coastal states to ensure safety in the maritime space, as well as the rules of peaceful passage through the territorial waters of the Russian Federation in the Black Sea. These illegal actions forced Russian border guards, who were fulfilling their legitimate functions to protect the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, to use force. Thanks to their restraint and professionalism, fatalities were avoided.
The three Ukrainian servicemen injured in the incident were given the necessary medical assistance, and their lives were not threatened. The ships that committed the violation were detained at a Russian port, and criminal proceedings were initiated.
It was a carefully considered and planned provocation in keeping with the Ukrainian government’s deliberate policy of stoking tension in the region
Later it turned out that there were two Ukrainian Security Service officers among the crew members. Documents discovered in the ships (they are available online) clearly show that these persons were instructed not to notify the Kerch port authorities of their intentions but to move the ships secretly into the Sea of Azov in violation of the accepted rules.
It should be pointed out that the Ukrainian side knows these rules very well. Back in September, Ukrainian warships transited from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov via the Kerch Strait. They had sent a proper notification to the Russian border guard and were provided with a pilot, which is an obligatory condition for moving through the strait. So, it is abundantly clear that this incident was a carefully considered and planned provocation in keeping with the Ukrainian government’s deliberate policy of stoking tension in the region. All of this was aimed at artificially exacerbating tensions between Russia and Ukraine and provoking a scandal with an eye towards achieving geopolitical goals and resolving numerous domestic problems that Kiev faces.
It was also used as a pretext for introducing martial law in Ukraine, a move which is odious in the light of the upcoming presidential elections in the spring of 2019 and which is designed to limit civil rights, freedoms and political activity in the country.
Another goal was to remind the West about Ukraine, because Europe has obviously grown tired of the Kiev regime and government.
The Russian side strongly protested the gross violation of the rules of peaceful passage in the territorial waters of the Russian Federation in the Black Sea by Ukrainian naval ships and initiated a discussion of the situation at the UN Security Council.
We also issued a warning to Ukraine that Kiev’s policy, pursued in coordination with the US and the EU, that seeks to provoke a conflict with Russia in the waters of the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea, is fraught with serious consequences.
The Russian Federation will firmly curb any attempts to encroach on its sovereignty and security.
Vladimir Malygin is Ambassador of Russia to Malta.
This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece
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