Russian meddling needs attention
Tuesday, December 4, 2018
The seizure of three Ukrainian warships by the Russian navy in the Black Sea shows that Moscow has lost none of its enthusiasm for seeking to intimidate its neighbor. Accusing the Ukrainians of illegally entering what Moscow deems to be Russian territorial waters, Russian warships are reported to have fired on two Ukrainian vessels, and rammed a third. As is often the case with unprovoked acts of aggression by Russia, the attacks took place when the rest of the world was distracted, on this occasion because European Union leaders were meeting to sign off the Brexit deal.
Indeed, it is precisely because the world has failed to take sufficient interest in Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, and its subsequent meddling in eastern Ukraine, that the Kremlin felt emboldened to attack the warships sailing through the Kerch Strait which, under international law, is designated as shared territorial waters.
But as we have seen in Crimea and elsewhere, Russian President Vladimir Putin has little regard for the norms of international law, and if an opportunity presents itself that is to Russia’s advantage, he will grab it. Thus, by challenging the right of Ukrainian shipping to sail unmolested between the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea, Russia is trying to establish de facto control of the Kerch Strait, severely restricting the free movement of Ukrainian vessels.
Not surprisingly, Ukraine has responded angrily, with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, a committed opponent of Moscow, threatening to impose martial law, which would allow him to cancel the upcoming presidential elections. Yet again, Mr Putin’s wanton disregard for international law is helping to foment political instability in the rest of Europe.