The Ukrainian Parliament has declared martial law along the Kerch Strait section of the Crimean Peninsula, but Russia granted passage to shipping traffic from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov. The conflict in Ukraine, which despite being an undeclared war involving Russian forces has unfolded for years, is currently at a very tense level, and it has impacted shipping traffic a couple of times in 2018.
On Sunday, three Ukrainian naval vessels came under attack by the Russian coast guard. An unknown number of Ukrainian sailors were wounded in the attack, which resulted in the seizure of two artillery ships and a tugboat. The Ukrainian vessels were sailing from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov, but Russian naval officers claim that the ships failed to communicate their route plan and refused to acknowledged warnings at sea. Thankfully, the Ukrainian artillery ships did not put their firepower to use during the incident; such a situation would have turned very violent.
A Ukrainian Request
The martial law declaration was initially requested for a 60-day period by President Petro Poroshenko of the Ukraine; his Parliament settled for 30 days since such a move would restrict civilian movement and commercial trade in the area. What this means for commercial shipping is uncertain because the Kerch Strait is now considered to be a flashpoint similar to the Taiwan Straits. As can be expected, the incident was reviewed by the United Nations Security Council, of which Russia is a senior member, and the outcome did not relieve tensions.
The US Condemns Russia
Nikki Haley, the United States Ambassador to the United States, condemned the Russian attack and subsequent seizure of Ukrainian ships. Other members of the UN Security Council voiced similar opinions, and Haley reminded her peers that she was voicing the opinion of U.S. President Donald Trump, a leader who has been known to court the attention of his Russian counterpart. A maritime passage treaty dating back to 2003 was introduced by Ukraine’s Ambassador to the UN, Volodymyr Yelchenko, but the incident would have to be reviewed to determine whether Russia used force without reason.
For the time being, Russian officials claim that their Ukrainian counterparts staged an act of provocation. The 12 nautical miles of the Kerch Strait have been claimed by Russia ever since the annexation of Crimea, but the rest of the world considers this maritime channel to be international waters. Ukrainian officials claim that they need to position their naval vessels near Crimea because of a high potential for a Russian invasion, which has happened in the past.
As for maritime traffic, it could be complicated with the Ukrainian declaration of martial law, which is expected to be enacted by the end of November. A member of the Atlantic Council, a research institute that supports NATO, suggested that American naval forces should patrol the Kerch Strait to avoid a Russian blockade; the problem with this idea is that it is highly impractical because of the complexity of the aforementioned 2003 treaty, and it would also make Moscow very nervous.