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The Mess At Azov

Discussion in 'Geostrategic Issues' started by Feanor, Nov 25, 2018.

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  1. Feanor

    Feanor Super Moderator Staff Member

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    So a little background for those not following this situation. The Azov sea is a small sea sandwiched between Russia and Ukraine, in the north-eastern portion of the Black Sea. The only real way in and out (other then rivers) is the Kerch straight. This straight passes between Crimea, and Taman' (a piece of southern Russia).

    Over a number of years after the fall of the Soviet Union, agreements were signed between Russia and Ukraine about both border demarcation, and joint use of the sea lanes. The agreement included a vague clause about detaining suspicious ships for inspection (rarely used). After the annexation of Crimea, the agreement became outdated, since Russia now controlled both sides of the straight, but joint use of the sea lanes continued anyway until the current crisis.

    The current crisis began with the arrest of a fishing boat called Nord, out of Crimea. It was stopped by Ukrainian coast guard, and arrested for violating rules about entering and exiting the occupied territory of Crimea. In other words, the boat was arrested for being Russian, and being out of Crimea. Following this, Russia attempted to exert diplomatic pressure to secure the release of the ship and crew. Eventually the entire crew, except the captain, were released. As a symmetrical response, Russian FSB coast guard stepped up patrols of exclusive Russian fishing areas, and arrested multiple Ukrainian vessels for fishing illegally, over several months. This has dealt a major blow to Ukrainian fisheries who, over the past ~25 years have become used to being able to fish in Russian waters, despite the laws and regulations governing this. In the past enforcement was extremely lax, often bordering on non-existence, and bribes could frequently secure unfettered access. Russian coast guard also started using the clause about inspecting suspicious ships to stop nearly all ships headed to Ukrainian ports, and detain them for searches, subsequently releasing them. While this might seem harmless, this delayed shipping from several hours, to several days (the longest wait period I'm aware of was 11 days) causing losses to shipping companies, and effectively shutting down sea traffic to the major Ukrainian port of Mariupol'. As a response to this, Ukraine detained a Russian river boat, the Mekhanik Pogodin. First it was alleged that the company owning it was under sanctions, this turned out to be untrue, then it was alleged that the ship had violated Ukrainian environment regulations, and "environmental inspectors" attempted to force their way aboard the ship. When they were denied access, Ukraine arrested the ship for 3 years, and threatened to confiscate and sell it. Russia also rebased many additional ships for both the coast guard and the VMF, to strengthen their presence in the Azov.

    To respond to the situation, Ukraine decided to rebase a number of warships (or "warships" if you like, given their nature) to the Azov sea. Several Gyurza-M boats were brought overland by trailers, and a Ukrainian command ship (aptly named the Donbass) and the tugboat named Korets approached the Azov sea from the Black Sea. They requested permission to pass, accepted a Russian navigator on board, and passed into the Black Sea, following all the same rules and regulations that normally governed the passage of ships in Russian territorial waters. Despite this rather routine action, Ukrainian president Poroshenko congratulated his ships and crews, and Ukrainian press was full of claims that the Ukrainian Navy "surprised" Russia by passing through the Kerch straight. In Ukrainian sources this was touted as a victory of some sort.

    Finally just yesterday, a far more dangerous incident occurred. Two Ukrainian Gyurza-M boats, and a tugboat, attempted to enter the Kerch straight. They requested permission to pass, but refused to accept a Russian navigator, or take their place in the regular order of sea traffic passing through the straight. When Ukrainian vessels entered Russian territorial waters (off Crimea) they were hailed repeatedly by FSB coast guard but refused to comply. Consequently a Russian coast guard ship, the Don, rammed the tug boat, causing significant damage to the engine and rear of the vessel. Following this, Ukrainian ships left Russian territorial waters, and are currently standing by south of the Kerch straight. In the mean time Russia has closed the Kerch straight entirely, going so far as to physically block the straight with a cargo ship. They are citing safety reasons, due to potential for Ukrainian provocations. Two Su-25 dive bombers, and two Ka-52 attack helicopters have been on station almost non-stop since the incident. Two other Ukrainian gun boats are approaching the straight from the north, out of Berdyansk, but so far have not been involved in the current incident. A Russian VMF mine trawler was also spotted in the area.

    There have been reports that the straight was re-opened and Ukrainian ships allowed to pass through, but they appear to be false. The straight was shortly opened for the passage of Russian vessels, then closed again. Currently negotiations are continuing about the passage of Ukrainian ships. Presumably Russia's main requirement is that they accept a Russian navigator for passing the straight, and do so in the same manner as regular civilian vessels using those sea lanes.

    Personal comment: The timing of this latest incident is very telling, since Ukraine is introducing a UN resolution on the same day, condemning Russian militarization of the Azov sea.
     
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  2. John Fedup

    John Fedup Well-Known Member

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    The stupidity of pollies never ceases to amaze me. This is a hopeless turf disagreement that the Ukraine can’t win and no ally will want to invest in this gong show.
     
  3. Feanor

    Feanor Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Updates. Ukrainian ships attempting to enter the Kerch straight began moving southward, away from the straight. They were approached by Russian coast guard, and ordered to stop under threat of use of force, but ignored the instructions. Consequently, Russian Coast Guard opened fire, disabling one (in some reports both) of the gunboats engines, and Russian tactical teams boarded all 3 Ukrainian ships. There are either 1 or 2 wounded from the Ukrainian side.

    Video of the ramming incident, from the deck of a Russian Coast Guard vessel. Caution: plenty of profanity.



    Курс на выход
    Морской бой под Керченским мостом завершён: корабельная группа ВМС Украины взята в плен
    Украинскую "эскадру" взяли на абордаж

    EDIT: Personal Comment: I can't help but wonder, why? From my point of view, it seems like this creates a bigger problem, then simply letting them leave. On the one hand some sort of check had to be made, since Ukraine has been forcing the Azov Sea issue for some time. On the other hand, I'm not convinced this was the right time or the right way to do it.
     
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  4. the concerned

    the concerned Member

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    You have to ask if Ukraine had not given up it's nuclear weapons . Would Putin still push his weight around .
     
  5. Feanor

    Feanor Super Moderator Staff Member

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    The Ukraine that we know today is inherently incapable of maintaining a nuclear arsenal in the realities of the past quarter-century. The kind of country that could have done so is the kind that Putin would be able to talk to on a whole different level. As far as pushing weight around goes, the Ukrainian government here isn't acting in the interests of their people or their country. They haven't in a long, long time.
     
  6. Milne Bay

    Milne Bay Member

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    Excellent background information - than you Feanor.
    I always appreciate your balanced and factual posts here.
    MB
     
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  7. Ananda

    Ananda Well-Known Member

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    With Kyiv already declaring martial law..it's one step Bellow before declaring war with Russia.

    Russia with Crimea in hand in my opinion clearly wants to control entrance to Azov Sea..but did Kyiv really think they can win concession from Russia with some military force deployment ?

    Kyiv clearly wants to drag down Western alliance on this. They have no chance whatsoever with Russian Regular Army..heck they can't handle separatist..whatever gave them illusions they will have even slightest chance against Russian Military ?

    There's only one question left..will West willing to go to war with Russia over Ukraine ?
    Russia in my opinion now just consolidated their possition..and will let Ukraine to try full fill their 'bravado' and declaring war and attack Russian possition. This way Russia then will tell the world that Ukraine is the real aggressor.
    If this scenario that happen..I just want to see how the West will react to save Ukraine..that definitely will be crushed if stand alone.
     
  8. Feanor

    Feanor Super Moderator Staff Member

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    The situation is developing.

    Here's a recording of communications between Russian and Ukrainian personnel in this incident.

    user6404565
    "Руки вверх, стреляем!". LIGA.net публикует переговоры на Азове
    «Руки вверх! Будем открывать огонь»: СМИ опубликовали записи переговоров российских и украинских моряков

    Poroshenko is declaring a condition of war, without actually declaring war on anyone. It's not quite martial law, but it might mean postponing the elections, and strengthening his personal power.

    https://colonelcassad.livejournal.com/4603253.html

    The FSB confirms the detention of 3 Ukrainian ships for violating Russian state borders.

    https://colonelcassad.livejournal.com/4603097.html

    Russia is calling an emergency UN Security Council meeting.

    https://ria.ru/world/20181126/1533481599.html

    The total number of Ukrainian wounded is now being reported as 6, including 2 heavily wounded. It's still unclear what weapons were used against the Ukrainian vessels. Definitely not the AK-630s, standard armament of Coast Guard vessels. Maybe HMGs against the engines? Also apparently one of the missile boats was disabled and captured, the other blocked, and is now accompanying the Russian vessels voluntarily.

    https://inforesist.org/ataka-rossii-6-ukrainskih-voennyih-ranenyi-dvoe-v-tyazhelom-sostoyanii/
    https://vk.com/milinfolive?w=wall-123538639_917257

    Russian VMF now has one 1124M ASW corvette, one mine trawler, two project 1204 Shmel gunboats, and a project 21980 security boat protecting the strait. This is in addition to the FSB Coast Guard who practically has a flotilla of vessels in the Azov, and immediately nearby.

    https://vk.com/milinfolive?w=wall-123538639_917186

    Ships are piling up at both entrances to the strait, it's going to be some time before they can all get through.

    https://twower.livejournal.com/2323119.html
     
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2018
  9. Feanor

    Feanor Super Moderator Staff Member

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    To be fair, as it stands, they can handle the separatists just fine. The only reason they lost the summer of 2014 campaign is because Russia intervened directly. Insider sources from the rebels suggest that even they think they would lose if Ukraine launched an all out offensive. Of course any major offensive will lead to the "northern wind" blowing, and vacation leaves spiking in the Russian military, likely ending in another crushing defeat, and loss of territory, for Ukraine.

    But... it's not going to war with Russia over Ukraine. Ukraine as a whole is not on the line here. The only thing on the line here, really, is the Ukrainian Navy accepting Russian navigation rules for the Kerch strait. I don't think anyone is willing to go to war over this, not even Ukraine. Certainly not "the western alliance". Russia isn't even stopping the VMSU from entering the Azov, basing there, or behaving in any regular manner. Russia is acting like they're willing to go to war over this, because they know they don't have to. Their superiority in force-based options is so great that Ukraine can't make any reasonable military effort to change the status quo around the Kerch strait. So Russia can freely resort to force, knowing Ukraine simply can't respond with an escalation. They have nothing to escalate with. Their biggest warship is a Soviet frigate with no AShMs. And losing it to a Russian boarding party would be ridiculously embarrassing. Other then that... one ASW corvette in repair, one missile boat with no missiles (allegedly Ukraine is out of P-15s), a medium landing ship, and the Donbass "command and control" ship, that's currently in the Azov. This is the entire Ukrainian Navy. They also have 6 gun boats of domestic construction, 2 of which they just lost, and 2 more of which are already in the Azov.

    I don't think Ukraine will attack anyone. I think they're done. They will try to leverage this incident for all they can internationally, and maybe it will work. Or maybe it won't. In my opinion, Russia's response here was rather heavy-handed. Someone upstairs is fed up with Ukrainian games around Russian shipping, and the Azov sea.
     
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  10. Ananda

    Ananda Well-Known Member

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    Then..I perplexed with what Kyiv trying to accomplish in here. Their Navy even can not match the Russian Coast Guard in black sea..let alone the Black Sea Fleet.

    Western Media off course more inclined to Kyiv possition. But trying to Blame only Russian media that distorted the issue, clearly take blind eyes that Kyiv is also distorted the issue.

    What Kyiv trying to prove in the sea ?..is not like Russia put blockades on the Ukraine two ports in Azov sea..so why Ukraine Navy try 'baiting' Russia ?

    This is just like "if" Philippines Navy try to come close to Chinese possition in SCS..which clearly out gun..
    "Baiting" someone else that in much stronger possition in my opinion only can come from two reason:
    First, someone else that are also stronger..back them..thus they are trying to capitalize on that, or
    Second, they are desperately try to ''invite/push" other stronger parties involvement..

    West already push saction to Russia..unless Ukraine try to push West to get more than sanction..I don't know what else Kyiv trying to achieve on this.
     
  11. malleboy

    malleboy New Member

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    Ananda,

    Ukraine gets Russia to look like a bully, this works both with a domestic audience and in western media. Was listening to ABC Radio National on the way to work (don't normally) and a Ukrainian "expert" was interviewed and he ran through the whole list of Ukrainian greivances (MH17, Crimea etc) and highlighted this as just another example of Russian "bullying".

    Feanor,

    When you said, "When Ukrainian vessels entered Russian territorial waters (off Crimea)" was that Russian territorial waters (ie on the international recognized Russian side) or Crimean territorial waters (ie disputed territory).
     
  12. Feanor

    Feanor Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Updates.

    Ukraine has officially entered war status. For 30 days. It's also not nation wide. Among wide spread fears that it would be used as an excuse to cancel the elections, Poroshenko faced some serious objections to his original proposals.

    Военное положение на Украине вводится до 25 января 2019 года.
    Порошенко внес в Верховную Раду законопроект о введении военного положения на Украине, но пока не получил всего, что хотел

    The Ukrainian ships are in port at Kerch, with the 23 crew taken prisoner. 3 are now reported as wounded, and receiving medical attention. Sea traffic through the strait has been resumed. There is an unconfirmed report that one of the wounded Ukrainian sailors was wounded by his own commander for refusing to open fire on Russian ships. Noteworthy is the fact that the Ukrainian ships don't appear to have any signs of damage on them. Comically enough Ukraine is claiming the (undamaged!) ships were also attacked by two missiles from Su-30 jets. Of course no Su-30 jets were sighted in the area, and there is no evidence of any missile strike.

    https://colonelcassad.livejournal.com/4603481.html
    https://diana-mihailova.livejournal.com/3031128.html

    Ukraine published their own copy of the radio comms between Ukrainian and Russian ships.



    More footage of the incident, and accompanying maneuvers.

    https://diana-mihailova.livejournal.com/3030078.html
     
  13. Feanor

    Feanor Super Moderator Staff Member

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    It's complicated. Ukraine isn't really independent, and it's also run by people who place their interests well above national interests.

    Ukraine is up to its ears in debt, and takes a lot of "advice" from the sources of said financing. Second of the reasons could be internal, perhaps Poroshenko really was trying to get a situation where he could cancel elections. After all he can't democratically win them. He's become ridiculously unpopular (the standard fate of Ukrainian presidents at the end of their term). It could have also just been something to give the US an excuse to pass more sanctions, and rally domestic and hopefully (though not as likely) international support for harsher moves against Russia. It could also be a genuine attempt to force the question of maritime control at the international level. After all the international community claims (mostly) to not recognize Russian annexation of Crimea. Yet for the past 4 years, save some fairly anemic sanctions (I'm excluding the US here) everyone has acted as if Crimea is part of Russia. It's hard to act otherwise, when it comes to the landmass, since Russia physically controls it, and nobody is ready to challenge that in any meaningful way. But when it comes to the EEZ, and shipping lanes through the Kerch strait, things get fuzzier.

    Which is why I provided the sequence of events in the beginning of the thread. It's important to remember that for 4 years Ukraine acted like this was a non-issue, and only decided to take a stand.

    As far as I can tell they approached the Crimean side. Although I'd have to check coordinates against maps to say this for sure. Either way, the Ukrainian ships didn't tell the Russian coast guard to f*ck off on account of this being Ukrainian territory. Instead they claimed they were here to traverse the Kerch strait in accordance with a Russo-Ukrainian agreement that had been signed many years ago. So the main question here would focus around whether that agreement still applies in today's world. The focus of the issue, at least as best as I can make out, seems to have to do with the sea lanes, not with control of Crimea as such (though it's hard to escape getting the issues tangled up).
     
  14. Ananda

    Ananda Well-Known Member

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    Well it's reflected on media..US and UK based media clearly takes side on Ukraine..which mostly they take on Ukraine sources..while other Europe media tend to be taking both side even part commentator's taking Ukraine side but still with Russian side also considered.

    Thus, the way I see it..the West will still blame Russia..but mostly come from US and UK while the rest of Europe taking less harder tones.
    Russia will open traffic in Azov Sea even from Ukraine's ports, however will close Azov from Ukraine's Navy (which actually will not matter anyway to balance in sea, since Ukraine's Navy severely outmatch even with only Russian Coast Guard).

    All of this only play more to Russian benefits..since now Russia has an excuse to cleans Azov from Ukraine's Navy presencess.

    I don't know..but I just see this as blunder from Kyiv, on trying to achieve International incident that no one really cares.
    I mean, nobody else in the Black Sea region used Azov Sea except Russia and Ukraine..which the way I see it.. Russia will try to say to the West..Azov Sea is between Russia and Ukraine..
     
  15. STURM

    STURM Well-Known Member

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    Is that surprising? The main part of the narrative is that Russia [along with Iran] are the bad chaps; doing things that are highly destabilising, including acting aggressively and propping up evil undemocratic regimes. The West on the other hand [or more accurately the U.S. and the U.K] only acts responsibly, never does anything that can be construed as 'aggressive' and always puts democracy and human rights first.

    Not too long ago the mainstream establishment Western press was parroting what national leaders were saying about Syria. Assad must go [this ensured that the war would continue], the 'moderates' rebel groups were really moderate and were nice chaps, only Assad and his supporters were committing atrocities and that Russia involvement was making things worst. Back in the 1990's the mainstream establishment Western press said nothing about the sanctions on Iraq that were intended to do away with Saddam but had devastating consequences on ordinary Iraqis. Thousands of Iraqi children died thanks to the sanctions which included a ban on chlorine [used in water treatment plants] and oxygen bottles [so needed in hospitals]. Apparently chlorine and oxygen bottles have dual functions : can be used for WMDs ...... We also have Yemen. The press was largely quiet about Saudi and allied planes blowing up civilians but are up in arms about Khshooggi's murder.


     
  16. Feanor

    Feanor Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Update.

    Photos of the damage to a Ukrainian gunboat. It appears they were shot up with something heavy after all. It's important to note that while the gunboats are armored, they're mainly meant to withstand small-arms.

    Повреждения украинских бронекатеров

    A close up photo of the Ukrainian tug prior to the getting rammed, where you can see two HMGs mounted on it. Note, a while ago a number of Ukrainian volunteer organizations welded machineguns to quite a few non-combat vessels of the VMSU. This was of course idiotic, since the ground forces have a shortage of usable machineguns, while the Navy gets virtually no benefit from this.

    Морская фигура, замри!

    Ukrainian sailors have been arrested for two months by the Simpferopol court. It's a bit ironic that Russia chose a Crimean court for this. And, as colonelcassad suggests, it may imply that Russia will try to trade the personnel and ships for captured personnel and ships in Ukrainian hands. Note it appears that only 2 of the sailors were heavily wounded, one had his fingers ripped off, the other took a large chunk of shrapnel in the thigh. All are currently alive.

    Украинских моряков арестуют на 2 месяца
    Умиротворение

    Ukrainian SBU officers were found on the captured ships, 2 of them. This is somewhat unusual.

    В СБУ признали, что на задержанных Россией кораблях были контрразведчики

    The Russian version of the chronology of events has been published by the FSB. It's nothing particularly new, fully in line with previous statements, and available information. Ukrainian ships were warned when approaching Russian territorial waters that they need to comply with Russian regulations regarding the use of the sea lanes, and were directed to the Kerch seaport. The Ukrainian vessels refused, stating the agreement on freedom of shipping through the Kerch strait (though not quoting any particular portion). FSB response was that in the Kerch strait all traffic has to obey the schedule set by the Kerch port captain. Requests for passage have to be submitted 24 and 48 hours in advance. Ukrainian ships then were told that they are prohibited from entering the Kerch-Enikalski shipping lane. Ukrainian vessels crossed the border, and were told to turn around but ignored their instructions. Ukrainian vessels also removed the covers from their guns, and began aiming them at nearby Russian coast guard vessels. FSB communicated that the threat of weapon use is a criminal offense, and would be regarded as a violation of international norms. As a result of maneuvers the Ukrainian ships were herded towards a stop point, from where they attempted to break out. They were pursued by patrol vessel Izumrud, and ordered to stop in accordance with Article 30 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982, as well as Russian federal law. The Izumrud continued pursuit from 1 hour and 40 minutes, sending audio and visual signals requiring the Ukrainian ships to stop, then fired warning shots, which were also ignored. Izumrud then warned one of the gunboats (the Berdyansk) that they would be fired on if they didn't stop. This was ignored. The Izumrud fired on the Berdyansk, after which the gunboat stopped, reported wounded on board and requested aid. The Berdyansk was boarded and first aid was provided. The coast guard vessel Don meanwhile caught up to the tug boat, and a Ka-52 helo stopped the other gunboat, after which it was approached by a VMF ship.

    The mystery remains, what exactly did the Berdyansk get hit with? A burst from the AK-630?

    https://colonelcassad.livejournal.com/4605093.html
     
  17. Feanor

    Feanor Super Moderator Staff Member

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    The VMSU prior to this incident had essentially unfettered access to the Azov sea. They transferred ships there in the past, without incident (though with much song and dance over nothing). Perhaps the VMSU will continue to have access, as long as they accept a Russian navigator, and submit their request in advance, as they had in the past.
     
  18. Feanor

    Feanor Super Moderator Staff Member

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    It appears that the agreement on the joint use of the Kerch strait between Russia and Ukraine is tied into the 1997 Friendship Treaty between Russia and Ukraine. The treaty that Ukraine withdrew from prior to this incident, undermining the Ukrainian claims regarding the use of the strait... they were replaced on Ukraine's side by a one-sided set of directives from Poroshenko regarding the borders in the Azov and Black Sea.

    Ukraine’s Pinochet Scenario

    EDIT: Ukraine claims that Russia has stopped all ship traffic to Mariupol' and Berdyansk. Only ships heading into Russian ports are being let through the strait. Confirmation on this is not yet available.

    Украина заявляет о российской блокаде судов, следующих через Керченский пролив

    Apparently two of Russian FSB personnel that were involved in the capture of Ukrainian ships were ex-SBU from Crimea. Curious.

    В захвате катеров и буксира ВМСУ в Керченском проливе участвовали двое бывших сотрудников СБУ
     
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2018
  19. StobieWan

    StobieWan Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Not sure if this has been covered off already but the Ukraine would be about the fifth largest nuclear power if they'd retained weapons sited in their borders on the dissolution of the USSR - those weapons were handed over in exchange for some fairly tepid assurances from Nato - so, there is some sense of treaty obligation in the air.

    Not a *strong* sense but technically, we did sign on the dotted line to at least make some vague efforts to defend the Ukraine.
     
  20. ngatimozart

    ngatimozart Super Moderator Staff Member Verified Defense Pro

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    The Russian seizure of the Ukrainian warships is illegal under the UNCLOS, which both Russia and Ukraine have ratified. The said seizure is in effect an act of war because warships "have sovereign immunity even in another state’s territorial waters". That means “a state cannot seize a foreign warship in any circumstances, but it can expel it from its territorial waters”. Russia didn't expel the Ukrainian naval vessels instead seizing them and illegally detaining their crews in Moscow. Therefore regardless of the accusations and mudslinging between the two sides, Ukraine has the moral and legal high ground in this particular case.

    Experts say Russia’s actions in the Kerch Strait were illegal

    The relevant articles are:

    Article 29
    Definition of warships

    For the purposes of this Convention, "warship" means a ship belonging to the armed forces of a State bearing the external marks distinguishing such ships of its nationality, under the command of an officer duly commissioned by the government of the State and whose name appears in the appropriate service list or its equivalent, and manned by a crew which is under regular armed forces discipline.​

    Article 30
    Non-compliance by warships with the laws and regulations of the coastal State

    If any warship does not comply with the laws and regulations of the coastal State concerning passage through the territorial sea and disregards any request for compliance therewith which is made to it, the coastal State may require it to leave the territorial sea immediately.

    Article 32
    Immunities of warships and other government ships operated for non-commercial purposes

    With such exceptions as are contained in subsection A and in articles 30 and 31, nothing in this Convention affects the immunities of warships and other government ships operated for non-commercial purposes.​

    United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea