Russian perspective on Kerch Strait incident

 

Sir, – Recent coverage by Irish media of the incident at the Black Sea with Ukrainian ships misses the key point: it was intentional action of the Ukrainian naval vessels which deliberately provoked the Russian Coast Guard by blazingly ignoring the existing requirements for navigation in the Kerch Strait.

The fact is that access to the Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov has been and remains unhindered. The Kerch Strait is open for passage for all maritime traffic.

There is a procedure in place – requirement to notify the administration of Kerch seaport 48 or 24 hours in advance, get the ship inspected (usually takes no more than three hours), get a sea master on board and join the convoy for the passage.

There are two basic reasons for this procedure. First, security of the Crimean bridge – the need for additional security measures is highlighted by a large number of committed or prevented sabotage and terrorist acts by Ukrainian nationalists with support of the Kiev government (in particular, blowing up the power lines in the Kherson region in 2015 in order to “de-energise” the Crimea; prevented attempt to scatter cables in the shipping channel of the Kerch Strait in June 2016, open calls by Ukrainian politicians to demolish the Crimean bridge).

Secondly, special characteristics of Kerch-Yenikale Canal (difficult meteorological and navigational conditions) require special maritime regime which has been in place even before the construction of the bridge. All ships passing through the strait are inspected, including Russian (for the period from April 1st to October 31st – 31 vessels under Ukrainian flag were inspected; 53 under the Russian flag, 1,408 from third countries, including 256 from the European Union). It is worth noting that in September two Ukrainian naval ships used this procedure for passage of the Kerch Strait going to the Sea of Azov without any problem.

All that has been ignored this time by Ukrainian navy vessels which did not file any notification, violated the state border of the Russian Federation and proceeded in the direction of the Kerch Strait without heeding numerous warnings by the Russian Coast Guard, at the same time making dangerous manoeuvres. It was after several hours of futile attempts to reason with the Ukrainians when the Russian border guards had to act in accordance with current legislation and international law and to force ships to stop, escorting them to the port of Kerch.

It was absolutely reckless and extremely dangerous behaviour by the Ukrainian side. It is clear to any objective observer that a blatant provocation was carried out in order to portray Ukraine again as a “victim of Russian aggression”.

The obvious aim is to mobilise Western support for the Kiev regime as well as to provide an excuse for President Petro Poroshenko to declare martial law creating a mechanism to manipulate upcoming presidential elections (which he otherwise is certainly set to lose). Russia is not seeking any conflict with Ukraine and does not threaten anyone; however, it will continue to stop any attempts to encroach on its sovereignty.

There is clearly little hope to find common sense in Kiev now. One can only hope that Western countries sponsoring current Ukrainian regime will find a way to bring it to reason. – Yours, etc,

YURY A FILATOV,

Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Ireland,

Rathgar,

Dublin 14.