Yesterday in Brussels, The European Parliament urged EU states to make clear to Russia that it will face stricter measures if it intensifies its “de facto blockade” of international shipping in the Sea of Azov.
October 25th, a nonbinding resolution was passed calling on EU member states to warn Moscow “that the targeted sanctions against Russia will be reinforced” if there is any further “violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.”
US Embassy tweets on visit to the port of Mariupol and Sea of Azov.
Since the opening of Russia’s Kerch bridge to annexed Crimea, Russian military naval ships have been increasingly harassing and delaying merchant shipping entering and exiting the Sea of Azov. These delays of sometimes up to a week cause financial losses for the companies owning the ships and those possessing the cargo their transporting. The knock on effect is diminishing trade in Ukrainian ports, reduced revenue for Ukraine and local port employment losses.
With tensions rising, the worry is Russia could provoke an incident which gives it an excuse to launch further military actions against Ukraine or inflict more economic constraints.
In 2003 Ukraine and Russia had an agreement defining the Sea of Azov as internal waters of the two states. This agreement gave both parties the power to inspect suspicious vessels. Now, however, Russia is using that agreement as a means to stop and search all none Russian ships in the Sea of Azov, notably Ukrainian ones.
The small section of the Kerch bridge which all ships must pass through.
The yellow box indicates area ships pass under the bridge. Crimea is on the left.
By Sept 2018, the Ukrainian Government has said some 200 vessels have undergone Russia’s unreasonable search and boarding procedure, including over 120 ships registered in the EU. Ukraine states ships bearing the Russian flag are exempt from such controls.
Giving a good insight into the height and width restrictions, here 2 Ukrainian naval military vessels pass under the Kerch bridge.
The Kerch Bridge limits the size of ships that can reach Ukrainian ports on the Sea of Azov. Only those with an air draft of less than 33 metres, this being the height of the vessel from the surface of the water, can pass under the bridge. This has made it impossible for the larger Panamax-class vessels, accounting for over 20 % of all ship traffic before the construction, to enter the Sea of Azov. Before the opening of the bridge, inspections were random and non-intrusive and did not cause disruptions to the free flow of vessels and cargo.
The three videos below detail the harassment and provocation of Ukrainian vessels and the impact Russia’s blockade is having on Ukraine’s ports.