Tensions between Russia and Ukraine rose to violence during a naval standoff on Sunday, November 25 near Crimea. The Ukrainian Navy says Russia fired on them, injured six sailors and seized three boats. Russian officials countered, arguing that the Ukrainian vessels had illegally entered Russian territory.
Russia’s Federal Security Service has confirmed that it fired on the Ukraine vessels and then captured them. Officials said these actions were taken because the Ukraine boats would not stop, and accused them of “dangerous maneuvering.” The agency also accused Ukraine of trying to provoke conflict.
In response, Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko asked the Parliament to declare martial law. The governing body has approved the request, voting to impose martial law in areas seen to be threatened by Russia, for the next 30 days.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Russian Security Officials Accused Ukraine’s Navy of Illegally Entering Russian Waters & Ignoring Warnings, as Reported by Russian News Agencies
Ukraine and Russia share the Sea of Azov. The only way to reach it by water is to go though the Kerch Strait, which links to the Black Sea.
As reported by the BBC, the Russians blocked access to this strait on November 25. They placed a tanker under a Russian-controlled bridge that connects the two seas. Three Ukranian ships had reportedly planned to pass.
RTÉ, citing Russian news agencies, reported that Russia’s Federal Security Service accused the Ukraine navy of illegally entering Russian territory and had ignored warnings to halt.
A Ukranian news outlet shared video of the confrontation on social media. In the video above, there is a lot of shouting and it’s difficult to tell exactly what prompted the verbal tension. At :53, the Russian ship rams the small tugboat. The tweet, roughly translated into English, reads, “Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine has received access to the video of provocations-Taran of the Russian border ship “Don” of the Ukrainian ?? ship. The captured video is filmed by Russian, responsive teams-it will be proof in the International Court!
Aggression! And look forward to the reactions of friendly countries!”
2. The Ukraine Navy Says Six of Their Sailors Were Injured & Issued a Statement Calling Russia’s Actions a ‘Threat For Security of All States of the Black Sea Region’
The three Ukraine vessels traveling in the Black Sea included two armored artillery vessels and a tugboat, according to Al Jazeera. The Ukraine Navy alleges that Russia opened fire on the three boats, injuring six sailors.
Ukraine’s foreign ministry issued a statement, calling Russia’s actions “aggressive” and “unlawful.”
“Provocative actions of the Russian Federation in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov have transgressed all boundaries and become aggressive.
Ships of the Russian Federation, in violation of freedom of navigation, unlawfully used force against the ships of Ukrainian Naval Forces.
We consider such aggressive actions as a violation of the norms of the UN Charter and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Ukraine will take all appropriate measures to ensure diplomatic and legal response.
We will also inform our partners about the aggressive acts of the Russian Federation in the Sea of Azov. Such actions pose a threat for security of all states of the Black Sea Region, thus demand clear reaction of international community.”
3. Protesters Gathered at the Russian Embassy in Kiev
News of the naval standoff angered protesters in Ukraine. Groups gathered at the Russian embassy in Kiev to demonstrate, with some setting off smoke bombs and smoke flares.
The Ukrayinska Pravda online newspaper in Ukraine shared images from the scene. It was reported that protesters brought tires to the embassy and attempted to set them on fire.
4. The European Union & NATO Are Both Urging Russia & Ukraine to Show Restraint
The spokesperson for the European Union’s Foreign Affairs and Security Policy division, Maja Kocijancic, issued a statement urging both countries to show restraint. The statement reads:
“The tensions in the Azov Sea and Kerch Strait have increased dangerously today, after an incident this morning between Russian and Ukrainian naval vessels as the latter were attempting to pass through the Kerch strait as well as subsequent developments, including the closure of the strait for traffic by Russian authorities and reported seizures of Ukrainian vessels and shots being fired at them.
We expect Russia to restore freedom of passage at the Kerch strait and urge all to act with utmost restraint to de-escalate the situation immediately.
As clearly stated by the High Representative at the European Parliament recently, the events in the Sea of Azov are a demonstration of how instability and tensions are bound to rise when the basic rules of international cooperation are disregarded. The construction of the Kerch Bridge took place without Ukraine’s consent and constitutes another violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It has led, in parallel with the militarisation of the Azov Sea, to tougher controls on naval traffic in the strait. The European Union expects Russia to stop the inspections.
The EU does not and will not recognise the illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula by Russia.”
NATO has also called for both sides to calm down. A spokesperson released a statement calling for “restraint and de-escalation.”
Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley condemned Russia’s actions in front of the Security Council on Monday, November 26. She argued that by firing upon and seizing Ukrainian naval vessels, Russia had violated international law. Haley stated, “The United States will continue to stand with the people of Ukraine against the Russian aggression.” She added that “the United States would welcome a normal relationship with Russia. But outlaw actions like this one continue to make that impossible.”
5. Russia Controls Both Sides of the Kerch Strait Since the Annexation of Crimea
Both Russia and Ukraine have the right to travel and do business in the Sea of Azov, according to a bilateral treaty. But the Kremlin controls access due to its control of the Kerch Strait. The Strait is located between Crimea and mainland Russia.
Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. The United States and the the European Union have never recognized the takeover as legal. The United Nations has accused Russia of human rights violations against Crimean citizens.