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Putin acts as if Sea of Azov is 'Russian lake'

Author : Sueddeutsche Zeitung

The annexation of Crimea, the construction of the bridge, the blockade — all these actions violated the international law. Nevertheless, after the incident, the sides began to discuss who and to what extent is responsible for it, who benefited, and what are the ways out of the current situation
22:38, 12 December 2018

Reuters

When nothing else can solve the situation, we turn to humor. Then what happened in the Kerch Strait at the end of November can be described as follows: Ukrainian ships are in Ukrainian territorial waters and move from one Ukrainian port to another - and thus provoke Russia. It was written by someone under the name Darth Putin. He has millions of followers on Twitter.

This description of the situation is pretty much true. Three ships of the Ukrainian Navy were going to pass through the strait into the Sea of Azov - the inland sea between Russia and Ukraine. Both countries have the right for free navigation in this area, in particular in accordance with the agreement concluded in 2003. However, after the annexation of Crimea, Russia takes the strait between the Crimea and the mainland exclusively as its territorial waters. It built a bridge over it, and now it only needs one tanker to block the strait and block the Sea of Azov.

The annexation of Crimea, the construction of the bridge, the blockade — all these actions violated the international law. Nevertheless, after the incident, the sides began to discuss who and to what extent is responsible for it, who benefited, and what are the ways out of the current situation. Recently, there was an initiative to send representatives of the OSCE not only to the east of Ukraine, where the war is still going on with the secret participation of Moscow, but also to the Sea of Azov.

However, this is unlikely to force Moscow to make concessions. Vladimir Putin, as usual, will justify his policy of violence by self-defense. Responsibility for the recent incident as well as for the war in eastern Ukraine he laid on the "party of war" in Kyiv. The dispute over the INF Treaty, according to him, is the problem of the United States, which allegedly has long been planning to produce new medium-range nuclear missiles, which are banned. “How will we respond? We will do the same thing,” Putin says on this occasion and refutes the allegations that Russia has already installed similar missiles on its own.

If the president had yielded to the pressure of the West, whether in the situation with the Sea of Azov or around the INF Treaty, it would have seemed a manifestation of weakness, said Russian foreign policy expert Vladimir Frolov. For Putin, there would be “serious domestic political risks”. The Russian economy is undergoing stagnation, there is no talk of reforms, and the population is hostile to those being carried out. They are dissatisfied with the increase in the retirement age and the rising gas prices. In Crimea, Putin can only win: according to the state research center, 93% of respondents believe that the Russian border guards acted correctly. 79% supported their president and found the events in the Sea of Azov a provocation from Ukraine. Putin considers the further aggravation of relations with the West to be mpre preferable than to make any concessions, Frolov said.

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Perhaps the Ukrainian ships themselves were counting on a collision. It is certain to find out whether they were detained by Russians in Russian or in international waters. But they had already turned around, not reaching the bridge, and were moving back across the Black Sea. Why did the Russians nevertheless take these ships to board? There are also several theories about this. Perhaps it was just an overly harsh reaction, probably revenge for the detention of the Russian fishing vessel "Nord" by the Ukrainian side in March. Perhaps the reason was the fact that in September, two Ukrainian patrol boats successfully checked if they could pass through the strait without difficulty. Ukrainian media have presented this as a small victory for Kyiv. In addition, Kyiv announced building of a naval base in Berdyansk on the shores of the Azov Sea, and the NATO ships could enter it. Such a visit seems unrealistic, because it would require permission from Russia, so that the ships could hardly get into the Sea of Azov by peaceful means. Nevertheless, Moscow obviously perceived the idea as a provocation. “Russia has the strongest army in the region,” said Russian military expert Adeksandr Golts. “Sooner or later, Kyiv will have to recognize this reality. Although Ukraine has the right not to follow the Russian rules and seek help from the international community, this is a risky strategy,” he added.

“Maybe in the coming months we will have to observe a whole series of similar conflicts,” suggested Russian political analyst Tatyana Stanovaya. Ukraine, in her opinion, will continue to overstep the "red line". Russia, in turn, will react to it in the way it used to, “too sharply.” The expert compared this country with a person who had voluntarily settled in someone else’s house and believed that the house really belonged to him. And every time the real owners require him to leave the house, he considers himself insulted. And the point here is not that Russia is weak militarily, but that it does not have the ability to react correctly and legally.

Russia is already behaving as if the Sea of Azov is its inland lake. This became possible after the annexation of Crimea - so Russia gradually, step by step, strengthens its position in the region. Having installed its air defense systems on the peninsula, which received additional reinforcement after the incident near Kerch, it controls the airspace over a large part of the Black Sea. Will the OSCE monitors really be able to make the navigation in the Kerch Strait safe? Indeed, in the east of Ukraine, they should monitor compliance with the Minsk agreements - but they are not implemented.

Read original article at Süeddeutsche Zeitung

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