For today, there are no plans to let the ships of Ukraine’s Navy pass through the Kerch Strait. The new Chief of the General Staff of Ukrainian Armed Forces Ruslan Khomchak said this in an interview with BBC News Ukraine.
“As for the passage, today this issue is not on agenda. We do not have that many Ukrainians so we could risk them like this," the message says.
Khomchak noted that they were not going to give up Ukrainian positions in the Azov Sea.
“All decisions will be made with due consideration. I cannot say that we will go straight through the Kerch Strait tomorrow. First, we have to deal with what has happened, because the process is not completed. Our sailors, unfortunately, are in the cells of the Russian Federation,” the Chief of the General Staff added.
As it was reported earlier, on May 25, the Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) ordered Russia to release and repatriate to Ukraine all 24 sailors and three naval vessels, seized through military force off Crimea’s coast exactly six months earlier (see EDM, November 26, 2018), in the “Kerch incident” with world-wide reverberations. The ITLOS decision (Itlos.org, May 25, 2019) represents a significant success for Ukraine and for international law. But it is only an initial step in a litigation that Russia has the power to drag out indefinitely or (less likely) to block outright.
Russia does not recognize any jurisdiction other than its own in the Kerch Strait, nor in nearby areas of the Black Sea that are legally Ukrainian but taken over by Russia following its seizure of Crimea. In a show of defiance, the Moscow City Court promptly ruled to prolong the detention of the 24 Ukrainian sailors by another two months, pending further investigation and trial (TASS, May 27), although ITLOS had prescribed that the trial be suspended and the sailors allowed to return to Ukraine “immediately.” The sailors are charged, under Russia’s criminal code, with aggravated illegal crossing of Russia’s maritime state border, although no country but Russia recognizes such a border.