Ukraine-Russia Conflict


Steven Cochrane

Stats from the United Nations OCHA and the United Nations Refugee Agency

Steven Cochrane, Staff Writer

On November 25, 2018, three Ukrainian Navy vessels, two gunboats and a tugboat, were sailing from the city of Odessa to the Port of Mariupol, in the Sea of Azov, a shared border region between Russia and Ukraine. They were stopped by Russian Federal Security Service border guards at the Kerch Strait, the entrance to the Sea of Azov.

A standoff followed, and when a Russian vessel rammed the Ukrainian tug, the ships turned around, back to Odessa. It was then that the Russian vessels opened fire on the retreating Ukrainian gunboats, injuring 3 sailors, and ultimately resulting in the capture of all three of the Ukrainian ships and their crews, a total of 24 sailors.

The Ukraine-Russia conflict started in 2014, when Russia informally annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and started financially supporting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula. The annexation caused riots in the Ukrainian capital city of Kyiv, where citizens clashed with the pro-Russian government for months. The world responded to the Russian aggression with harsh economic sanctions on Russia, making the value of the Russian ruble plummet.

The problem that these sanctions cause when it comes to the capture of the sailors in the Kerch Strait is that alliances, like NATO and the United Nations, don’t know how to punish Russia for their continued aggressive behavior. Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s current president, has urged NATO to send more ships to the Black Sea and cross into the Sea of Azov to send a message to Russia. NATO has refused to send ships to Ukraine’s aid, however, saying that they “Don’t want to increase tensions in the area,” adding that, “They aren’t willing to start a war with Russia just for Ukraine.”

So what was Russia’s view on the issue?

The Kremlin said the incident was a “Provocation…in the run-up to the Ukrainian presidential election,” Russia supports this claim by the fact that Poroshenko has a very low popularity rating, at about 10%, with nearly 50% of the Ukrainian electorate saying they would not, under any circumstances, vote for him in the coming election, according to Kyiv Post newspaper. The Kremlin added that Poroshenko’s decision to impose martial law on Russia-bordered provinces over a small “border incident” was extreme, citing that it wasn’t even imposed at the outbreak of the conflict in 2014.

According to Russian state media, Moscow has sent a battalion of Surface-to-Air-Missiles to northern Crimea, and that they also plan to build a new missile defense system in the area. The Kremlin says that this military response is appropriate, as the Ukrainian ships had crossed into Russian territorial waters. Ukraine dismissed this claim, however, and published a map of GPS coordinates showing that the Ukrainian ships were in neutral waters at the time of the incident, just over 12 nautical miles from the Crimean coast. The GPS coordinates then must bring into consideration whether or not Russia may have violated international law.