Ukraine has increased its military presence in the Azov Sea region. Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council met on Sept. 7 and agreed to take a variety of steps to boost the country’s combat capabilities in the area, including the creation of a missile-equipped naval infantry group to counter potential amphibious attacks and naval shore bombardments. Ukraine’s Gurza-M-class armored artillery boats have been brought in to boost the naval component of the forces deployed in the region.
Russia and Ukraine enjoy free use of the Sea of Azov under the 2003 “Agreement between the Russian Federation and the Ukraine on cooperation in the use of the sea of Azov and the strait of Kerch.” The document is in place but it does not specify any precise border. The parties agree that the Sea of Azov and the Strait of Kerch are the internal waters of both Ukraine and Russia.
Talks have dragged on for a long time but have failed to produce a solution. Ukraine does not want to recognize Russia’s rights, which are based on the fact that Crimea has joined the Russian Federation. Moreover, Ukrainian authorities insist on their right to detain any ship traveling to or from Crimea without Kiev’s permission.
Ukraine is calling for the imposition of international sanctions against Russian Black Sea ports, due to what it calls the “blockade” of the Sea of Azov. It has already imposed punitive measures unilaterally. Tensions have heightened since March, when ships were detained and searched. On March 24, Ukrainian border guards stopped the Russian-flagged, Crimean-registered Nord fishing vessel in the Sea of Azov. The ship was hijacked. The crew members reported being interrogated and abused by Ukrainian authorities who held them accountable under domestic laws, not recognizing the crew as Russian citizens. The detained sailors were finally set free to return to Crimea without passports. Ukraine violated a number of international agreements and this marked the beginning of a campaign of provocative actions that has been waged ever since. Last month, the Russian Mekhanik Pogodin tanker was detained in the Ukrainian port of Kherson.