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The conflict between Russia and Ukraine in the Kerch Strait: what are the first consequences and who broke the law

Brief chronology of events, the first reactions of countries and the explanation of contracts.

Interception of the ships of Ukraine in the Black Sea. Photos of the press service of the Border Department of the FSB in the Crimea.

What happened between Russia and Ukraine at sea borders

On the morning of November 25, three Ukrainian ships of the Naval Forces of Ukraine were sent from the port of Odessa to the port of Mariupol of the Azov Sea. We are talking about two armored artillery boats “Berdyansk” and “Nikopol”, as well as the tug “Yana Kapu.” During this journey, vessels must cross the Strait of Kerch.

Russian version

According to the Federal Security Service of Russia, the Ukrainian ships “illegally” crossed the border, or rather, illegally entered the temporarily closed water area of ​​Russia’s territorial waters . By this, according to the Russian special services, Ukraine violated the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea – an agreement on the right of states to security in the maritime space. In the first press release, the FSB did not mention the tug ram, but noted that “the ships are dangerously maneuvering and do not obey the legitimate demands of the Russian authorities.”

To detain the Ukrainian seamen, frontier guards opened fire on vessels. One of the Russian boats rammed a Ukrainian tug – a video from the bridge of a Russian vessel spread on social networks on November 25 (cautiously, there are many obscene words in the video) .

According to the Russian special services, the border guards assisted three wounded Ukrainian soldiers . Captured ships delivered to the Russian port in Kerch.

Map ” Kommersant “

Ukraine version

According to Ukraine, she had notified Russia in advance about the “planned transfer” of vessels from Odessa to Mariupol. On the day of the conflict, the boat “Berdyansk” also contacted the FSB border service and seaports to announce its intention to cross the Kerch Strait. But the dispatchers did not respond.

According to the country’s Navy, the border ships of Russia “carried out openly aggressive actions” against Ukrainian ships, including the raid tug raider. “The occupants’ dispatching service refuses to ensure the right of freedom of navigation, guaranteed by international agreements,” the Ukrainian authorities noted . An adviser to the president of Ukraine noted that the Ukrainian ships returned fire in a “2 to 10 ratio”.

Ukrainian Navy announced six wounded soldiers . According to the Ukrainian General Staff, with the courts, where there were 23 people, “the connection has been lost and blocked.”

Who is right – Russia or Ukraine

The Azov and Black Sea links the Kerch Strait. Ukrainian ships sailing from Odessa to Mariupol need to sail through the Kerch Strait. From 2018 – under the Crimean bridge, which was built by Russia. But from the reports of the FSB, it is still not clear where exactly the Ukrainians violated the Russian border. Therefore, at first glance, it is not clear which documents should be considered when determining who is right.

The media often pay attention to the cooperation agreement, but it doesn’t seem important here.

Some media and users of social networks have become incorrect to interpret the events due to inaccurate statements of the authorities. As evidence of the correctness of one of the parties, they often cite an agreement on cooperation between Russia and Ukraine, which regulates movements along the Sea of ​​Azov and the Kerch Strait.

The treaty entered into force on April 23, 2004, and was signed by the presidents of both countries, Leonid Kuchma and Vladimir Putin. It is still valid and published , for example, on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia. Its essence is as follows:

  • The Sea of ​​Azov and the Kerch Strait are historically considered to be the inland waters of the Russian Federation and Ukraine;
  • Merchant ships and warships , as well as other government ships flying the flag of the Russian Federation or Ukraine, operated for non-commercial purposes, enjoy freedom of navigation in the Azov Sea and the Kerch Strait
  • Disputes between the parties relating to the interpretation and application of this treaty are resolved through consultation and negotiation, as well as other peaceful means of the choice of the parties;

However, commentators often confuse the concepts of territorial and inland waters. The first is different from the second, including recognition of the right of innocent passage of foreign courts. Russia accuses Ukraine of crossing territorial waters – a strip of 12 nautical miles (22.2 kilometers) from the coastline over which state sovereignty is established.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]After 2014 and the annexation of the Crimea, the situation with the territorial waters near the peninsula became controversial. The answer to the question of ownership of the waters off the coast of Crimea depends on whose territory the peninsula is considered to be. Ukraine, the European Union and the United States did not recognize the annexation of the Crimea and called it an annexation.[/perfectpullquote]

The editor-in-chief of Echo of Moscow, Alexey Venediktov, after consulting lawyers on the law of the sea, also drew attention to the difference between internal and territorial waters. That is, the FSB accused Ukraine not of the very fact of entering the Kerch Strait, but of entering the territorial waters – a strip of 12 nautical miles (22.2 kilometers) around the Crimean peninsula, the journalist suggested. In this case, the relations of countries are governed by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The conflict in the Kerch Strait is regulated by the UN Convention – and both sides are indirectly right about it.

The FSB accused Ukraine of violating Articles 19 and 21 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea . The first explains what a peaceful passage of a ship is and what is considered a violation of the “good order and security” of a coastal state. The second article is not directly related to the situation and only regulates the laws of the coastal state to a peaceful passage.

At the same time, the Convention allows warships to transit and peacefully through the territorial waters of another state without warning . However, according to the FSB, Russia temporarily closed the water area. And the UN permits to take such measures in the territorial sea: the state may need to repair some system or conduct exercises.

If one state temporarily restricts traffic, the other must request the right to go to its own courts. According to the FSB, Ukraine, for some reason, did not turn to Russia in advance. The Ukrainian Navy claims to have sent a notification to the port authorities in Kerch and the Russian Coast Guard, but did not receive a response.

In addition to the statements of departments, the data of both parties on the notification is not confirmed by anything. Also, it is not yet clear at what part of the sea area the Ukrainian ships were located and what was the exact trajectory of their movement. Earlier, Ukraine successfully used such an order of peaceful passage, for example, in September .

How did the authorities react – possible martial law and statements about provocations


  • Russia opened a criminal case on violation of the state border by three Ukrainian courts;
  • The Russian Foreign Ministry declared a “strong protest” because of the “gross violation” of the rules of peaceful passage by Ukrainian ships. The Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the Ukrainian authorities “bandits from the main road”. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the actions of Ukraine “unequivocal provocation,” and noted that Russia “is no longer concerned about possible sanctions”;
  • Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the conflict in the Kerch Strait “a very dangerous provocation” that requires “special investigation”;
  • Vladimir Putin has not yet commented on the conflict, but, according to Peskov, “he is aware of.”


  • The SBU opened a criminal case on the fact of Russia’s actions in the Kerch Strait under the article on initiating and waging a war of aggression;
  • The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry called for the introduction of new sanctions against Russia, which are needed “to deter the aggressor,” and asked the partners to provide military assistance;
  • President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko signed a decree on the introduction of martial law for 60 days. The Verkhovna Rada must approve or reject it at a meeting on November 26;
  • Ukraine led the armed forces in full combat readiness. At the same time Poroshenko said earlier that martial law does not imply immediate mobilization.


  • The UN Security Council will hold an urgent meeting on November 26 at the request of Russia;
  • The European Union called on Russia and Ukraine to de-escalate in resolving the conflict. The EU expects Russia to restore “free passage through the Kerch Strait”;
  • NATO spokesman Oana Lungesku also called on both countries to show restraint: “NATO is closely following developments in the Sea of ​​Azov and the Kerch Strait, and we maintain contacts with the Ukrainian authorities.”
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