– The incident of arresting a Russian tanker off the coast of Ukraine has its roots in the situation from the end of November 2018, when probably the same Russian unit took part in the blockade of access of the Ukrainian fleet to the Azov Sea. Conflict, however, has a wider background – said PhD Agnieszka Legucka, expert at the Polish Institute of International Affairs.
According to Agnieszka Legucka, the detention of a Russian tanker off the Ukrainian coast “has its roots in the situation from the end of November 2018”, when the same Russian unit took part in the blockade of access of the Ukrainian fleet to the Azov Sea. – The ship was stopped near the Izmail port in the Odessa region. Last year, the tanker, due to its length and structure, ideally suited as an element of blockade in the Kerch Strait linking the Crimean Peninsula with the territory of Russia. Last year, the Russians shelled Ukrainian ships, while stopping 24 Ukrainian sailors – she said. Legucka reminded that the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea in Hamburg ordered that Russia should immediately release 24 Ukrainian seamen kept in custody and hand over the cutters to the Ukrainian side. – The Russians labeled this tanker in a different way than it was in November 2018. In contrast to the Russians, the Ukrainians freed the Russian crew, stopping the ship as evidence in the case only – Legucka said.
The Security Service of Ukraine stressed that the detained Russian oil tanker Neyma was supposed to block the flow of Ukrainian fishing boats across the Straits of Kerch in 2018. – Ukrainians believe that the tanker near Izmail is the same that in 2018 blocked the departure from the Kerch Strait. This action itself is treated as incompatible with international law and a bilateral agreement between Russia and Ukraine – she said.
Legucka reminded that the Russians hinder access to Ukrainian ports on the Azov Sea since the illegal annexation of Crimea. – The most symbolic example of this was putting a bridge over the Kerch Strait into operation. The problem, however, is on the fact that the construction, and in principle the height of this bridge is adapted to the size of Russian units. Bigger, Ukrainian or European units have trouble passing under the bridge and getting to ports in the Sea of Azov. This is obstruction of navigation not only on one of the sides to the conflict (Ukraine), but also violation of the rights of other international partners. It is also worth noting that smaller Ukrainian units can flow through the bridge, though they are easier to stop – she stressed.
– The Sea of Azov is almost isolated from the world, but despite incidents, it is still transporting this route. – In addition to the incident from last year, maritime transport through the Kerch Strait takes place to a very limited extent. From 2014, the amount of cargo sent from the port of Mariupol dropped by 70 percent, and the neighboring port Berdiansk lost 50 percent. The overall losses of both and the entire region amounted to USD 400 million – she ended.