Russia has closed off the Kerch Strait – the strait connecting the Black Sea and Azov Sea – for non-military ships in retaliation to what the Kremlin calls trespassing into Russia’s territorial waters by three Ukrainian Navy boats, according to Alexey Volkov, general director of Russian state enterprise Crimean Sea Ports, Russian news agency TASS reported on Nov. 25.

Volkov said that the strait has been closed “for security reasons.”

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The incident happened early in the morning on Nov. 25. The Ukrainian Navy reported that Russian coast guard patrol ship rammed a Ukrainian Navy tugboat that was crossing the Azov Sea en route from an Odesa port to Mariupol accompanying two small artillery boats.

Ukrainian officials called the actions an aggressive attack in contravention of the United Nations Convention of the Law of Sea and of the 2003 Ukraine-Russia treaty on shared use of the Azov Sea and Kerch Strait.

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The Russian security service claimed that Ukrainian boats had illegally entered Russian territorial waters, a 12-mile strip along the Russian coast, and ignored Russian coast guards, TASS reported.

Russian authotiries have blocked the passage under the Kerch bridge with a freight carrier on Nov. 25, 2018. (Kerch-Info)

Russian authorities have сalled the incident “a provocation from Ukrainian side” and blocked the Kerch Strait with what is reported to be a large freight carrier. They have also sent three patrol boats, two military Ka-52 helicopters, and two Su-25 fighter jets to the scene, Kerch-Info website reported. But the Ukrainian Navy press service claims that three Russian vessels passed without difficulty while the Ukrainian ones have been waiting for hours.

As Ukrainian boats were crossing the Azov Sea, Russian coast guard ship Don struck the Ukrainian tugboat Yani Kapu damaging its main engine, shell plating on the hull and guard rail.

Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov shared a video allegedly showing the ramming of Ukrainian tugboat by a Russian coast guard ship on Nov.25. A male voice is heard ordering “Hit him on the right, f****! Squeeze him!” 

Andrii Klymenko, chief editor of the Black Sea News website, wrote that the Russian Don was two times larger and five times heavier than the Ukrainian Yani Kapu.

“Don has sustained a 1-meter hull breach. It is worth mentioning that Don is a large ocean tugboat armed with cannons,” Klymenko posted on Facebook on Nov. 25.

Dmytro Kuleba, permanent representative of Ukraine to the Council of Europe, has called for support from Ukraine’s allies as Russia is trying to force Ukraine out of the Azov Sea. “The latest events show that Russia is provoking Ukraine, seeking war at sea. This is a new front of Russian aggression against Ukraine,” he wrote on Twitter on Nov. 25.

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“The time of expressing deep concerns has passed. Ukraine is doing its job. But we need clear diplomatic and security actions and sanction from our partners in order to discourage Russia from the escalation.”

The Ukrainian government has refused to renounce the 2003 treaty with Russia on the shared use of the Azov Sea and Kerch Strait, although the Kremlin has been violating the agreement since it waged a war in eastern Donbas and occupied the Crimean peninsula in 2014.

In May, Russia illegally opened a bridge across the Kerch Strait connecting Crimea with mainland Russia. Since then, citing security measures, Russian coast guards have been stopping and carrying out unsanctioned inspections of Ukrainian and foreign cargo ships sailing to Ukrainian ports on the Azov Sea.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ukraine issued a statement on Nov. 25 saying the nation will take all the necessary measures of diplomatic and international legal response.

“We immediately inform partners about Russia’s aggressive actions in the Azov Sea. Such actions pose a threat to the security of all states of the Black Sea region, and therefore require a clear response from the international community.”

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Read more: Ukraine loses control of Azov Sea to Russia

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