The European Union is calling for de-escalation of the situation in the Azov Sea after Russia seized three Ukrainian naval vessels off the coast of Crimea, which included open fire that wounded a few sailors. The tensions began on Sunday (25 November) after Russia forced three Ukrainian ships from entering the Sea of Azov by putting a cargo ship under the bridge that Russian unlawfully constructed across the Kerch Strait connecting mainland Russia and Moscow-annexed Crimea. The move is part of the ongoing militarization of the Azov Sea – a bullet point on the agenda of the EU ministerial meeting last week.
Meanwhile, Russia’s FSB security service commented yesterday (26 November) that its border patrol boats had captured the Ukrainian naval ships in the Black Sea and used arms to make them stop. The FSB said it had to act because the vessels had “illegally” entered its territorial waters, attempted “illegal actions”, and allegedly ignored warnings to stop while manoeuvring dangerously. The Kremlin says that the territorial waters of the annexed Crimea peninsula are Russian territorial waters.
Ukraine sees the latest developments as an attack on its territorial integrity and denies that its ships did anything wrong. With relations being cold following the annexation of Crimea, the incident might push both countries towards a wider conflict. The recent Russian actions are seen as a Russian strategy to block Ukrainian vessels from the Azov Sea and international shipping and turning it into a military hub. Moscow has been moving its warships from the Caspian Sea to the Azov Sea after it was assured by the remaining four Caspian littoral states that they would not permit foreign military presence.