Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said that his country would like to see the European Union and the European Investment Bank (EIB) engaged in efforts to avoid the “suffocation” of its Azov Sea shore. The Azov Sea is a strategic territory coveted by Moscow. Russia has recently constructed a bridge across the Kerch strait, which Kyiv considers unlawful. Moscow moreover put in place controls over the international ships crossing the strait and Kyiv suspects that Russia seeks to get control of the Ukrainian shore of the Azov Sea in order to connect it to the territories of Donbas that pro-Russian separatists are already in control of.
Mr. Klimkin said that Russians “have been trying to destabilize the Ukrainian south, understandably because of the closeness to Crimea and because of their plans to engage in further creeping occupation” also on the Ukrainian shore of the Azov Sea. The adequate response, in his opinion, should be first to boost security along the Azov seashore and make sure that Ukraine was discussing all the steps with NATO and EU. Second, Mr. Klimkin said, the EU ought to issue a statement regarding freedom of navigation, under the International Law of the Seas Convention on the Kerch Strait and the Azov Sea.
The Ukrainian leader, however, recognized that some EU countries were “still afraid” to take these measures. He also cautioned that what had happened in the Azov Sea could be easily replicated in the Baltic Sea especially in the context of the high stakes of the Nord Stream pipeline. Third, Mr. Klimkin also said that Brussels should work together with his government on constructing infrastructure in the Azov Sea region, to connect it better with the rest of Ukraine. “What the Russians have been doing is an attempt to suffocate Donbas”, he concluded. He said that in order to prevent this scenario, infrastructure should be built there – not just port facilities but also roads, railways and the entire logistics ecosystem.