Thursday

21st Feb 2019

Russia mocks Western appeals to end Azov Sea crisis

  • Russian leader Vladimir Putin (c) observes military exercise this year (Photo: Kremlin.ru)

Russia has rejected Western calls to free Ukrainian ships and sailors and to unblock access to the Azov Sea, while trumpeting its alternative account of the crisis.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said on Monday (26 November), that Moscow did not care if the EU and US imposed extra sanctions over Sunday's naval incident.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • The Azov Sea (top right) - surrounded by Ukraine, Crimea, and Russia (Photo: Wikimedia)

"This [sanctions] has long ceased to concern us," he said, accusing some in the West of being "obsessed only with the desire to look for more and more new reasons for putting pressure on Russia".

He accused Ukraine of having "provoked" the incident "in the hope that the US and Europe, as always, recklessly, will take [its] side".

He also scoffed at EU calls for Russia to stop harassing commercial ships trying to reach Ukrainian ports in the region, saying Russia's inspections of the vessels were "in full compliance" with maritime treaties.

The Russian foreign ministry went further in its statement, saying that the attempt at "provoking a conflict with Russia" was carried out by Ukraine "in coordination with the United States and the European Union".

Ukraine, on Sunday, accused Russia of an unprovoked attack on three of its ships, including live fire which injured a handful of seamen.

Its account was fully corroborated by the US and EU.

"Russia rams Ukrainian vessel peacefully traveling toward a Ukrainian port. Russia seizes ships and crew and then accuses Ukraine of provocation," the US special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, said.

"I condemn Russian use of force in Azov Sea," Donald Tusk, the EU Council president, added.

But Russian authorities and state media said it was Ukraine which caused the situation, because its ships had performed "dangerous manoeuvres" in a zone that had been "temporarily closed" by Russia in a heavily-militarised area after Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

Elections

The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, added that Ukraine did it so that its president, Petro Poroshenko, could put off elections by imposing martial law because he was not doing very well in polls.

"Such a decision certainly smells of electoral intrigues," Peskov said.

For his part, Poroshenko announced the martial law move on Monday, pending parliamentary approval.

But his decree made no mention of elections, which are due in March 2019 - well after the 60-day period of his martial act is due to end.

The clash has raised alarm in Europe that the four-year old Ukrainian conflict could escalate into full-blown war, prompting snap meetings at the UN and Nato on Monday.

The leading EU powers - France, Germany, and the UK - voiced concern and urged Russia to free Ukraine's vessels, but did not threaten new sanctions, despite calls for such a move by Lithuania and Poland.

The German foreign minister, Heiko Mass, also said "we will mediate so that this conflict does not turn into a serious crisis".

But Ukraine's foreign minister, Pavlo Klimkin, said "Ukraine will seek to settle the row in a peaceful manner", even though its armed forces have been put on alert.

Flags and camo

Western experts and politicians also said the escalation was unlikely to go too far.

"Russia is ... shooting darts ahead of the 2019 [Ukrainian] presidential election that will make Poroshenko look weak," Roderich Kiesewetter, an MP from the ruling CDU party in Germany, said.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin needed a new international drama to shore up his falling popularity at home, Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny noted.

The "tragic irony" was that both Putin and Poroshenko were likely to exploit the crisis for "political posturing" by "draping themselves in flags and camouflage [uniforms]" for TV cameras, Mark Galeotti, a British expert on Russian affairs at the European University Institute in Florence, said.

Opinion

The Azov crisis will backfire

Vladimir Putin's nightmare of Petro Poroshenko's re-election will be even certain as Ukrainians rally around the flag. Next March's election is not just to elect a new president but also a commander-in-chief to deal with five more years of Putin.

News in Brief

  1. Tusk to back pro-EU candidates in Polish EP vote
  2. Germany rejects UK appeal on Saudi arms sales
  3. French senators decry 'dysfunction' on Macron security aide affair
  4. France to ban far-right groups over antisemitism
  5. Swedish climate activist to face Juncker in Brussels
  6. Swedish MEP calls for discussion on Orban in EPP
  7. EU countries back copyright reform
  8. Germany keeps EU commission in dark on Dieselgate

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  2. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  3. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  5. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  7. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  8. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups

Latest News

  1. Microsoft warns EU on election hack threat
  2. Brexit talks to continue after May-Juncker meeting
  3. Trump and Kurz: not best friends, after all
  4. EU commission appeals Dieselgate ruling
  5. 'No burning crisis' on migrant arrivals, EU agency says
  6. 'No evidence' ECB bond-buying helped euro economy
  7. Juncker: Orban should leave Europe's centre-right
  8. College of Europe alumni ask rector to cut Saudi ties

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us