The tense situation in the Sea of Azov have finally spilled over following a gradual rise in tensions over the past six months. Today, Russia blocked all maritime traffic beneath the Crimea Bridge which spans the Kerch Strait. The strait is the only passage into the Sea of Azov. The reason behind the closure was the approach of Ukrainian naval vessels. Kiev failed to give notice that the ships were planning to use the strait, according to Russia. The Ukrainian government denied this and called the Russian move “an act of aggression aimed at deliberately escalating the situation in the waters of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait.”
The incident began when a Russian coast guard vessel allegedly rammed a Ukrainian tug boat. The tug was escorting a pair of Ukrainian Navy artillery boats from Odessa to Mariupol. Accusations were traded between Kiev and Moscow. After the incident between the ships, Russia closed the strait, and seized the Ukrainian ships shortly thereafter.
An agreement signed in 2003 gives both Russia and Ukraine rights to the Sea of Azov, though Russia controls both sides of the strait. Throughout most of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, there has been no overt action by Russia to restrict Ukrainian seaborne commerce in and around Crimea, and the eastern Black Sea. That policy appears to have come to an end today.
The Kerch Strait is closed for business.
Author’s Note: I’ll post more about this tomorrow, and as events play out through the week.