From the Strait of Hormuz to the Black Sea, Tanker Seizure appears to be the latest rage. At the current pace I’m expecting to see it become an Olympic sport in time for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo. This time it was Ukraine seizing a Russian oil tanker in the port of Izmail in the Odessa region of Ukraine. Ukrainian security services seized the Nemya, a Russian-flagged tanker that it suspects was one of the ships that took part in the blocking of the Kerch Strait in November, 2018. That incident led to Russia seizing three Ukrainian ships and nearly spilled over into a much larger conflict.
The Russian government was fast to respond, calling the seizure illegal and warning of consequences should the Russian crew be taken hostage. Ukrainian security services allowed the crew members to depart the ship and leave the country, stating that the sailors had no part in the November incident.
This action comes at a time when the new Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has been working to arrange a prisoner exchange with Russia to get back the Ukrainian sailors apprehended by Russia back in November. It is too early to suggest just how severely today’s seizure will impact the effort, though it is fair to assume there will be a visible effect.
The detention of the Nemya marks the first major incident between Russia and Ukraine since Zelenskiy’s election in April. Despite the fact that the summer months have regularly been a time when fighting escalates in Eastern Ukraine, this summer has been relatively quiet so far. Zelenskiy’s geopolitical skills will be put to the test in the coming days and weeks as the drama involving the Nemya, and the Ukrainian sailors still in Russian custody plays out.