October 30, 2018

Strengthening Ukraine's defense system and military presence in the Azov Sea region

Since 2014, Russia has been building up its military presence in the Azov Sea. Also, the Kremlin began to detain foreign vessels that are sailing to Ukrainian ports along the Sea of Azov, actually blocking this trade channel. In particular, in May 2017, Russia, under the excuse of the construction of the Kerch Bridge, unilaterally declared restrictions on the parameters for passing ships sailing from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov and vice versa. After the bridge had been put into operation, the number of delays and inspections increased by times.

October 24, 2018, Russia brought two patrol boats “Syktyvkar” and “Kizliar” into the Azov Sea. Apart from these ships, Russia already has a group of more than 120 warships and boats there.

The Kremlin is actively preparing for escalation. September 24, 2018, under the order of the Commander of the Southern Military District Colonel-General Dvornikov, the 4th Army of the Air Force and Air Defense was suddenly received warning order. For a week it had unplanned trainings. In particular, re-deployment of a tactical aviation squadron from Rostov region to military airfields of the Crimea. The Su-30 fighters and Su-34 bombers had been striking conventional targets at sea, as well as mastering an “air battle with an up to 30 planes aviation grouping of a conventional enemy”. The trainings also involved about 10 warships from the Black Sea Fleet, more than 1 thousand military servicemen and more than 50 long-range, tactical and attack aircrafts.

The situation worries Kiev's European partners. October 25, 2018 the European Parliament passed a resolution according to which new sanctions would be imposed on Russia in the event of an escalation in the Azov Sea region. It also became known that in December 2018 within the framework of the meeting of the EU-Ukraine Association Council, Federica Mogherini will discuss this issue with the Ukrainian leadership.

Due to the Russians' provocative activity, Kyiv is taking measures to strengthen the defense system and increase Ukraine's military presence in the Azov Sea region:

  • On 25 September 2018, the Naval Group of the Ukrainian Armed Forces completed its re-deployment into the port of Mariupol where is planned to create a military base.
  • On 10 October 2018, the Mariupol Marine Coast Guards together with the tactical aviation of the Air Force, tank units, artillery and mechanized companies of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and other law enforcement agencies mastered the repulsion of the enemy's sea-borne landing attack.
  • October 12 2018, the President of Ukraine signed Decree No. 320/2018 “On the Decision of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine from October 12, 2018” On Urgent Measures for the Protection of National Interests in the South and East of Ukraine, in the Black and Azov Seas and in the Kerch Strait”.
  • October 19 2018, the repaired commander ship “Donbas” was put back into service.
  • October 22 2018, the government returned the Azov Shipyard into the state’s ownership.

But despite Ukraine's efforts, so far Russia is superior, and the existing forces are not enough to defend Ukraine's national interests.

Ukrainian ports have suffered more than a billion hryvnias losses due to Russia's actions in the Azov Sea, said Volodymyr Omelyan, Minister of Infrastructure of Ukraine, to the correspondent of the “Current Time” TV channel (Radio Liberty and Voice of America).

Formally, unfortunately, nobody can ban Russia from checking ships. This is enshrined in the Agreement on cooperation between Ukraine and Russia in the Azov Sea and in the Kerch Strait from 2003. According to it, the Sea of Azov “is historically the inland sea of Russia and Ukraine”, which gives the two countries the right to freely navigate throughout its waters.


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