by David J. Bercuson
November 28, 2018
On Nov. 25, a limited but potentially very dangerous confrontation between three small Ukrainian ships and naval vessels of the Russian Federal Security Service (the FSB) took place in the Sea of Azov. The Ukrainian vessels were attempting to pass through the Kerch Strait, the only passage into the Sea of Azov. The Russians intercepted the Ukrainian ships, fired on them, rammed one of them, and forced them into the Russian-occupied port of Kerch on the eastern end of the Crimean Peninsula. The Russians took 24 Ukrainian sailors prisoner. Six had been wounded in the altercations. Both the Russians and the Ukrainians complained to the United Nations and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko declared a limited martial law in his country.
From a Canadian point of view, the entire episode of Russian interference in the passage of the Ukrainian ships was entirely illegal. Canada, along with most nations in the world and certainly all of NATO, does not recognize the 2014 Russian seizure and annexation of Crimea. At the same time, so-called “irregular” Russian forces (under the guise of Ukrainians who want to separate from Ukraine and join Russia) are fighting the Ukrainian army in the Donbass region. Canada, the U.S. and other countries are giving military aid, including lethal aid, to the Ukrainian government.
It is not hard to determine who took what action in this naval escalation and why. From the Russian side, Vladimir Putin has used the Ukraine as a punching bag for the past four years as he tightens his grip on his own nation and as he continues to build up the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as his nation’s bogeyman. Ukraine is not a NATO member and in the world of realpolitik, never will be. Nonetheless, Russia claims that Ukraine has acted as a puppet of NATO ever since the mass demonstrations at the Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Kiev, which on Feb. 18, 2014, forced pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych to resign and flee the country.