Russia’s Defense Ministry has announced that it will close the waters of the Kerch Strait, which connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, for warships and non-commercial vessels from other countries starting next week until October 2021.
The move comes amid rising tensions in the region, with G7 countries demanding that Russia end provocations and de-escalate tensions in Ukraine.
Earlier this week, Russia warned the United States to stay away from the area “for its own good” after the Biden administration said it was sending two destroyers to the Black Sea.
Reports say the Biden administration withdrew the two ships from the Black Sea after fighting intensified between Ukrainian and Russian-backed separatists.
As a result of Russia’s latest move, all Ukrainian non-commercial and military vessels will be banned from passing through the Kerch Strait for six months, a move that effectively blocks the Ukrainian ports of Mariupol and Berdyansk and prevents ships from reaching the two cities to provide support.
“Russia has escalated its escalation at sea,” the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “The behavior of the Russian side indicates the absence of intention on its part to refuse to continue aggression against Ukraine using military and hybrid methods.”
In 2003, Ukraine and Russia signed a cooperation treaty for the use of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait, agreeing to share the waters in that region. The treaty allowed all Ukrainian and Russian ships to pass through the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov, and enter their destination ports.
“These actions of the Russian Federation are a new attempt, in violation of the norms and principles of international law, to usurp the sovereign rights of Ukraine as a coastal state, as it is Ukraine that has the right to regulate navigation in these Black Sea waters,” the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said in a statement released Thursday.
“Moreover, this step is a flagrant violation of the right to freedom of navigation, guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. In accordance with the convention, the Russian Federation should not prevent or interfere with the transit passage through the international strait to ports in the Sea of Azov,” the statement said.