Ukrainian Ambassador Yelchenko said the Ukrainians had done nothing wrong. "What are they claiming, that Ukrainian sailors committed a crime by crossing the Russian border?” he asked rhetorically. “Where is this border? It does not exist."

Ukraine-Russia Confrontation at Sea and at the UN

By —— Bio and Archives--November 27, 2018

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Ukraine-Russia Confrontation at Sea and at the UN
The United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting at Ukraine’s request on Monday to discuss Sunday’s maritime confrontation between vessels from Ukraine and Russia off the coast of the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula. The meeting followed a procedural vote rejecting Russia’s attempt to ram through its own meeting agenda as the first item of business. Russia wanted to get out in front and blunt Ukraine’s complaint of Russian aggression by portraying itself as the victim of Ukraine’s alleged invasion of Russian territorial waters.


The confrontation unfolded when two Ukrainian cutters and a tugboat heading from one Ukrainian port to another attempted to pass through a narrow sea passage known as the Kerch Strait. The strait is close to the Crimean Peninsula that separates the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. Russia would not let the ships pass, blocking the ships with a grounded tanker at a bridge Russia had constructed linking the Crimea Peninsula it had illegally annexed in 2014 with the Russian mainland. Not able to proceed to their destination because of Russia’s blockage, the Ukrainian cutters reportedly turned around. According to Ukraine’s account, Ukraine’s vessels were heading back to where they came from when Russia fired on the ships, injuring several sailors. Russia then seized the vessels, with 23 sailors on board.

Dmitry A. Polyanskiy, the First Deputy Permanent Representative of Russia to the UN, claimed in his remarks to the Security Council that Ukrainian naval vessels had “illegally” crossed into Russian territory, ignoring the efforts by Russian ships to warn them off. “Our country has never struck the first blow, but it can stand up for itself,” he told the Security Council. “The population of the Crimea, as well as other regions of Russia, is under reliable protection,” he declared. Using a colorful metaphor, Mr. Polyanskiy compared the discussion at the UN Security Council to “finding a black cat in a dark room.” He added, “You are condemning a Russian act of aggression but you are not talking about why we met for this meeting,” apparently referring to the meeting that Russia had wanted in vain to hold first accusing Ukraine of aggression.

Mr. Polyanskiy accused Ukraine of provoking the maritime incident, in part to use as a pretext for imposing martial law and thereby avoid having to hold presidential elections next March. “It’s clear - organize provocation and once again accuse Russia of everything, inflate his own ratings and put himself forward as the savior of the nation,” Mr. Polyanskiy said, referring to Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko’s reportedly low popularity. Ukraine’s parliament did approve martial law as recommended by President Poroshenko, but only for 30 days. 

Volodymyr Yelchenko, the Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the UN, came to the Security Council meeting prepared to present evidence that Russia was at fault. Ukraine has a right to enjoy free unhindered passage through the Kerch Strait under both a bilateral agreement between Ukraine and Russia and under international law, Ambassador Yelchenko said. Charging that Russia had violated Ukraine’s rights, he referred to a video showing one of the Ukrainian vessels, waiting to cross the Kerch Strait linking Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, being rammed by a Russian coast guard ship. He also read from excerpts of audio commands in which Russians were directed to shoot to kill. Ukraine’s ambassador called on the international community “to implement a new set of sanctions aimed at addressing the situation in the region, including against Russia’s Azov ports.” While he said Ukraine wants to settle the dispute peacefully, he warned that Ukraine was “ready to use all available means in exercising our right to self-defense.”

Nikki Haley, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, condemned Russia’s latest “arrogant act” impeding Ukraine’s lawful transit through the Kerch Strait as “no way for a law-abiding, civilized nation to act.” Ambassador Haley characterized Russia’s actions violating Ukraine’s sovereign rights and international law as “a part of a pattern of Russian behavior that includes the purported annexation of Crimea and abuses against countless Ukrainians in Crimea, as well as stoking conflict that has taken the lives of more than 10 thousand people in eastern Ukraine.” The U.S.‘s Crimea related sanctions against Russia will be maintained, she said. “Further Russian escalation of this kind will only make matters worse. It will further undermine Russia’s standing in the world. It will further sour Russia’s relations with the U.S. and many other countries. It will further increase tensions with Ukraine.”

Ambassador Haley made a point of noting that she had spoken to President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo before the Security Council meeting. Her statement to the Security Council, she said, “reflects the concerns at the highest level.”

President Trump himself was more restrained in his comment on the incident. He told reporters, “We’re not happy about it at all. Not at all. We’ve let our position be known, and we’re not happy about it. We don’t like what’s happening and hopefully it will get straightened out. I know Europe is not—they are not thrilled. They’re working on it too. We’re all working on it together.”


After the Security Council meeting adjourned, Russian First Deputy Permanent Representative Polyanskiy and Ukrainian Ambassador Yelchenko answered questions from the press. In response to my question, Mr. Polyanskiv did not outright deny the validity of the audio and video evidence Ambassador Yelchenko had mentioned to the Security Council. Instead, he said that Russia would be investigating the incident and report its findings. In response to another journalist’s question, Mr. Polyanskiv held out the possibility that Russia would prosecute a number of the detained Ukrainian sailors. He said that the sailors “were acting in provocation and they were conducting a crime according to the laws of the Russian Federation. Each and every sovereign country has [a] right to prosecute people who conduct crimes and unlawful acts on their territory, that’s our approach.” When asked about the Russian envoy’s claim, Ukrainian Ambassador Yelchenko said the Ukrainians had done nothing wrong. “What are they claiming, that Ukrainian sailors committed a crime by crossing the Russian border?” he asked rhetorically. “Where is this border? It does not exist.”

Assuming that President Trump and President Putin will still meet as planned at this week’s G-20 summit in Argentina, Ukraine is likely to be one of the top subjects discussed.


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Joseph A. Klein, CFP United Nations Columnist -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Joseph A. Klein is the author of Global Deception: The UN’s Stealth Assault on America’s Freedom.

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