EU Avoids Mention of Sanctions Over Kerch Strait Incident
The European Union's member nations have elected not to threaten Russia with new sanctions over the seizure of three Ukrainian Navy vessels near Kerch Strait last weekend. In a statement, top EU diplomat Federica Mogherini said only that the European Union was "dismayed" by Russia's use of force to seize Ukrainian military vessels, and described it as "unacceptable." The statement indicated that the EU will "act appropriately, in close coordination with its international partners" in formulating its response.
Mogherini also petitioned Russia to respect international law regarding the freedom of navigation. Russia asserts that a sovereign "state border" lies between the Strait and the waters of the Black Sea - a demarcation that was also claimed by the Soviet Union, which considered the Sea of Azov to be part of its internal waters. Over the past several years, Russian border forces have instituted inspections and temporary closures for merchant shipping through the waterway, prompting Ukraine to file arbitral claims.
24 Ukrainian sailors were detained in the altercation, including three who were hospitalized with "soft tissue injuries." Mogherini called for their release.
Russia accuses Ukraine of "provocation"
In remarks released Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin contended that Kiev orchestrated a "provocation" by ordering its naval forces to transit through Kerch Strait, an exercise which is protected by a 15-year-old bilateral treaty between Moscow and Kiev.
Putin also defended Russia's use of force to seize the Ukrainian vessels. "What were [Russia's forces] supposed to do?" Putin said. "They were fulfilling their military duty."
Separately Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov accused the Trump administration of "inciting" Ukrainian actions. "I think it reflects Washington's tendency to indulge any and all action taken by the Kiev regime, even inciting them to provocative actions," he told media Wednesday.