Ukraine and the EU condemn Russia’s decision to restrict the navigation of foreign military and service ships.
According to a Russian news agency, Russia will restrict the navigation of foreign military and official ships in parts of the Black Sea until October, which will lead to a swift condemnation by Ukraine and the European Union.
The announcement on Friday comes amid tensions between Moscow and Kiev that have escalated in recent weeks following a surge in fighting between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Russia has assembled its troops along the northern and eastern borders of Ukraine and on the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014. This week Russia also conducted naval exercises in the Black Sea.
“From 9:00 p.m. on April 24 to 9:00 p.m. on October 31, the passage of foreign military ships and other state ships through the territorial sea of the Russian Federation will be stopped,” the state news agency RIA Novosti quoted a Ministry of Defense statement as saying on Friday say.
The restrictions affect the western tip of the Crimea, the southern coast of the peninsula from Sevastopol to Hurzuf and a “rectangle” in front of the Kerch peninsula near the Opuksky nature reserve.
A senior EU official described the move as “an extremely worrying development”.
The move contradicts the norms of free maritime traffic and international law and heightened tensions over “the military construction on the other side of the Russian border with Ukraine,” the official told the AFP news agency.
The official said the restrictions would increase tensions as Russia “takes unilateral action in an international space”.
One of the areas affected by Russia’s restrictions is near the Kerch Strait, which connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Azov and is vital for the export of grain and steel from Ukraine.
The Kerch Strait became a site of confrontation in 2018 after Russia seized three Ukrainian ships there for alleged violations of its territorial waters.
Ukraine was allowed to navigate the Kerch Strait with Russia until 2014, when Moscow claimed full control of the waterway after the annexation of Crimea.
The Kerch Strait is also home to an expensive 19 km long bridge connecting Crimea to mainland Russia, which Moscow opened in 2018.
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry on Thursday criticized the navigation restrictions, which were initially reported without details earlier this week, as “usurping the sovereign rights of Ukraine”.
It also stressed that, according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, “Russia must neither hinder nor stop transit through the international strait to ports in the Sea of Azov”.