Drama in the Kerch Strait: teasing the Russian bear By Pepe Escobar

27 November 2018 — Asia Times

The West is complaining about Russian ‘aggression’ but the incident looks more like a cheap ploy by a desperate Ukrainian president and US conservatives keen to undermine Trump’s next pow-wow with Putin

Ukrainian nationalists hold flares during a rally outside parliament on Monday to demand that Kiev break its agreement with Russia on cooperation in the use of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait and impose martial law in the country. The previous day Russia seized three Ukrainian naval ships by force in a strait near Moscow-annexed Crimea. Photo: AFP/ STR / NurPhoto

Ukrainian nationalists hold flares during a rally outside parliament on Monday to demand that Kiev break its agreement with Russia on cooperation in the use of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait and impose martial law in the country. The previous day Russia seized three Ukrainian naval ships by force in a strait near Moscow-annexed Crimea. Photo: AFP/ STR / NurPhoto

When the Ukrainian navy sent a tugboat and two small gunboats on Sunday to force their way through the Kerch Strait into the Sea of Azov, it knew in advance the Russian response would be swift and merciless.

After all, Kiev was entering waters claimed by Russia with military vessels without clarifying their intent.

The intent, though, was clear; to raise the stakes in the militarization of the Sea of Azov.

The Kerch Strait connects the Sea of Azov with the Black Sea. To reach Mariupol, a key city in the Sea of Azov very close to the dangerous dividing line between Ukraine’s army and the pro-Russian militias in Donbass, the Ukrainian navy needs to go through the Kerch.

Yet since Russia retook control of Crimea via a 2014 referendum, the waters around Kerch are de facto Russian territorial waters.

Kiev announced this past summer it would build a naval base in the Sea of Azov by the end of 2018. That’s an absolute red line for Moscow. Kiev may have to trade access to Mariupol, which, incidentally, also trades closely with the People’s Republic of Donetsk. But forget about military access.

And most of all, forget about supplying a Ukrainian military fleet in the port of Berdyansk capable of sabotaging the immensely successful, Russian-built Crimean bridge.

This video grab taken from footage of local media Kerch Info on November 25, 2018 shows Russian aircraft flying over the Crimean Bridge that spans the Kerch Strait, a narrow strip that links the Azov and Black seas, as a Russian ship blocks the strait, after Russia fired on and then seized three Ukrainian ships on November 25, accusing them of illegally entering its waters in the Sea of Azov. - Kiev and Moscow were facing their worst crisis in years on November 26 as Ukraine and its Western allies demanded the release of three ships fired on and seized by Russia near Crimea. Ukraine's military was on high alert and parliament was meeting to vote on a request to impose martial law from President Poroshenko who accused Moscow of a "new phase of aggression." (Photo by - / KERCH INFO / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / KERCH INFO" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

Russian aircraft fly over the Crimean Bridge that spans the Kerch Strait as a Russian ship blocks the strait, after Russia fired on and seized three Ukrainian ships on Sunday, accusing them of illegally entering its waters. Photo: Kerch Info / AFP

Predictably, Western media has been complaining again about “Russian aggression”, a gift that keeps on giving. Or blaming Russia for its over-reaction, overlooking the fact that Ukraine’s incursion was with military vessels, not fishing boats. Russian resolve was quite visible, as powerful Ka-52 “Alligator” assault helicopters were promptly on the scene.

Washington and Brussels uncritically bought Kiev’s “Russian aggression” hysteria, as well as the UN Security Council, which, instead of focusing on the facts in the Kerch Strait incident, preferring to accuse Moscow once again of annexing Crimea in 2014.

The key point, overlooked by the UNSC, is that the Kerch incident configures Kiev’s flagrant violation of articles 7, 19 and 21 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

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