On November 18, 3 ships of the Ukrainian Navy detained by the Russian border guards during their attempt to illegally pass through the Kerch Strait in November 2018 were returned to the Ukrainain side, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced.
“On November 18, three ships of the Ukrainian Navy, which in November 2018 violated the border of the Russian Federation during the deliberate provocation of Kiev in the Kerch Strait and were detained by Russian law enforcement agencies, were transferred to the Ukrainian side.
These ships are a material evidence in the ongoing criminal process in Russia on the illegal crossing of our border. Their transfer to custody of the Ukrainian side became possible due to the fact that the Russian competent authorities completed the necessary investigative actions in relation to the ships and their presence on the territory of the Russian Federation to continue the criminal process is not required.
We would like to emphasize once again that the actions of the Kiev authorities, which ordered their military personnel to carry out provocative actions in November 2018, are a crime not only against the sovereignty of the Russian Federation, but also against Ukrainian citizens, who were deliberately endangered and pushed to commit offenses.
The Russian side intends to continue harshly suppressing any provocations at its borders, including efforts to esnure the safety of navigation in accordance with Russian legislation, bilateral treaties and other applicable international law,” the foreign ministry statement said.
The transfer of 3 detained ships to the Kiev side took place amid the developing efforts to de-escalate the situation in eastern Ukraine. In November, pro-Kiev forces have started pulling out troops from the area near the village of Petrovskoe, controlled by forces of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR). In own turn, the DPR is also withdrawing forces. As a result of these actions, the situation in this particular area should be de-escalated. Despite this, most of the contact line between DPR and Kiev forces remain a source of the constant tensions.
At the same time, the Ukrainian side shows little signs of interst in the real de-escalation. The Kiev government has announced that it will increase its defense budget even further. According to Defense Minister Andriy Zahorodniuk, the combined defense and security budget for 2020 will total UAH245.8 billion, or around 5.45 percent of the GDP. The Ministry of Defense’s budget will come to UAH116.1 billion. This is an increase of about 12.8% from the previous year.
Kiev is actively buying new weapons and miltiary equipment. Just recently, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry announced that it will buy 20 patrol ships from French shipbuilding company OCEA within three years in order to boost ‘border security’.
Ukrainain top politicians continue routinely employ a war-like rhetoric towards Russia and threaten people living in the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics in the region of eastern Ukraine with repressions or even elimination.
In these conditions, it is quite likely that the Kiev government will consider the Russian goodwill gesture designed to de-escalate tensions between the states as a sign of weakness. In this case, the Ukrainian side will use it to justify a new round of aggressive rhetoric towards Russia inside the country and harden the position towards the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.