Several days after the Russia-Ukraine maritime incident south of the Kerch Strait and following a UNSC meeting on the issue, as well as discussions in the EU and NATO, it has become apparent that Russia has legally not done anything questionable.
So, the Washington establishment and its allies have decided that the situation requires some “public diplomacy” by various officials from the US, EU, NATO and fellows from the Atlantic Council to continue the narrative of painting Russia as the aggressor.
Formally, it is becoming more and more apparent that the government of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko intentionally organized the incident. However, the Ukrainian side appeared to “play their hand” poorly, and now Ukraine and its partners are attempting to salvage the situation by “public diplomacy” and various strong statements, which disregard the legal side of the issue and entirely focus on a political campaign on the media.
The campaign is rather obvious, especially judging by preemptive reports by the Atlantic Council, the meeting between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klikim and the Mission Essential job posting. It planned to present the Russian side in an aggressive manner, however the Russian soldiers “failed” to sink the Ukrainian ships, in addition to “failing” to kill any of the 19-year-old sailors and the SBU intelligence officers on board.
Overall, the EU and NATO reacted coolly to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s calls for new movies to combat “Russian aggression.”
On November 29th, NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said that the military alliance already has a strong presence in the Black Sea region where the incident occurred, and it has no plans to send warships into the Sea of Azov. She further said that NATO ships routinely patrol and conduct exercises in the Black Sea, with NATO ships already present in the region for 120 days this year as compared with 80 days last year.
“There is already a lot of NATO in the Black Sea, and we will continue to assess our presence in the region,” Lungescu said.
On November 27th, NATO released a statement on the issue condemning “Russia’s use of military force against Ukrainian ships and naval personnel. We call on Russia to release the Ukrainian sailors and ships it seized, without delay.” The statement also reiterated that support of Ukraine would continue, not specifying how.
So far, the EU is reportedly discussing imposing sanctions on Russia regarding the incident, with Estonia, Lithuania and Poland, among other Eastern European countries are supportive of the idea. Germany and France are strongly opposed to new sanctions. Austria foreign minister Karin Kneissl said the EU would consider sanctions depending “on the exposition of facts and the further conduct of both parties”.
Polish President Andrzej Duda said his country was ready to back new sanctions. Estonian defence minister Juri Luik called sanctions “probably the most potent way to signal to the Russian leadership that we are serious.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, an important voice in any future EU decision to impose more sanctions, spoke by phone to both Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Putin. She said the situation needed to be de-escalated.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told German Chancellor Angela Merkel by phone on Monday that Moscow was ready to provide more details to bolster its version of events. Moscow says Kiev deliberately provoked it in order to trigger a crisis.
Merkel said that she would address the Sea of Azov issue with Putin during the G-20 summit and urge him to release the Ukrainian sailors. However, she was opposed to new sanctions.
“We don’t impose sanctions on Russia for sanctions’ sake, rather we impose sanctions to make clear that countries, even if their territorial situation puts them close to Russia, have the right to their own development,” she told a Germany-Ukraine conference in Berlin. “Those are the principles of international law.”
Merkel also rebuffed Poroshenko’s call for increasing military pressure on Russia, saying “we can only resolve this in talks with one another because there is no military solution to all of these conflicts.”
“We will take care of it. Nevertheless, we ask Ukraine as well to be sensible. We know that we can only solve things by being reasonable and holding dialogue,” she further commented.
Merkel also completely dismissed a US and Ukrainian suggestion for the EU to pressurize Russia by cancelling the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.
The US side also expressed its support of Ukraine. US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said that Russia’s actions were “a flagrant violation of international law” and “a cavalier use of force,” and provided evidence that “Russia cannot be counted on right now to keep its word.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed “deep concern” over the incident and said “the United States condemns this aggressive Russian action.”
Poroshenko also praised US President Donald Trump, who cancelled his meeting with Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit.
Simultaneously, Ukraine continued making claims of supposed Russian misconduct. Ukraine’s Infrastructure Minister Volodymyr Omelyan said on Facebook that two Ukrainian ports on the Sea of Azov, Berdyansk and Mariupol, were effectively blockaded by Russia.
“As long as Russia blocks free navigation, the whole civilized world should take mirror measures against Russia,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman said on the sidelines of the abovementioned press conference with Angela Merkel.
Ukrainian Navy Vice Admiral Ihor Voronchenko, the commander in chief of the Ukrainian Navy, said Kyiv would ask Turkey to close the Bosphorus Strait between the Black Sea and the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas, “so that the Russians pay the price for violating the norms of international law.” Keeping in mind the warming relations between Russia and Turkey and disregarding any common sense, it would still be unlikely to happen.
The Kremlin denied that Russia was blocking any ports and traffic through the Kerch Strait.
“I don’t know of any restrictions at the moment. On the contrary, as far as we know the Kerch Strait is operating normally,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. He said delays did sometimes occur in the area as a result of bad weather, and the Kerch authority did issue a weather warning on November 29th.
A few days earlier, on November 26th during the urgent UNSC meeting on the incident, Russia’s First Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Dmitry Polyansky said that the authority was not helping to resolve the problem. The UNSC has earlier rejected the Russian-proposed agenda for the meeting on Ukraine’s violation of Russia’s state border in the Sea of Azov.
“As we are getting closer to [Ukrainian presidential] election scheduled for March, the bankrupt Maidan team needs a serious escalation, and ideally war,” the diplomat said adding that without this, they will not be reelected. “Another dose of ‘anti-Russian fever’ is needed so that people, who have been becoming poorer over the last five years, believe once again that Russia is to blame for all their misfortunes, not their government and their Western ‘puppeteers’,” Polyansky said.
Addressing his Western colleagues, Polyansky said that their five-year “anti-Russian political project, which could simply be called ‘Anti-Russia’, is currently crumbling in front of everybody.”
“You all know very well the real, not declared rates of ‘Maidan reforms’ and other dangerous and destructive processes that push Ukraine closer to the edge,” he added.
Furthermore, the Atlantic Council, the US think-tank, an organization that may simply be dubbed “NATO’s PR office,” also published several interesting articles. One of them praised Trump’s decision to cancel his meeting with Putin.
Trump wrote in a tweet on November 29: “Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting…in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin. I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!”
The other noteworthy Atlantic Council article is called “How to Put Putin in His Place.” It provided some practical suggestions for the US to deal with the Ukrainian-Russian incident.
- First: Trump should describe the consequences of Russia’s “aggression” when and if he meets him in Argentina.
- Second: The United States should provide Ukraine with defensive security assistance to address its maritime vulnerabilities: land-based anti-ship missiles, radars, and surveillance equipment for domain awareness. “None of these systems poses a risk of offensive escalation, but they would send a powerful message to Russia that its actions have consequences.
- Third: The US should lead a discussion in NATO to organize a NATO Standing Maritime Group in the Black Sea, ported at Constanta, Romania.
- Fourth: The US should step up its sanction game on Russia, for example blocking the assets of major Russian banks.
- Fifth: The US shouldn’t “outsource” its diplomacy to France and Germany, but should rather “join forces” with its EU allies to seek results by real leverage and not just rhetoric.
In all, it appears that the EU, NATO and the US will likely not undertake any effective measures. However, it does appear that there might be a push for a further escalation to continue the narrative and “democratically” preserve the status quo of Petro Poroshenko in Ukraine, all the while administering another coat of paint on the somewhat crumbling portrait of “Russian aggression.”
MORE ON THE TOPIC:
- Russia-Ukraine Black Sea Military Crisis: On The Brink Of War
- FSB: Detailed Timeline Of Provocation Acts Of Ukrainian Navy
- Ukraine Imposes Martial Law, Calls On Foreign States To Deploy Warships, Observers In Black Sea, Sea Of Azov
- Detained Ukrainian Servicemen Confirm They Provoked Black Sea Incident With Russia Upon Order From Their Command
- Information War Against Russia. Kerch Strait Maritime Incident
- Ukraine Released Intercepted Russian Radio Communications During The Black Sea Incident (Analysis)