Russia has delayed hundreds of commercial vessels since April and in recent weeks has stopped at least 16 commercial ships attempting to reach Ukrainian ports, according to the latest information released by the U.S. Department of State.
“The United States condemns Russia’s harassment of international shipping in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait,” Heather Nauert, Spokesperson for the United States Department of State, said in a statement, urging Russia to stop such actions.
“Russia’s actions to impede maritime transit are further examples of its ongoing campaign to undermine and destabilize Ukraine, as well as its disregard for international norms.
Ukraine and Russia have been embroiled in a dispute over coastal state rights in the Black Sea, Sea of Azov and Kerch Strait since 2014 and Russia’s Annexation of the Crimea.
In February 2018, Ukraine filed a Memorial against the Russian Federation under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) saying that Russia has violated Ukraine’s sovereign rights in the Black Sea, Sea of Azov, and Kerch Strait.
Ukraine believes that since 2014, Russia has “unlawfully excluded Ukraine from exercising its maritime rights; it has exploited Ukraine’s sovereign resources for its own ends; and it has usurped Ukraine’s right to regulate within its own maritime areas.”
“Through these violations of international law, Russia is stealing Ukraine’s energy and fisheries resources, harming the livelihoods of Ukrainian fishermen, and blocking traffic to Ukrainian ports with its illegal bridge over the Kerch Strait, among other serious violations,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine said in a statement on August 31.
Ukraine also claims that the Russian Federation has violated Ukraine’s rights to hydrocarbon resources in the Black Sea and Sea of Azov, as well as the living resources in the region, stressing that the construction of a bridge and other structures in the Kerch Strait “threaten navigation and the marine environment in the area.”
As a response to the accusations, the Russian Federation filed objections to the jurisdiction of the UNCLOS Tribunal in May 2018, asking for a hearing and declaration that the tribunal is without jurisdiction in respect of this dispute.
Russia argues that the Sea of Azov and Kerch Strait are not subject to UNCLOS because Ukraine and Russia have agreed to maintain these areas as “common internal waters.”
At the end of August, the tribunal published a procedural order determining that it would rule on certain jurisdictional objections raised by the Russian Federation in a preliminary phase of the proceedings.
As is common practice in inter-state disputes, the UNCLOS Tribunal has elected to hear these objections in a preliminary phase of the proceedings, before hearing the case on the merits.