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Photo: Press Service of the Federal Security Service of Russia in Crimea

Will the frozen conflict in Ukraine thaw into a hot war?

New Ukrainian-Russian tensions have ignited after the Ukraine, seemingly out of nowhere, set off a diplomatic crisis by sending Ukrainian ships “maneuvering dangerously” into the Kerch Strait – a crucial strategic point controlled by Russia between the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. FWM spoke to an insider about the events unfolding.

Published: November 27, 2018, 3:52 pm

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    The increasingly unpopular Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a decree on Monday to declare martial law for 60 days and has started mobilizing the Ukrainian army even though the martial law order had not yet been approved by the country’s Parliament, according to RT.

    Ksenia Medvedeva explained to Free West Media that the decree on introducing of such a measure was signed by the Ukrainian president after the Council of National Security and Defense of Ukraine rubberstamped the introduction of the special legal regime.

    If the Ukrainian parliament supports this decree, the martial law regime will officially enter into force.

    Ratcheting up the tension for a potential military conflict with Russia, Ukraine has put its troops on full combat alert, and Poroshenko met with the country’s military leaders on Sunday night. The mobilisation of Ukrainian troops on its border with Russia certainly does not bode well for peace.

    The Russian Navy fired on the transgressing vessels and rammed one of them. A spokeswoman for the Kremlin said Russia was opening a criminal case into the ships’ illegal entry into Russian waters surrounding the narrow Kerch Strait, according to Reuters.

    Russian newswire Interfax reported that Russian border guards had detained 24 Ukrainian sailors accused of taking part in the border provocation.

    Poroshenko claims that introducing such tough legal measures was a response to the “aggression of Russia” in the Azov Sea. But, in fact, the case is not so open-and-shut, as it may rather be Ukraine that has opened up the very real possibility of a full-scale war against Russia.

    On Sunday, November 25, the vessels Berdyansk, Nikopol and a tug Yany Kapu of the Ukrainian Navy crossed the state border of Russia near the Kerch Strait. Thus, they clearly violated Article 7, 19 and 21 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

    Having entered the temporarily closed off waters, the boats and the tug then made dangerous maneuvers. They also ignored the appeals of the Russian border guards, forcing the Russian side to take up arms against the intruders.

    Navy vessels participating in the Kerch standoff. Photo: Russian Navy

    Three members of the Ukrainian crew were lightly injured, and they received medical assistance. The boats and the tug were detained 50 kilometers from the usual lane of passage along the Kerch Strait under the Crimean Bridge.

    Meanwhile, Russian officials provided their version of the incident which is full of careful detail unlike the vague Ukrainian version of events. The Russian Foreign Ministry signaled their “strong protest in connection with the gross violation of the rules of peaceful passage by the Ukrainian Navy” in Russian territorial waters.

    The Russian Foreign Ministry underscored that “a well-thought-out and planned provocation” organised by Kiev had taken place in the Kerch Strait. As the FSB reported, “there is a licensing procedure for the movement and mooring of ships, in accordance with a schedule of movement and arrangement of ships approved by the captain of the Russian seaport”.

    In other words, in addition to the necessary “pass” there is also a queue. And military ships have no prerogatives in this queue. Notification is normally sent to the Russian side two days before the expected passage. And before November 25, both the military and civilian ships of Ukraine observed this procedure, but strangely on this occasion no notification was given. Moreover, the Ukrainian ships grossly violated the Russian border, staging a carousel in Russian territorial waters.

    But more interesting is the possible consequences of martial law in legal, social, economic, media and other spheres of Ukrainian political and public life, where far too many question marks have popped up.

    According to the Ukrainian legislation, martial law allows Kiev to introduce a military administration instead of a civil one in some regions of the country. In addition, it allows the temporary restriction of constitutional rights and freedoms of citizens and persons.

    In essence it means limiting the rights and legitimate interests of legal entities, allowing the state to seize property or to declare a curfew. The list of possible restrictions is seemingly endless, as it includes banning “peaceful assemblies, rallies, marches and demonstrations, and other public events”.

    The legislation also covers “prohibiting the activities of political parties and public associations”. Moreover, Kiev will be able to “prohibit the transmission of information through computer networks” too, thus effectively blocking the Internet. In fact, a special legal regime transfers all the levers of power firmly into the hands of the president.

    But the Ukrainian leader himself has made several statements which contradicted not only Ukrainian legislation but also the claims themselves.

    Initially he approved and signed a decision of the Ukrainian Council of National Security and Defense which consisted of 60 days of a martial law regime and a litany of restrictive measures.

    But couple of hours later, in the video message to the Ukrainian people, Poroshenko stated other conditions – only 30 days of a special legal regime and “no restriction of rights and freedoms” for citizens.

    A possible motive for the introduction of martial law by the Ukrainian leadership was given by the Russian president’s press secretary Dmitriy Peskov. He said that Kiev’s plans to declare martial law after the incident in the Kerch Strait may be inspired by the upcoming presidential elections in Ukraine in 2019.

    The leader in the polls is not Poroshenko. His opponent is claiming that Poroshenko wants to cancel the presidential election by means of unleashing a war to remain in power.

    Notably, the response of the international community can be described as neutral. In a commentary on the incident, NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungesku emphasized that the North Atlantic Alliance is following developments in the Kerch Strait and is in contact with Kiev. She also appealed to the conflicting parties to show “restraint” and called for “de-escalation” on both sides.

    The appeal by the European Union struck a similar conciliatory note. The developing conflict was described by Brussels in an emphatically neutral tone: “Tensions in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait have risen in a dangerous way today after an incident that occurred in the morning between Russian and Ukrainian ships.”

    Meanwhile the UN Security Council has blocked Russia’s request on consideration of the situation in the Kerch Strait. That might possibly mean that UN representatives are unsure themselves of how they should classify the incident and what consequences it will eventually lead to.

    Meanwhile, the Russian Embassy in Kiev was showered with smoke bombs and in the embassy area a car with Russian diplomatic numbers was burned. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation called it a deliberate provocation.

    ksenia.medvedeva@freewestmedia.com

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