MEPs oppose Russian Kerch ‘blockade’

MEPs oppose Russian Kerch ‘blockade’

The European Parliament has urged EU member states to pressurise Russia into relaxing its “de-facto blockade” of international shipping in the Sea of Azov, the world’s shallowest sea. 

The new US$4-billion, 19km Kerch Strait bridge from Russia’s Krasnodar Krai to eastern Crimea drew criticism in Europe and Washington. It limits the height of ships that can reach Ukraine’s Azov ports from the Black Sea to 33 metres. 

The Crimean bridge, Europe’s longest, connects Russia to the peninsula otherwise surrounded by Ukraine, which until recently was supplied expensively by air and sea.

The MEPs’ non-binding resolution called on Europe to warn “that the targeted sanctions against Russia will be reinforced” if it escalates its “violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty”. 

Ukraine has two major Azov ports through which it exports steel and agricultural products. The bridge has already reduced Ukrainian shipping from its Azov ports by around 25 per cent.

In May, Russia reportedly moved warships to the Azov, saying it was to boost security around the structure.

Ships delayed from docking at Ukraine’s Azov ports are losing thousands of dollars a day and perishable goods are rotting.

Russian National Guard, which has been called President Vladimir Putin’s personal army, is largely responsible for the bridge’s security. Its chief, Viktor Zolotov, the president’s former bodyguard, reports directly to Putin, not the minister of defence.

To protect the bridge, Russia has S-400 anti-missile defence, combat divers with automatic rifles that fire underwater, unmanned underwater drones and hydro-acoustical systems to detect enemy activity.

MEPs said the European Parliament “deplores excessive actions of the Russian Federation in the Sea of Azov as far as they breach the international maritime law and Russia’s own international commitments”. 

Parliamentarians condemned “the excessive stopping and inspection of commercial vessels, including both Ukrainian ships and those with flags of third-party states, including ships under flags of various EU member states”. 

Russia’s EU ambassador, Vladimir Chizhov, said the parliamentarians’ resolution was “total nonsense” and Russia had the “full right” to conduct Azov operations. 

MEPs raised questions about European companies that worked on the bridge. They called on the European Commission “to assess and verify the application of the EU restrictive measures in force and on the member states to share information regarding any national customs or criminal investigations into cases of potential violations”. 

According to Ukraine, Russia has since detained more than 150 Ukrainian and foreign merchant ships and interrogated their crews. 

 

President Vladimir Putin takes great interest in the Kerch bridge. Picture credit: Kremlin

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