Moscow and Kiev: What's going on in the Azov sea?

The Ukrainian parliament voted to impose martial law for 30 days on Tuesday following an incident in the Kerch Strait in which Russian vessels temporarily stopped Ukrainian ships from passing under the new Crimean Bridge, blocking their access to the Sea of Azov and opening fire. Commentators suspect both sides stand to gain from the rising tensions.

Open/close all quotes
Ekho Moskvy (RU) /

War-mongering presidents

The Kerch crisis will be exploited by both sides, Echo of Moscow believes:

“Poroshenko threatens to lose his job in the elections [next March]. In Ukraine these are real elections - no joke: governing non-stop for 20 years there isn't an option. But his popularity is at rock bottom. And because he can't wage a victorious little war, he's orchestrating a victorious little defeat. In an original turn of events an army that was utterly unprepared for fighting is being made ready for combat. But for Russia too, every drop of gas that's poured on the Ukrainian fire comes in very handy. Our leader's approval ratings are also falling. And the people are more interested in their own lives than in Syria or the cursed banderovci [the far-right followers of Stepan Bandera (1909-1959) in Ukraine].”

Expressen (SE) /

Salami tactics in Ukraine

Expressen discerns a typical Russian strategy behind the incident in the Kerch Strait:

“The Kremlin has been using its neighbour as a laboratory for military grey zone strategies for a long time now. In 2014 the Crimean Peninsula was occupied by Russian special units that bore no national name - by 'little green men' - and for a long time this confused the world, so that it could be presented with a fait accompli. ... The Kremlin's strategy is a salami tactic - through small changes of position which, seen individually, are not serious enough to provoke a war, the balance of power is gradually tipped in Russia's favour. Vladimir Putin needs a crisis. His unpopular pension reform has seen his approval ratings plunge in the last year. ... Don't let Putin get away with taking another bite of Ukraine.”

Verslo žinios (LT) /

Without a mask for the first time

Verslo žinios stresses a single aspect:

“In this whole escalation the most crucial fact is this: for the first time since 2014 Russia has attacked Ukraine under the Russian flag. Up to now it had always pinned the blame on others. ... It is important to understand and repeat: a hybrid war that has been raging for five years has become an open war waged under the Russian flag. This is not an inter-state conflict over boundary lines. This is a war waged against Ukraine by the aggressor, Russia. We must not mince our words. A war is a war. An aggressor is an aggressor. We need to finally use clear words.”

The Guardian (GB) /

West has humiliated Russia for far too long

Europe is paying the price for its failure to actively include Russia in its new political order after the Cold War ended, The Guardian complains:

“What is glaring is that Europe now lacks any collective forum in which such escalations can be discussed and possibly resolved. The end of the cold war was not followed by any revision to Yalta or Potsdam. There was no new treaty with Russia. Its attempted military encirclement by Nato was as reckless as London’s welcome to Moscow’s massed oligarch and kleptocrats. History may yet regard the handling of a defeated and depressed Russia in the 1990s as like its handling of Germany after 1918.”

La Stampa (IT) /

Russia flexing its muscles

Since the completion of the Crimean Bridge Russia has been set on escalation, La Stampa comments:

“According to an agreement dating back to 2003, shipping is free both for Russian and Ukrainian vessels in the Sea of Azov - the body of water lying between Crimea, the warring Donbass region and Russia. However the new bridge over the Kerch Strait which was inaugurated this year is just 35 meters high and prevents the large ships that used to dock in Mariupol from passing through the strait. ... Above all, the bridge allows the Russians to control the only point of access to the Sea of Azov. Yesterday's action is a perfect example. For months Moscow has been boosting its military presence in the region and slowing down trade in these waters - in which it controls practically all the ships headed for Ukrainian harbours.”

Polityka (PL) /

The West in for more disgrace

The EU and the US risk losing face if they can't resolve the situation in the Sea of Azov, Polityka warns:

“US special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker has yet to deliver a statement, but he will likely be making worrying phone calls. [EU Foreign Affairs High Representative] Federica Mogherini will no doubt publish a statement condemning Russia's acts, but she won't send the 'European army' to Crimea. Almost five years after Russia's territorial aggression against Ukraine the conflict in Donbass remains frozen and the annexation of Crimea is widely accepted. If the Sea of Azov falls into Russia's hands because of the activities on the weekend, everyone in the West should be ashamed of themselves.”

Iswestija (RU) /

The true interests of Washington and Brussels

The pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia accuses the West of supporting Ukraine in the conflict for purely strategic reasons:

“It looks as if the West is worried about the international rights of Kiev, whose 200 ships do have certain difficulties passing through the Strait of Kerch. But then why isn't it interested in the 15 ships, some of which are Russian, which are being held illegally in the ports of Mariupol and Berdyansk? In reality Europe doesn't care at all about Ukraine's economic interests. They only serve as a means of putting pressure on Russia. But it's an entirely different story with the access to the Sea of Azov, where a Nato maritime base could potentially be set up near the Russian border. Clearly this is the main interest of Washington and Brussels. And it's even clearer that Moscow will not go along with this.”