Aleksandr Kots: 10 Naive Questions About the “Kerch Confrontation”

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


Our special correspondent Aleksandr Kots answered 10 naive questions about the “Kerch confrontation”

1. Why did Ukrainian Navy boats come to the Sea of Azov and what did they violate?

The most interesting thing is that unlike the transit two months ago, when Ukraine gave advanced notice about the fact that two ships will relocate in Berdyansk, in the current case, no one in general announced the purpose of the campaign. The crews of the ships could not understand that no one will allow them to just pass through the Kerch Strait. There is a specific procedure that applies equally to both civilian and military vessels. 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. Normally notification is sent to the Russian side two days before the expected passage. And before November 25th both the military and civilian ships of Ukraine observed this procedure. On this occasion no notification was given. Moreover, the Ukrainian ships grossly violated the Russian border, staging a carousel in our territorial waters.

2. Why was the Kerch Strait blocked?

First of all, in order to avoid incidents under the bridge. In the event that a breakthrough attempt happens “without a queue”, Ukrainian ships could create a dangerous situation for navigation, which could result in an accident or damage to the bridge itself.

Ultimately, no one knew about the plans of Ukrainians. After all, it was possible to assume the probability that their boats were packed with explosives from top to bottom, and that their aim is sabotage under the bridge.

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3. Why did the border guards choose to ram?

The Ukrainian tug did not respond to the legitimate demands of the Russian border guards. However, the onboard weapons could not be visually seen. In principle, Russia anyway had the full right to use weapons, as is done, for example, in the Far East during the detention of poachers who do not want to surrender. But, given our difficult inter-state relations, the coast guard tried to avoid a scenario with gunfire up to the very last moment. That’s why it rammed the tug in order to knock it off course (and the whole group along with it). It is known that after this the tug lost course. And at that moment the task had been completed.

4. Why were weapons used nevertheless?

Despite all the warnings of Russian border guards, the Ukrainian boats continued to dangerously maneuvers in our territorial waters. They didn’t respond to our requests over the radio, behaving in a boorish way at sea. It was decided to detain the violators. Obviously, a special forces unit was onboard the Russian ships. At first fire was opened from a 30-mm gun at the chassis of the boats, no one planned to shoot at people. After the ships lost their course, Russian boats with troops onboard approached them. During detention one of the Ukrainian sailors imitated resistance pro forma, which was quickly suppressed. The Ukrainian sailors didn’t dare to resist by using the heavy machine guns that were among their armaments.

5. Why were jets flying?

To cool down the hot heads. In the middle of the day two boats from Berdyansk headed at full speed towards the Sea of Azov in the direction of the Kerch Strait to save their co-brothers on the other side of the Crimean Bridge. Of course, they could not get into the Black Sea. But just in case, Russia raised, at first, Ka-52 helicopters, which passed on a combat course above the “rescuers”. And then “Su-25” attack planes also came, in order to demonstrate the seriousness of their intentions – not allow provocations near the bridge. This shook the sailors from Berdyansk. After the boats were detained in the Black Sea, they preferred to retire to the point of their permanent deployment.

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6. Where are the Ukrainian sailors now and what will happen to them next?

All the detained boats were delivered to the port of Kerch and are anchored at the jetty of the FSB Border Service. The crew was detained and is in Kerch under the guard of the Russian special forces. Three Ukrainian sailors were taken to the local hospital – they were slightly injured by small fragments of the boat trim, which flew off during the shooting at its chassis.

A criminal case was initiated upon the fact of a violation of the border, and the maximum sentence is up to six years. That’s why the fate of the crew will be decided by the court. Unless, of course, political agreements are reached between Kiev and Moscow. However, investigators will reconstruct the entire picture – the detained sailors will be obliged to say who gave them the order and what the plans of this “ship group” were initially. Under international maritime the boats of the violators law are subject to confiscation.

7. What was the reaction of Ukraine?

Very prompt and organised. There is the feeling that all their statements – from the Foreign Ministry to the Ukrainian Navy – were prepared in advance and were sent to the addressees at the right time: from the EU to NATO. Poroshenko immediately convened a night Council of National Security, during which he announced the introduction of martial law.

8. How did Russia respond?

Russia requested an urgent convocation of the UN Security Council under the agenda item “Maintenance of international peace and security”. It hasn’t yet started.

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Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova said that the incident is a “provocation that was pre-planned and organised with the use of aggressive actions”.

The Press Secretary of the President Dmitry Peskov said that the plans for the introduction of martial law “smell like electoral intrigues, and solving some electoral problems, waving the flag of war, is wrong and dangerous”.

9. Is it necessary to close the Strait for Ukrainian ships?

Only if they fail to comply with the relevant notification procedures. Closing the Kerch Strait for Ukraine means to grossly violate the agreement on the joint use of the Sea of Azov, which is an internal sea of two countries. It is Poroshenko’s dream to make it international, so that NATO ships can then be safely invited into Berdyansk and Mariupol, where today they can go only via an agreement with both countries. Of course, it is unlikely that Russia will give such consent.

10. Can NATO help Ukraine in any way?

It is unlikely that NATO squadrons will rush headlong into the Black Sea to accompany a Ukrainian rusty barge from Odessa to Berdyansk. However, both the US and the UK are trying to increase the naval power of Ukraine. The former sold used, and even decommissioned destroyers to it, and the latter has promised for a long time to increase their military presence both at sea and as instructors.

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