Sunday's attack marked the first time in years that Russia's military – not proxy groups or disguised combatants – directly attacked Ukraine.
UNITED NATIONS – Russia faced international criticism at the U.N. Security Council on Monday, a day after its military shot at and seized three Ukrainian boats passing through the Kerch Strait near Crimea.
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley:
“This is no way for a law-abiding, civilized nation to act. Impeding Ukraine’s lawful transit through the Kerch Strait is a violation under international law.”
The waters of the Kerch Strait at the mouth of the Sea of Azov have been tense after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and built a bridge over the strait linking Crimea with the Russian mainland.
Citing a terror threat against that bridge, Russia has subjected Ukrainian ships to lengthy security checks at the Strait, but blocking or even seizing those boats is a clear escalation – one Ukraine’s U.N. Ambassador claimed is part of a plot to take “full control” over the sea.
Agnia Grigas, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, says Russia has long wanted to conquer the Ukrainian coastline to make it easier to supply Crimea, and shutting Ukraine out of the Sea of Azov could be a first step in that plan.
“If you close off that area economically and you isolate it and you isolate Mariupol, which has been an important port for Ukraine, then you really cause destabilization and maybe even social unrest in those parts of Ukraine and then you make that region more vulnerable to a military attack or various forms of subversion.”
Ambassador Haley said Russia’s aggression would cause reputational harm, but she said nothing of new sanctions, something Grigas worries could embolden Vladimir Putin.
It also means Ukraine may have to hope Sunday’s incident was a mere misunderstanding and not the start of a Russian escalation.
John Jaworsky, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Waterloo, isn’t sure that’s the case.
“I would hope that it’s an isolated incident, but in the case of Russia very few things happen by accident.”