UK warns Russia about military operations at Azov Sea
The UK has warned Russia against using its growing military presence in the Sea of Azov to “destabilize” regional economy, amid allegations that Ukrainian ships are being denied access to the waters.
In a statement, the UK Foreign Office accused Russia of delaying or preventing Ukrainian ships’ access to the sea while blocking other ships from entering Ukraine’s ports.
“Russia and its security forces continue to disrupt Ukrainian and international shipping calling at Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov,” the statement read, claiming that Moscow had “unlawfully” built bridges that connected the Crimean Peninsula to its mainland.
After constructing the bridges, Russia has stopped and searched vessels sailing in the region, causing delays and other problems for more than 200 vessels, the statement continued.
“Restrictions on freedom of passage have been accompanied by an increase in Russia’s military presence in the sea,” the Foreign Office said.
Ties between Russia and the rest of Europe have deteriorated since February 2014, when Crimea rejoined Russia following a referendum.
In siding with Ukraine, the European Union (EU) has leveled several rounds of sanctions against the Russian government. The NATO military alliance has also joined the pressure campaign amassing troops and equipment on Russia’s borders.
Tensions between Ukraine and Russia resurfaced this year after Kiev detained two Russian vessels for port calls in Crimea, which Ukraine still considers its territory.
Russia blasted the move as “maritime terrorism” and increased patrols in the sea.
The standoff has raised the alarm among EU officials, with the bloc’s neighbor policy commissioner, Johannes Hahn, noting that a trip to Kiev was a priority.
In its statement, the Foreign Office said Russia should allow Ukrainian ships move freely.
“The UK supports Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders and territorial waters,” it added.