The Murky Sea of Azov 617

Prima facie, it is Russia which is acting illegally in the Kerch Strait. As I wrote when it was the Russians who were being harassed in the English Channel:

Contrary to Article 44 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, to which the UK and Russia are both party, the UK has engaged in extensive illegal harassment of a Russian naval submarine engaged in fully lawful transit of the Dover Strait.

A Russian naval vessel en route between the Baltic and Black Seas is fully and specifically entitled under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea Articles 37 and 38 to the right of passage through the strait. This is in addition to the general right of passage through the territorial sea at Article 17. The Russian navy was in full compliance with the provision at Article 20 that, while in territorial waters, the submarine must be on the surface and displaying its flag, and in compliance with Articles 29 to 32 on warships.

Not only does the Russian Navy have every right to sail through the Dover strait on passage, it has been exercising that right – along with many other navies – for over a hundred years. The decision of the British government now to employ military harassment and threat is not only illegal, it is a gross and entirely deliberate act of provocation designed to sour international relations and disturb the atmosphere of world peace.

The author of this article, Craig Murray is a former Head of the Maritime Section of the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and former Alternate Head of the United Kingdom Delegation to the United Nations Preparatory Commission on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. He is a retired British Ambassador.

Russia is very definitely acting illegally in putting military personnel of another state on television to make statements, whether coerced or not (personally I found them precisely as believable – no more and no less – as Yulia Skripal’s strained statement to British TV).

Please note that Ukrainian ships have the right of innocent passage through the Kerch Strait irrespective of whether the Crimean side is viewed as Ukrainian or Russian. The coastal state does have the right to make arrangements for maritime safety which may include designating sea lanes and a notification regime akin to air traffic control. If Ukraine violated these provisions, (which seems probable), Russia had a right to take enforcement action. But that enforcement action specifically does not extend to substantive detention of vessels and crew.

The situation changes if Russia genuinely has evidence that the military vessels were engaged in a military attack. But it only changes, and the civilian rules only cease to apply, if one side or the other acknowledges that a state of war now exits. Ukraine came close to this
by demanding that its servicemen be treated as prisoners of war. There is no option to treat uniformed military personnel of another state as terrorists. But if Russia does not acknowledge a state of war, it has to let them go. Russia is certainly not entitled to impose a wider blockade of the strait to shipping to or from Ukraine – any more than Israel is entitled to blockade Gaza.

Given that Russia appears on the face of it to be very much in the wrong, the western powers have been remarkably quiet. I suspect this indicates knowledge that Poroshenko was indeed engaged in some sort of stupid stunt. In which case the Russians have played into his hands by a disproportionate reaction. Poroshenko’s own action in declaring martial law is of course also wildly disproportionate. My sense is that we have here two Presidents each with slipping popularity ratings, deliberately escalating a crisis as it suits each domestically. Such playing with fire is wildly irresponsible, far too many people have died in Ukraine already.

I expect the usual howls of protest from people for whom the application of impartial international law is anathema, who believe you must be on the side of the “goodies” against the “baddies”. I am aware that rationality and impartiality are not much valued in political discourse nowadays. I shall however stick to them with stoic resolve.

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617 thoughts on “The Murky Sea of Azov

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  • Shakesvshav

    Poro will have to flee if he cannot find a way out of his election problem. Panama Papers and Paradise Papers are probably just the tip of the iceberg. Saakashvili can give him tips on how to be an exile.

  • Republicofscotland

    Ukraine now pleading with Erdogan to close the Bosphorus Strait for Russian warships.

    “The rules of the Montreux Convention, namely Article 19, we will try to ask the Republic of Turkey for the closure of the Bosphorus Strait, said commander of the Ukrainian Navy, Admiral Igor Voronchenko.”

    If Ukraine intended to provoke Russia in the Kerch strait, it looks like it achieved its goal. Or as Craig said Russia may have acted illegally, either way Ukraine benefits from Russian aggression publicity wise.

    • Andyoldlabour


      I think Ukraine may have overlooked the fact, that Russia has its Black Sea fleet already in position in Sevastopol, Krasnodar Krai and Rostov Oblast, and it comprises around 45 warships, 6 subs and around 25,000 personnel, so they don’t really need any more there.
      At present the Ukraine navy compriss around 6,500 personnel, 1 corvette and 1 frigate.

      • Republicofscotland

        If Ukraine was indeed in the wrong in the Kerch straits, and deliberately goaded Russia into action, then you can be sure that the Ukraine knows fine well it can’t match Russia militarily.

        If a conflict were to arise between the two, you could be sure of western backing, not directly of course, for Ukraine. However I doubt that will be forthcoming, right now we’re still in sabre rattling mode.

      • Herbie

        “At present the Ukraine navy compriss around 6,500 personnel, 1 corvette and 1 frigate.”

        How do they all fit into just two boats.

      • Tom Welsh

        “I think Ukraine may have overlooked the fact, that Russia has its Black Sea fleet already in position in Sevastopol, Krasnodar Krai and Rostov Oblast…”

        Moreover, Russia doesn’t even need any ships to control the Black Sea. Most of it is fully controlled by land-based and air-launched missiles. Quicker, cheaper, and less dangerous (to the Russians).

  • Andyoldlabour

    Apparently there is an agreed procedure, involving prior warning/request, which Ukraine have to follow if they wish to navigate the Kerch Straight, and according to this report in the Moscow Times, that procedure was not followed. In September, Russia allowed two Ukrainian ships to cross into the Sea of Azov. As a result of this, Poroshenko has imposed martial law on the Ukraine border regions.

    • craig Post author

      Yes, as I stated plainly in the article, if the Ukrainians were not following the sea lanes or notification regime, the Russians had the right to take proportionate action. But not to detain the vessels or men (other than very briefly) or to close the strait.

      • Ross Stanford

        It has been reported there were members of the Ukraine intelligence services aboard. In which case all bets are off as far as prisoner of war status is concerned.

        I will agree parading them on the TV is wrong but not the end of the world.

      • Robert Campion

        You are sounding a little tired, CM- you must have re-pasted that riposte a dozen times already. Is something rattling your cage?
        Sadly, although this stuff may be fascinating to an ex-head of Maritime Section, to most it is just dull and also pretty much irrelevant. Is it not already clear to you from the stupid comments you elicit that nobody has the least understanding of any of this, even if they did care?
        Despite all the hand-wringing that goes on here, basically nobody gives a flying fuck, hence the failure to grok your meaning. If this article was an attempt to restore some balance to you own parti pris, vis-a-vis Putin, it would seem you have not been entirely successful.
        Maybe it would be best to cool yer jets, pour yourself a couple of fingers of Knockando 1973, and listen to some soothing music instead of going round and round in these ever-decreasing circles.

        • Molloy


          RC. . . . . patronising? arrogance? gaslighting?
          Says far more about your lack of reasoning and perception.

          Just saying.



    • Leonardo

      It may also be important to remind that in november 2015 saboteurs blew up the power lines connecting Ukrainian plants to Crimea, cutting the power and leaving the entire peninsula in the dark.
      So I guess the Russian side becomes pretty itchy when it is confronted with uncoordinated potential military action around the new bridge, especially since ukrainian authorities have already threatened destruction more than once.

      • Herbie


        We’re doing letter of the law here.

        Not spirit.

        Hence the repetition of the same boilerplate garbage when inconvenient context pops up.

        The simple reality is that these Ukrainian boats seem not to have been obeying the rules of passage and refusing to do so for hours on end, until the coastguard had to use lawful and proportionate force to arrest them.

        It’s entirely correct that their actions that day be subject to scrutiny and prosecution if necessary.

        And this is just that day’s events.

        No need even to introduce the obvious geopolitical background of which the events are a part.

        • Tom Welsh


          “We’re doing letter of the law here.
          “Not spirit”.

          And carefully selected (“cherry-picked”) laws, too. Ukraine’s very existence as an independent state is legally precarious – although Western governments have conspired to ignore this obvious fact.

          And the violent coup d’etat of 2014 was flagrantly illegal, which makes all successor governments illegal too.

  • Jack

    This is nasty. Video of assault against Poroshenko critic politican, nothing you will see on BBC, CNN.
    No wonder Poroshenko imposed a martial law..

    ” Anatoliy Grytsenko, who is in the race to become Ukraine’s president in next year’s election, has accused current head of state Petro Poroshenko of organizing an attack during a campaign visit to the Black Sea port of Odessa. ”

    • Herbie

      Porky, because he’s NATO’s boy has no option but to use last-ditch desperate Atlantic Council tricks to keep the game in play. To keep him and his tired and stale narrative in the news.

      Everyone else in western Ukraine knows that game is lost.

      Time to face up to a changing world in which the Atlanticist/Globalist game is lost. They no longer have the clout they had.

      The poor peeps in Ukraine, west and east are just pawns to the rich man’s game.

      • Tom Welsh

        The US government’s last trick will be a military coup d’etat. That’s one reason why they keep supplying plenty of modern weapons and equipment, even to nations whose governments they don’t favour. If they cultivate the right officers, the army will get rid of an obnoxious government unprompted.

  • Sharp Ears

    Going Underground

    Russian envoy on Ukraine, Aleppo chem attack, Labour MP on II leaks, Broken News (E686)
    28 Nov, 2018

    We speak to:

    .Alexander Yakovenko, the Russian ambassador to the United Kingdom, about the situation in Ukraine after the clash between the Russian Navy and Ukrainian Navy on the Kerch Strait

    .the Aleppo chemical attack & more

    .Chris Williamson MP about the Integrity Initiative, the rollout of Universal Credit, and more.

    .Lembit Opik joins us for Broken News!

    • Casual Observer

      The links are strong !

      Probably 99% of the Ashkinazim population of Israel, and indeed the USA, will trace their ancestral home to what was once the pale of settlement.

    • Herbie

      “The Ukro’s in Kiev think they are Israel. They can do whatever it pleases them , because the US Will back them up.

      The thing is, Israel is no longer of a Globalist mind. The current leadership in Ukraine are supported by Globalists. And Globalists are losing.

      Porky joined the losing team. Sure, it seemed stronger back then.

      He was and is bring played.

      • Tom Welsh

        Although yesterday Syria reported shooting down an Israeli aircraft and four missiles heading for South Damascus.

        The Israelis deny everything.

        I wonder which is lying.

  • Jack

    …and there Trump canceled the meeting with Putin. Just as neocons and Ukraine wanted.
    Trump really need to make his mind up and stop being led by neocon warmongers!

    • bj

      They got him by the short hairs.
      But they fear bringing him down for a variety of reasons.

      Not the least of which is, former presidents have a habit of immediately publishing their memoirs.
      Trump’s –after his forced demise– might be very telling and implicating one or two FBI and or CIA officials.

    • Molloy


      Jack, yes. However, for me, a strong probability that T$rump is coerced or subjected to duress.
      Even implied death threats (think Sopranos maybe)?

      Mr T also prefers not to be rendered insolvent. Literally. Obvs, DS pulling the strings as per usual.


  • Ralph

    Some factual background on this.
    There was an USG backed coup in kiev, which the american nuland, married to the co-founder of PNAC, kagan, admitted publically that the USG had spent (at least) $5 billion on (subverting) ukraine, yet another infamous ‘color revolution’ by the world’s number one warmongering and aggressor country, and for ukraine to become a thorn in the flesh of Russia, in line with the original neocon wolfowitz doctrine, as revealed by the NYT in 1992.
    Because of this, ukraine became in effect a colony of the american empire, with the former vp biden running/ruining the show in kiev, with his trusted bitch and sick side kick poroshitko (biden even joked he spoke more to him than his own wife) doing his bidding.
    The sadistic and evil poroshitko even bragged on air that children in ukraine would go to school, while the children in the former eastern Ukraine (also known as the Donbass, now the 2 republics DPR & LPR), would cower in cellars (in fear), and this is what happened, as he is responsible for the attacking kiev military deliberately shelling of civilian areas, having targetted schools, nurseries and blocks of flats etc with 155 mm artillery, Grads (122 mm MLRS) and 82 &120 mm mortars, and tanks.
    This is the background to the type of person Putin has to put up with in poroshitko, not to mention the neo-nazis and other radical ukrainians of the bandera mentality, who hate the Russians and the Russian speaking Donbass people, call them Colorado beetles and other derogatory names along the lines of the WW nazis with their Untermensch.
    Even though there was a referendum in Crimea in which the vast majority voted to join Russia, the fact that the West refuses to recognise the decision of the people there, who have the RIGHT of self-determination, which NO earthly law(s) can override, does not negate their choice, and consequently, yes, Crimea is Russian and the ukrainians had no right trying to go into the Azov Sea without Russia’s permission, especially given their deranged hatred of Crimeans.
    Furthermore, given the criminal and corrupt, and evil madmen in ukraine, who had declared they wanted to blow up the Russian bridge, and which the West typically wouldn’t have a problem with that, including the British Government, which would have consequences for it if it happened when the British journalist Graham Phillips was driving across it.
    Also, the British military is now involved close to the border of the independent republics, egging on the ukrainian military to continue fighting what I call the Donbass Defenders, and would therefore be responsible for any more deaths of civilians, and the breaking of the Minsk Agreement (Minsk II), including war crimes. Yes that includes you too williamson (the brit offence secretary).

    • Peter

      Ralph, Craig is an ” Agent provocateur ” , friend of Poroshenko and Soros. Meanwhile in the UK a struggle to re-gain sovereignty is taking place which it seems Craig is ignoring.

      • Tony_0pmoc


        I have no idea if Craig is a friend of Poroshenko, though he did seem to like George Soros buying him a pizza. However, I think it highly unlikely that Craig is an ” Agent provocateur ”, and whilst I disagree with him on this issue, and several more (I agree with him on lots of other stuff), I think it is very much to his credit, that he has not deleted your comment, and so far as I am aware, many other comments that have been highly personally critical of him.


    • Molloy


      Interesting, Ralph. Wholly agreed. Crimes of aggression against the Russian state.

      In a normal world, William$on and Carleton$mith are both looking at a 25 year prison sentence.


  • Michael Droy

    Craig – so much missing from your piece. The big guns lying on the deck of the tug. The quick return of many of the sailors. The point that the strait was blocked then unblocked a few hours later.

    • Nick

      @Michael – interesting can you cite? There’s got to be a little bit more to it than Ukrainian provocation and disproportionate Russian response.

    • bj

      That’s knowledge after the fact, as is the weapons stacked on the deck (presumably after seizing the vessel), as is possible nefatrious intent.
      All not germane –imho– to Craig’s point.

      • Herbie

        I agree that the Ukrainian boats were there to cause an incident. Acting in a disorderly manner and so on.

        But, I think it’s the case, even on The Saker, that the munitions on-board were as one would expect from navy vessels.

        Normal. Nothing out of the ordinary. What you would expect. Nothing indicating a sabotage operation, for example.

        So, perhaps a test or distraction op.

        In the old days, divers would go down and plant explosives. Job done.

        But no.

        It’s all just media malarkey now.

  • Entropy Wins

    “The situation changes if Russia genuinely has evidence that the military vessels were engaged in a military attack.”

    All vessels were armed including the normally unarmed tug which collided with the Russian vessel.

    Two doshka 12.7 mm machine guns on Ukraine tug.

    The Ukrainian vessels were messing around for hours and not responding to any attempt at communication. The Kerch Strait is amazingly busy, comparable (apart from size of vessel) to the English Channel.

    The captain of one of the small armed river boats had proposed that swarming techniques be used, and had visited the US to receive training. The three vessels approached the Strait at ~22:00 on 24 November. They were maneuvering (swarming) in such a way as to block the Strait from ~10:00 to 18:00 on 25 November and were finally apprehended at about 23:00 on 25 November. Their actions were clear, prolonged and deliberate.

    The Ukrainian military were fully aware of the normal procedure for passing peacefully through the Kerch Strait. They had used it earlier when three naval ships (2 small vessels and a larger ship) passed through. If their intent was peaceful they had no excuse for not doing the same this time.

    Russia was at no fault, especially as Ukraine Nazis have publicly threatened to attack the Kerch Bridge.

    • Entropy Wins

      If forgot to add that during all this, another three small craft were dispatched from Berdyansk on the north coast of the Sea of Azov to reinforce the three already swarming. They turned back when it was clear that the Russians were going to put a stop to the Ukraine provocation.

      The shipping channel beneath the Kerch Bridge was blocked to ensure the swarm was kept on one side of the bridge. t was reopened once the provocateurs had been apprehended.

      As for Russia having no right to apprehend the boats, they were armed, they were not invited in, and they invaded Russian territorial waters. If the boats were Russian and the location was the Golden Gate Bridge, I bet they would have been blown out of the water.

  • Akos Horvath

    There are frequent references to the 2003 treaty governing the status of the Sea of Azov. According to none other than the BBC, this treaty allows Russia to inspect all and any vessel leaving or entering the Sea of Azov. This important snippet of information only appeared in a single article out of the many covering the Kerch ‘crisis’, which is telling. I think it’s clear that Ukraine is behaving like North Korea. It has to creat a crisis from time to time in order to remind the West of its importance. Nobody wants to finance and pay the gas bill of that basket case country, whose government includes neonazis. Their only product to sell is the provoking of Russia and thus providing pretexts to the anti-Russian paranoids in the West. As a Hungarian, I am sick and tired of Ukraine. They banned the Hungarian language, harass their minorities and have neonazis commanding entire battalions. They have been independent since 1992, they can only blame themselves for being a country run by gangster oligarchs, including Poroshenko. The front runner and likely next president is Yulia Tymoshenko, the Gas Queen billionaire, who has been in and out of government for the past 25 years; much like Poroshenko. Now that’s what I call a ‘revolution’. Like it or not, Ukraine has to acknowledge the security interests of thevnuclear superpower Russia. Being a NATO bridgehead against Russia will not work even in the short term. Similarly, it would be crazy for Mexico to turn into an anti-US military base. If they keep provoking the Russians, they might just get burned, and they will deserve it.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Now Trump has shown his true colors, canceling his meeting with Putin by joining the Russophobes over the alleged Black Sea fracas.

  • Den Lille Abe

    I wonder what the British response would be if someone threatened to blow up the Channel Tunnel….
    Of course if it happened Britian would be screwed royally, starving Brits no food, because it ‘aint got docking facilities anymore, wel I suppose the can grow potatoes in Kensington Park.
    A obesity cure would be good for the Brits too as most are obscenely overweight, like their Amrican Brethren slobs

  • Tony M

    Bridge also carries on its underside fresh water supply for Crimea, necessary for life after Ukraine cut off and destroyed overland water pipes, probably for the best as Ukraine would have poisoned the water supply. Only one party is in the wrong here and it isn’t Russia. Ukraine isn’t a country, just a gangster-state and NATO catspaw. NATO itself a mutual-suicide pact of western nations under the thumb of the US super-puppet (of Israel), the misleader of the unfree world. Craig Murray’s position is predictable, wicked, indefensible and untenable. This is the result of his early adult life being mis-spent in the toxic bubble of student politics, later immersion in the putrid machiavellian atmosphere of the foreign office, and ‘going native’ amongst the gilded elites in various backwaters of empire. The SNP should expel him, his natural party is the Banderists.

    • Republicofscotland

      “Craig Murray’s position is predictable, wicked, indefensible and untenable. This is the result of his early adult life being mis-spent in the toxic bubble of student politics, later immersion in the putrid machiavellian atmosphere of the foreign office, and ‘going native’ amongst the gilded elites in various backwaters of empire.”

      What utter hogwash Tony M, you and I wouldn’t know half of what’s really going on if it werent for Craig’s posts. Some of the info he’s privy to actually comes from FCO contacts, and those he knows in the trade, I presume.

      Oh and Stepan Bandera, allied himself with the Nazi’s, in an attempt to proclaim a independent Ukranian state.

    • giyane

      Boys, clam down.

      Wicked and hogwash ! Tut tut. Naughty. I wonder how much control any of us have over our destinies. If Craig was lured like a moth to the fire he certainly paid the price for believing in the British political system, and the EU has manged to let him down as well. Wasn’t that weird that diplomat entering the dragon’s den over Matthew Hedges being accused of spying ? British diplomats are twisted and bitter about Craig damaging the FCO by whistleblowing about their crimes against humanity. When I challenged him about their subsequent and current crimes I was totally ignored.

      Anybody who can wield such fear with his mighty pen in the hearts of the wicked neo-colonial oppressors in the FCO cannot by definition be wicked themselves imho. And RoS, there is a grain of truth in what Tony M says about Craig so it’s not hogwash, just slightly near the knuckle..

      Nil carborundum. since the idiots in power in the Foreign Office are unable to strike back at Russia for her victory in Syria and Crimea, they are reduced to our status of humble bloggers. They are definitely going to come on here and foment divide and rule because they haven’t got more than a Japanese knotweed popgun with one elastic band power to fire at the Big Boys who have replaced their pathetic, criminal empire.

    • lysias

      I wonder if Russia can supply the Crimea with a facility that can desalinate and purify water from the Sea of Azov. I know U.S. submarines derive their own water in this way.

    • Molloy


      Sorry, Tony. Yes, water. Yes, war crime by UKR.

      However, help me out please. Expand a little and provide details of CM’s alleged ‘untenable position’.

      Also, why are you introducing the SNP imbroglio?

      Will be appreciated. Thanks.


  • Terence callachan

    I agree with what you say but there is an important point you did not cover and that is that the straits to the Azov sea are very narrow so shipping has to be monitored furthermore the new Crimea bridge that Russia built across the straits at huge cost is actually quite a low bridge perhaps twenty or thirty metres above sea level and therefore not high enough to allow passage of big container ships.It is also relevant that the Azov sea is particularly shallow and prone to shifting silt because of all the rivers that spill into the sea which is another factor in shipping being allowed through the straits.
    I think it is very likely that Ukraine are still bitter about Russia taking back Crimea and particularly annoyed that Russia since doing so have raised the average Crimeans income from the $2000 or so per year that they had when under the control Ukraine to the near $10000 a year they get with Russia ,the new bridge built by Russia has opened up travel like never before too.
    Ukraines main sea port is and always has been Odessa the Ukrainian ports in the Azov sea are very much smaller basically because the Azov sea is the most shallow sea on the planet.
    Looks to me as if Ukraine would be happy if a ship too large to pass through the straits got stuck or caused damage to the new bridge and I’m not surprised that Russia decided not to take the chance.

    • Entropy Wins

      The Sea of Azov is typical 7 metres deep, apart from specifically dredged shipping channels that connect to various ports eg Mariupol (Ukraine) and Taganrog, Yeysk and Rostov-on-Don (Russia), . The bridge is suitably high for all ships capable of sailing in these waters (otherwise Russia would have shot itself in the foot). Large shallow draught vessels such as 200 m long 35,000 tonne bulk carriers can pass, but it is certainly not an area where large container ships would sail.

    • nevermind

      The bridge is low.because its main purpose is to MOVE WATER, pumping water not increasing tourism.

      Ukraine cut off water, Russia is building a pipeline. Poroshenko is desperate to keep hold of the division sown and the support of the right wing fascist revivalists supported by some in the US, but his support level is akin to Maduro, the other tortured US client in despair.

      Both are struggling but for different reasons. Ukraine is very likely going to get a US sponsored/ spinstered most favourite puppet candidate and it is the Ukraine, the bread basket, potentially, of Europe, that will be used to initiate the third and I fear last great unpleasantness.
      chimps, get ready.

    • Tom Welsh


      “I think it is very likely that Ukraine are still bitter about Russia taking back Crimea…”

      It’s also likely that Russians (and many Ukrainians) are bitter about the Kiev junta cynically bombarding cities, towns, villages and civilian areas in Donetsk and Lugansk since 2014, killing certainly tens of thousands of civilians, wounding many more, and destroying vast areas of housing, schools, hospitals, airports, transport links, and factories.

      Also about the West’s absolute refusal to admit any of this has happened.

  • Akos Horvath

    This is from the BBC regarding the 2003 bilateral treaty on the Sea of Azov.

    The call for Nato to deploy warships to the Sea of Azov raises a variety of diplomatic and practical problems.
    In strict legal terms, Russia and Ukraine share access to its waters under a 2003 treaty. This, though, specifically states that warships from third countries can only enter the sea or make port visits there with the express permission of the other party.
    Russia is hardly likely to give such permission. In practical terms, it could easily block the Kerch Strait as it did earlier this week, by placing a merchant vessel across the channel.

  • Jack

    You guys seen this?

    “In a piece that could have only been published by Politico, the nameless ex-CIA spook argues that Harding may be the innocent victim of a setup, and was tricked into publishing unsubstantiated claims. The evil villain who duped Harding into not doing his job properly? Hint: Starts with an “R,” ends with “ussia.”

  • Blue Dotterel

    Two problems with Mr Murray’s many responses: one when there is a potential shipping threat on a strait, it is crtainly permissible toclose it temporarily until the threat has pased. The iratic behaviour of the Ukranian boats would suggest that was justified. I live in Istanbul, and the bosphorus is often closed due to fog, burning tankers, and ships running aground. It are opened when the threat to shipping is determined to have lifted. I see no problem with the Russian closing the strait temporarily. I can’t imagine the Bosphorus staying open if three Ukrainian ships sailled this irresponsibly through the Bosphorus for 12 hours.

    As for the sailors, I think we must know exactly why they are being detained.There may be a valid legal reason for detaining them as has been suggested in an earlier post. Then again there may be not be. That question is stil open for me.

  • Joe

    Putin with slipping popularity ratings? Hardly. Comparing him to Poroshenko in that respect? Ridiculous. Poroshenko is supported by, at most, 7% of Ukrainians. That’s effectively equal to zero. Putin’s popularity is still well above 50%.

  • Cass Dean

    Once again you avoid the issue.

    First, Russia and Ukraine have a legally binding agreement on joint use of the Sea of Azov whose terms you do not mention.

    Second, several prominent figures in and out of government in Ukraine have spoken favourably of destroying the Kerch bridge.

    There is a security threat here which you don’t want to look at.

    Shame on you.

  • Peter

    Thanks for enlightening the legal situation. Considering the fact however that some groups – afair also parliamentarians in Ukraine and representatives in the USA – called for destruction of the Kerch bridge, a more heavy handed approach by the RF might be understandable to protect a multi billion $ asset.
    I find the statement regarding ignoring the calls by the Russian Coastguard to stop moving being ordered by the Command in Kiev very believable – as that seems to be proven by the actions of the Ukranian vessels.

    • bj

      The audio speaks for itself.

      The Russians exercised all manner of restraint, and the response was ever sooner provocative than communicative.

      The Russians shouldn’t have put their prisoners on TV.
      John McCain (god rest his soul PLEASE!) might have had something to say about that.

    • Sharp Ears

      Our water in the South of England is becoming undrinkable. The chalk aquifers are absorbing the nitrate run offs. Oil and gas exploration is also poisoning the Aquifers.

      On the South coast the water supply has to be diluted with fresh water being imported to render it potable.

  • fwl

    This is an interesting post by Craig. His explanation is interesting and it is amusing to see some of the the outbursts on here. Amusing though predictable.

    I had to get onto google maps to start looking at straits because I am wondering whether the one in question is a funny one as its into a big lake with only two countries, but I guess it’s still an international strait.

    Looking at the map though: the Strait of Gibraltar that is one hell of a location. How could we even ever thinking of giving up that. What a location. To get to the Sea of Azov from outside Europe you have to get through the Gibraltar Straits, then through the Straits of Scilly, through all those Greek islands, through Canakkale, through Istanbul and than through this new Russian bridge.

    No one wonder Russians sometimes seem a tad paranoid.

    But I also feel sympathetic for your Ukrainian entrepreneur exporter at Berdinask etc. That Ukranian Azov coast looks ideal for harbours, yet….

    We need to get on better with Turkey imho

    • giyane


      Get on better with Turkey? Like The Rake’s Progress ending up in Bedlam. MI6 seem to have discovered – the hard way – that supporting crazed Islamists is a ” bad idea “, and has resulted in this country’s international reputation disappearing. Turkey understands raw power, which Russia possesses and we do not, unless you count the missile we don’t control which flew towards the coast of Florida when last tested.

  • Paul Damascene

    I don’t disagree with CM very often, but would at least question Craig’s elision from ‘warships of a desperate neo-nazi riddled regime’ on the brink of electoral and financial annihilation to ‘innocent passage.’

    At least one Ukrainian government officials has called for the Kerch Straight bridge to be destroyed.

    From Moon of Alabama:
    The government of Ukraine practically admitted that the mission had nefarious intent:

    Ukraine’s state security service says that its intelligence officers were among the crew on Ukrainian naval ships seized by Russia in a standoff near Crimea.
    The SBU agency said in a statement Tuesday that the officers were fulfilling counterintelligence operations for the Ukrainian navy, in response to “psychological and physical pressure” by Russian spy services. It didn’t elaborate, but demanded that Russia stop such activity.

    From this same source, my understanding is that “Innocent passage” is allowed but necessitates following the laws and regulations of the territorial country. Since the Kerch straight runs through the overlapping 12-mile territorial limits of a) what is not disputed as Russia and b) what has been claimed (annexed) or incorporated through a resounding referendum result by Russia, innocent passage would necessarily be consistent with Russian law and rules, regardless of whether one places Crimea in Russia or Ukraine.

    From another source:
    Every ship that passes through that waterway must contact the Kerch Sea Port authorities, report her route and destination, and be given permission to sail through. It’s really that simple, but Ukraine’s group of ships had not notified Russia in advance of their plans. Warnings to stop their dangerous maneuvering were met with a deaf ear. The Ukrainian vessels defiantly ignored the requests to leave Russia’s territorial waters.

    I would agree that putting sailors on camera is distasteful, possibly illegal, and about as credible as Yulia Skripal’s authorized public statement.

    We might bear in mind, however, that this may have been done to disrupt a staged provocation by a highly unstable regime, in a highly sensitive area, and is clearly supported in this by NATO and its surrogates. It is not inconceivable the Ukraine could attack this bridge precisely to spark a war with the potential to escalate to a hot confrontation between superpowers.

    Ukraine would appear to be indulged by the West in this insanity. I appreciate that we might jump at the opportunity that we do not reflexively take any side against the West, even Russia’s, but this particular cause, I fear, Craig, is not well founded.

  • Ken Kenn

    The US in the South China Seas are using ” the right of innocent passage.” in that region I believe.

    If the Russians do the same I don’t expect Daily Mail headlines of a “Russian Threat!” as their destroyers and aircraft carrier innocently goes through the Channel.

    Innocent it isn’t on both counts.

    Watch out ( I’m sure some know it well on her ) for stories of “Integrity Initiative ” in the near future.

    All that is completely ” innocent behaviour” will be the cry.

  • lysias

    I am just finishing rereading “Hidden History” by the two Scottish historians Gerry Docherty and Jim Macgregor, which argues persuasively that the 1914 assassination happened because the Serbs were secretly encouraged by Russia, France, and Britain, who all wanted war with Germany. Let us hope that something similar is not happening here.

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