Russia and Ukrainian ship seizure strains foreign relations


On Sunday, Nov. 25, Russia seized three Ukrainian ships passing through international waters. Twenty-three crew members were taken as well, and at least three were injured.

The three vessels—two gunboats and one tugboat—had been sailing to the Azov Sea through the only waterway connecting it to the Black Sea, called the Kerch Strait. According to the Ukrainian Navy, Russian ships rammed one of their vessels, the tugboat. Later that evening, Russia fired upon them and seized the three ships.

Russia claimed that it had closed the Kerch Strait for shipping purposes, so the Ukrainian vessels were passing through illegally, thus justifying Russia’s actions. However, Ukraine argued that their ships were in international waters. They also cited a 2003 treaty between the two powers that give both unimpeded access to the waterway.

Ukrainian parliament instituted martial law in some parts of the country, primarily along the Russian border. Russia has accused Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko of using this and the overall intensification of conflict as a means to increase his low popularity rates, as elections are scheduled to take place in March.

However, the area has experienced Russian-Ukrainian conflict before this point. To the west of the Kerch Strait is Crimea, which, while internationally recognized as being part of Ukraine, was annexed by Russia in 2014 and has been governed by it since.

NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the EU, European Union, both responded to Russia by calling for the release of the captured men and the reopening of the strait. Russia has not yet released the men.

In response, President Donald Trump canceled a meeting with Vladimir Putin at the G-20 Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He claimed in a tweet it was because “the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia.”

“Defense Secretary James N. Mattis discusses Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian ships at the mouth of the Sea of Azov while speaking with reporters at the Pentagon, Nov. 28, 2018. DOD photo by Jim Garamone” Photo from

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