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Ukraine Declares Martial Law Following Kerch Strait Conflict

Since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, Russia and Ukraine have been involved in an ongoing conflict. Tensions between the two nations recently escalated with a confrontation in the Kerch Strait on Nov. 25, 2018. Russia’s report of the incident differs from Ukraine’s report, with much disagreement over the exact details of the incident amongst the international community.

In 2003, a treaty between Russia and Ukraine declared the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov as shared waters between the two nations and guaranteed Ukraine’s access to the Kerch Strait. After the incident on Nov. 25, Ukraine accused Russia of violating this 2003 treaty.

Russia accused Ukrainian ships of carrying out dangerous maneuvers in the shared space and cites it as the reason for establishing the blockade. Ukraine claims that it made the Russian coastguard aware of its presence in the Kerch Strait well in advance. As the Ukrainian boats neared the strait, they were confronted by Russian ships, and one of the Russian ships deliberately hit one of the Ukrainian boats. The Russian ships then opened fire on the Ukrainian boats. While these events unfolded, Russia proceeded to block the Kerch Strait.

Location of Kerch Strait. Credit:  RT

Location of Kerch Strait. Credit: RT

The three Ukrainian ships were seized by Russia and brought to a Russian controlled port. Twenty four sailors are reported to have been detained by Russia. Six Ukrainians are said to be injured, with three allegedly moved to a hospital with more serious conditions.

This event marks the first open confrontation between the two nations since the events of 2014. In response, Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, suggested the implementation of martial law. The Ukrainian Parliament debated for around five hours, before announcing that it will enact martial law for 30 days in the parts of Ukraine it deems most susceptible to a Russian attack. There were 276 votes in favor of establishing martial law, and just 30 votes in opposition.

President Poroshenko suggests that martial law will increase Ukraine’s defense capabilities, while others are wary of Poroshenko’s intentions. Poroshenko is losing popularity among his constituents, and there is concern that declaring martial law would disrupt the elections in the spring.

President Petro Poroshenko. Credit:  Wikipedia

President Petro Poroshenko. Credit: Wikipedia

It still remains unclear what will result from Ukraine’s declaration of martial law. There has been fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine since 2014. These Russian separatists, some with military training and all fighting voluntarily, are Ukrainian civilians fighting against the Ukrainian army with the aims of splitting apart from the country. They do not respect politicians in Kiev, who in turn, fear the Russian separatists. The politicians claim that Russia is supporting the separatists and further intensifying the conflict. This fighting has been going on for four years, and martial law will potentially disrupt or complicate the conflict.

It is possible that there will be further economic sanctions against Russia. Russia has been trying to decrease the chance of further sanctions, but this incident will most likely ruin that approach. An extreme option could be cutting Russia off from SWIFT, a verification system that legitimizes the transferring of money which would result in a shortage of cash. This option was first brought to light back in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea. SWIFT previously stated that it would remain neutral and would not cut off Russia. This would only be used as a weapon of last resort, as it would further complicate matters. However, if enacted, it would show U.S. resolve towards Russia and countries such as China.