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Russia to close Kerch Strait for six months

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Russia to close Kerch Strait for six months

The Russian Navy Udaloy class destroyer RFS Admiral Panteleyev arrives at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam to participate in the Rim of the Pacific exercise 2012 7487834270
Photo: Oscar Sosa

Russia will suspend the passage of foreign military and state vessels through waters leading to the Kerch Strait from today to October.

The restrictions on navigation through the Kerch Strait—which links the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea—follow increased tensions between Kyiv and Moscow. The recent mobilization of approximately 100,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s eastern frontier has also alarmed Ukrainian and Western officials. Amid rising casualties in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, Ukrainian officials suggest that Russia may use control of waters near the strait to isolate Ukraine in preparation for a larger invasion.

While today’s closures affect all non-Russian vessels, restricted access is particularly problematic for Ukraine, which signed a 2003 accord with Russia acknowledging the strait and the Sea of Azov as the internal waters of both nations. Ukrainian officials argue that the restrictions violate both the 2003 agreement and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Expect Russia to use the restrictions to blockade Ukrainian shipping, while also providing further military support to Russia-allied separatists in Eastern Ukraine. Though Russia will reduce the number of its troops by Ukraine’s border, its recent actions suggest that it intends to continue escalating the conflict in the medium-term.

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