The ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia has flared in recent days with a dispute of territorial waters surrounding the Crimean Peninsula. Russian forces captured three Ukrainian vessels in the Kerch Strait — a body of water that lies between the recently acquired Crimea and the Russian mainland. Subsequent prosecutions of the Ukrainian sailors followed promptly, as the rest of Europe reacted to the crisis. The President of Ukraine, Peter Poroshenko, enacted a form of martial law as a signal to its eastern neighbour their willingness to defend themselves in the event of further aggression. Alongside this has been a plea to powers forming the Western bloc of Europe to intervene in the crisis, by sending their own ships — an outcome that German Chancellor Angela Merkel ruled out in favour of “sensible dialogue”.
Despite the increase in tensions between Russian and western powers, Jonathan Marcus suggested that any sort of military intervention on Ukraine’s behalf is currently unlikely. He bases this assumption off of a 2003 treaty between the two states that are currently at odds, which grants both of them shared maritime access to the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait. Under this agreement, ships from other powers are only allowed to enter with the consent of both Ukraine and Russia — an unlikely prospect under the current conditions.
In the days following, United States President, Donald Trump, cancelled a bilateral meeting with Russian President, Vladimir Putin, which was scheduled to take place at the 10th annual G20 summit in Buenos Aires. This issue is expected to be a central part of discussions at the meeting, amongst other issues, such as the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, climate change discussions, and trade tariffs.
Tensions between Russia and NATO powers along with their allies have been tumultuous in recent years, especially worsening after Russian forces invaded and annexed the eastern Ukrainian territory of Crimea, which is situated on the opposite end of the Sea of Azov from its mainland. This was followed by a bitter civil war with Ukraine, seeing escalations and international attention from events such as the downing of the Malaysia Airlines MH17 flight. Economic sanctions have been applied progressively onto Russia as they continue to exercise their military strength. The capture of the Ukraine vessels is just the latest in a string of crises.
The powers that are in opposition to Russia’s foreign policy must continue to pursue avenues to approach this issue without escalating tensions and maintaining a low probability of conflict. These goals should be pursued outside the arena of military maneuvering and heavy-handed intervention. Russian leaders should be lobbied to reign in their actions and other forms of pressure should be through economic means to dissuade them without raising the risk of retaliation if hostile warships are positioned within that body of water.
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