2019 July 25
By Kateryna Choursina
and Yulia Surkova
Ukraine detained and searched a Russian tanker near the Black Sea port of Odessa, revisiting a naval standoff from last year that stoked tensions between the two ex-Soviet neighbors.
The State Security Service, or SBU, said it was seeking a court order to hold the NEYMA tanker as part of a criminal probe related to the 2018 clash. It seized documents and questioned the crew. It didn’t say how many crew members were on board.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it was investigating the circumstances of the case to take “appropriate measures” in response. “If we’re talking about taking Russians as hostages, this will be considered a gross violation of international law and the consequences won’t be slow in coming.”
Russia seized three Ukrainian naval vessels and imprisoned their two dozen crew members in November, accusing them of violating its territorial waters near the Kerch Strait leading from the Black to the Azov Sea. The incident occurred off the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014 after protesters in Kiev ousted the country’s Kremlin-backed leader.
Ukraine denied the naval violation and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has sought the return of the ships’ crew members as a priority since he came to power in May.
Zelenskiy, whose party won an unexpected majority in elections at the weekend, recently appointed an ally as acting head of the SBU.
The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in May ordered Russia to hand over the ships and allow the sailors it detained to return to Ukraine. Russia refused to participate in the proceedings, arguing the panel doesn’t have jurisdiction in cases involving military activities.
“Russia is trying to play for time and present fulfillment of the tribunal’s ruling as a humanitarian or good-will gesture,” said Oleksiy Melnyk, co-director of the foreign-policy and international-security program at the Razumkov Centre in Kiev. “Of course, the detention of the tanker is a conflict situation, and conflict situations don’t promote consensus in this kind of talks.”