We appreciate the convening of this briefing at the request of Ukraine.
We are convinced that it is of utmost importance to discuss the recent developments near the Kerch Strait since they constitute a clear threat to international peace and security.
Before delving in the subject, I would like first to express my dismay at the attempt of the Russian Federation to manipulate the agenda of the Security Council and to have a meeting convened under a deceiving title “Violation of the borders of the Russian Federation”.
In this regard I have to emphasize that according to the international law, Crimea and respective territorial waters are the Ukrainian territory, temporarily occupied by the Russian Federation. Hence, there are no Russian borders in the area, where the incident happened.
I repeat – there are no state Russian borders around the Crimean Peninsula.
You’ve already heard the Russian interpretation of the events, which, as usual, is concocted to mix reality with fiction with an ultimate goal of misinforming, misleading and confusing the listener.
The Russian claims about violation of the Russian border by the Ukrainian naval ships is an outright lie, invented just to cynically shift all the responsibility on the Ukrainian side, consciously manipulating the facts and ignoring the evidence.
For the better understanding of the situation by all Council’s members I would like to present the main facts of what happened during the last three days.
First of all, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and Article 2 of the Treaty between Ukraine and the Russian Federation on Cooperation in the Use of the Azov Sea and the Kerch Strait, Ukrainian navy enjoys full freedom of navigation in the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov and, therefore, can pass through the Kerch Strait at any time.
On 23 November, a Ukrainian Navy boat group (small armored boats „Nikopol” and „Berdyansk” and a tugboat „Yani Kapu”) started a planned transfer from the port of Odesa (in the Black Sea) to the port of Mariupol (in the Azov Sea).
The route and procedure of this passage were the same as in September this year, when two Ukrainian naval vessels “Donetsk” and “Korets” sailed from Odesa to Mariupol.
On 24 November, during the naval march the commander of the Ukrainian naval group received a notice from the Russian authorities concerning the closure of navigation in the Kerch Strait area. However, the International Centre for Navigation Control, located in Spain, did not confirm this notification.
On 25 November, the Ukrainian commander requested twice the Russian maritime control services the passage through Kerch Strait.
He did not receive the answer.
Later the Russian maritime control officer directed the Ukrainian Navy boat group to the so-called area of waiting.
It was stated that Ukrainian vessels would be soon informed on the Kerch Strait passage procedure.
And then all hell broke loose.
Approximately at 8:30-9:00 a.m. a Russian coastguard ship made a ram attack against a tugboat „Yani Kapu” and damaged it. The video of this attack is available online. If you watch it, you will clearly see that the Ukrainian boat was trying to avoid the collision, while the Russian ship was deliberately carrying out the attack. I also have to warn you that if you happen to understand the Russian language, you’ll hear lots of profanities from the Russian sailors in that short video clip.
After the ramming the Russian vessels blocked the other two Ukrainian vessels from rendering assistance to a damaged vessel.
All this time the Russian vessels were trying to provoke Ukrainian seamen to open fire.
At 1.22 pm, two Russian К-52 “Alligator” attack helicopters approached the Ukrainian cutters at their anchorage spot at the height of 50 m. They openly demonstrated their missile armaments and the laser aiming device. After completing the dangerous maneuvering the helicopters departed towards the Crimean peninsula.
From 1:40 p.m. Russia has physically blocked the passage beneath the so-called „Kerch bridge” having located there a tanker and later a cargo ship.
After 7 p.m. due to the impossibility to pass the Strait, the Ukrainian Navy ships headed back to exit a Kerch Strait.
I repeat, they headed back, away from the Strait and towards the open sea.
They were immediately followed by a group of about ten Coast Guard and Russian Black Sea fleet vessels.
There are audio recordings of communications among the Russian vessel commanders regarding the orders on how to proceed.
These recordings clearly demonstrate that the Russian military vessels were given orders to attack the Ukrainian vessels after the latter started to withdraw from the area.
Approximately at 8.30 pm the Russian side carried out the “shoot to kill” order.
The vessels “Berdyansk” and “Nikopol” were damaged.
After that Ukrainian vessels were forced to stop and they were seized by the Russian FSB special forces.
Six Ukrainian seamen are wounded.
The video footage of ramming and shooting, as well as relevant audio recordings have been already posted online and everybody can consult them to see what happened and how it happened.
Throughout all these events, the Ukrainian side acted strictly in line with the international law and the existing bilateral agreement with the Russian Federation.
Ukraine’s right to cross the Kerch-Yenikale canal is guaranteed by para 1 of Article 2 of the Treaty between Ukraine and Russia on Cooperation and Use of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait from 2003. The Treaty clearly provides for the freedom of navigation for both civil and military vessels of Ukraine and Russia in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait.
Secondly, the Russian Federation was duly and well in advance informed through traditional channels of communication about passing of the Ukrainian Navy’s group through the Kerch Strait.
Thirdly, the Ukrainian Navy group strictly followed the orders of the traffic control service.
As you can see there were no provocations whatsoever from Ukraine’s part.
Nevertheless, the Russian Federation opted to purposefully block the passage of the Ukrainian ships, thus violating the freedom of navigation guaranteed by the Ukraine-Russia Cooperation agreement in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait.
Moreover, Russia committed an act of an open military aggression against Ukraine by targeting, firing on and capturing three military vessels.
I would like to remind everyone that Article 3 of the General Assembly Resolution 3314 qualifies as an act of aggression, and I quote: An attack by the armed forces of a State on the land, sea or air forces, or marine and air fleets of another State. End of quote.
Russia’s recent belligerent acts constitute yet another violation of international law, including the UN Charter, the United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea, the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 as well as existing bilateral agreements.
This is a conscious provocation aimed at aggravation of the security situation in the region with the aim to establish its full control over the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait.
There is an irrefutable evidence that the recent Russian aggressive actions were planned and authorized by the top Russian military leadership.
For the students of history, it will be interesting to note that exactly on this day, November 26, in 1939 the Soviet army orchestrated an incident by shelling a village of Mainila near the Soviet-Finnish border.
Then the Soviets claimed the shelling was done by the Finnish side and used it as a pretext for the invasion on November 30.
The restraint reaction of Ukraine clearly demonstrates that we are committed to solve the current situation by peaceful means and in full compliance with international law and existing bilateral obligations.
Nevertheless, further escalation of the situation by the Russian Federation should not be ruled out.
According to available intelligence data there is a clear threat for invasion and seizing of Mariupol and Berdyansk.
Further aggressive acts and provocations by the FSB Border Guard Service and Russian Navy remains a realistic possibility.
Due to these threats, yesterday the President of Ukraine supported the initiative of the National Security and Defense Council to propose to the Parliament of Ukraine to declare the martial law for 60 days but cut it short to 30 to avoid unnecessary speculations.
This martial law can be lifted any time.
It has no negative affect on respect for human rights and functioning of democratic institutions.
Furthermore, there will be no negative impact on presidential elections.
Ukraine is ready to settle the situation through political and diplomatic means.
At the same time, we are ready to use all available means in exercising our right to self-defense, as foreseen by Article 51 of the UN Charter.
Kremlin’s criminal regime has once again demonstrated that it won’t stop its aggressive policy and is ready for any acts of aggression against the Ukrainian state.
The dramatic escalation of the situation in the region needs a prompt reaction from international community.
These events are another testament to the relevance of the UNGA draft resolution, prepared by Ukraine and a group of like-minded states, regarding the issue of militarization of Crimea and the Black and Azov seas.
We are grateful for today’s strong statements in support of Ukraine with the call upon the Russian Federation to guarantee the freedom of navigation in the region, while condemning the Russian acts of aggression in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.
Ukraine demands Russia to immediately release
23 captured Ukrainian soldiers and 3 Ukrainian ships.
We also call on the international community to implement a new set of sanctions aimed at addressing the situation in the region, including against the Russia’s Azov ports.
The increased political pressure on Moscow would contribute to the de-escalation of the security situation on the sea and unblocking the free crossing of the Kerch-Yenikale canal.
If unopposed, Kremlin regime will take another and another aggressive act creating even wider conflict in the region.
I thank you