Ukraine – Poroshenko Launched Clash With Russia To Gain Dictatorial Powers – He Failed

The Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko’s attempted to shore up his approval rate for the upcoming election by provoking a military incident. It was a gamble and it failed.

Three Ukrainian boats, a tug and two gun boats, attempted to sail from the Black Sea through the Kerch Strait into the Sea of Azov. The Kerch Strait is territorial Russian water since Crimea voted to join Russia. “Innocent passage” is allowed but necessitates following the laws and regulations of the territorial country.

Depth chart – Sea of Azov Dark blue – less than 5 meters, light blue – less than 10 meters, white – less than 13.5 meters
shipping channels not shown – bigger

The Ukraine does not accept the decision the people of Crimea and insists that the peninsula is still part of its territory. The Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko sent the boats with the order not to coordinate their passage with Russian authorities. The captured sailors confirm that. He obviously wanted to provoke a violent Russian reaction.

The government of Ukraine practically admitted that the mission had nefarious intent:

Ukraine’s state security service says that its intelligence officers were among the crew on Ukrainian naval ships seized by Russia in a standoff near Crimea.

The SBU agency said in a statement Tuesday that the officers were fulfilling counterintelligence operations for the Ukrainian navy, in response to “psychological and physical pressure” by Russian spy services. It didn’t elaborate, but demanded that Russia stop such activity.

Russia’s FSB intelligence agency said late Monday that that there were SBU officers on board the Ukrainian ships, calling that proof of a “provocation” staged by Ukraine.

The SBU is the incompetent spy service that faked the murder of the Arkady Babchenko as part of a corporate raid.

What is the real reason that its agents were on board of the Ukrainian gun boats?

And why was the crew of the tug armed with heavy machine guns?

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A few of the Ukrainian seaman were lightly wounded when the Russian coast guard took a shot at one of the boats.

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The gun boats of the Gurza-M class were built on a shipyard that Poroshenko owned at that time. He profited from ordering them. They may be useful for river policing but do not belong at sea.

The Russian coast guard had no problem to disable the ships and to capture their crews. A Crimean court ordered that the sailors will be held for two more month while they face charges over border violations.

In 1988 the U.S. tried to pull up a similar stunt in the Black Sea. Two U.S. Navy ships with spying equipment crossed into Soviet territorial water near Crimea. They got rammed (vid) by Soviet ships and were smart enough to move out before the situation escalated further.

Poroshenko’s intent was to provoke an incident that would allow him to present himself as a war-president. Elections are coming up and all polls show him below 10% and far behind two other candidates. He attempted to use the incident to introduce martial law over all the Ukraine.

Martial law would give Poroshenko full control over the country. He would be able to remove any regional or local government, to shut down the political opposition and to censor the media. He would be able to postpone the upcoming elections indefinitely.

Back in July Yulia Tymoshenko, who is leading the polls for the next elections, warned that Poroshenko would take this step (machine translation):

The leader of Batkivshchyna, Yulia Tymoshenko, claims that one of her main competitors in the upcoming presidential election, the incumbent head of state, Petro Poroshenko, is allegedly nurturing a “extremely dangerous plan” to disrupt voting by escalating the war in Donbass and imposing martial law in Ukraine. The politician made such a statement on the TV channel UA: First.

Tymoshenko stated that Poroshenko “does not want” to hold presidential elections in order to “save power”, …

Yesterday Poroshenko tried to scare the parliament into accepting his plans:

“Intelligence data speak of an extremely serious threat,” Poroshenko declared in a televised address on Monday, brandishing a pile of paper, which, he said, was an intelligence report detailing the Russian forces massed close to the border. At a session of the United Nations Security Council called at Ukraine’s request late on Monday, the country’s representative, Volodymyr Yelchenko, claimed the Azov Sea ports of Mariupol and Berdyansk faced invasion.

That is of course utter nonsense. Russia has no interest in launching a war with the Ukraine. There is nothing to gain from it.

The parliament must vote on the introduction of martial law and the opposition parties recognized Poroshenko’s stunt for what it was. His plans were rejected. Poroshenko pulled back. Instead of the 60 day long, renewable period of martial law he wanted, he had to settle for 30 days. And that was still not enough:

Rival political parties – former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s Fatherland, Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi’s Self-Help and populist Oleh Lyashko’s Radical Party – demanded further concessions. They wanted immediate confirmation, rather than just a promise, that the election will go ahead on March 31. They sought to limit martial law to a number of regions rather the whole country, and they objected to any plans to limit Ukrainians’ constitutional freedoms. Their fear wasn’t just that campaigning would be limited, but that Poroshenko would get near-dictatorial powers.

There will now be a limited martial law but only in those regions that border Russia or the Black Sea. These are the Russian speaking regions which did not vote for Poroshenko in the 2014 elections. The opposition and its foreign backers will hopefully take care that the martial law  use will not get out of hand. There will be a limited call-up of reserve troops, but most of the reservists are to likely ignore it.

With the election date set to March 31 by the parliament Poroshenko has no legal tool to postpone it.

Unless of course he manages to provoke a real war, either with the rebels who are holding the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, or with Russia itself. The lunatic warmongers at the Atlantic Council urge him to do exactly that:

Even though Ukraine is outgunned, it does have options. It can undertake operations to break the blockade, though they would likely be fruitless given the forces Moscow has sent there.

Nevertheless, it cannot accept this attack on its sovereignty and integrity passively. Ukraine should give careful consideration to a special operation that might disrupt the bridge that Moscow built over the Kerch Strait that joins Crimea to Russia.

But that’s not all. Ukraine should invite the United States and NATO to send a fleet of armed ships to visit Mariupol, the main city on the Sea of Azov coast and defy Russia to fire on or block NATO from exercising the right to visit Ukraine’s ports. Those ships should be armed and have air cover but be instructed not to fire unless fired upon.

Even Poroshenko is not dumb enough to repeat his failed provocation in the Kerch Strait. The Kerch bridge is guarded. Its pillars are massive because it was build near a fault and has be able to withstand earthquakes. A saboteur unit would have to bring several tons of high explosives to even damage one. To reach Mariupol in the Sea of Azov ships have to cross through the the Kerch Strait. The passage is a very narrow artificial channel with only 8 meter depth. Outside of the channel the water is as shallow as a think tankers thought. Any ship with more than 2-3 meters draft has zero room to navigate there. Russia does not even need boats or airplanes to protect it. A few guns along the coast can easily control the passage. No sane naval commander will try to pass the Strait by force.

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Russia already warned warned against further ‘reckless’ moves and deployed an anti-ship missile system (vid) to the Kerch Strait to make sure that any further provocations there will have deadly consequences.

Poroshenko could start a provocation elsewhere. He could attempt to reconquer the Donetzk airport. But while he might itch for losing more fights, a full blown war is out of question. Kiev’s army is low on morale and would be defeated within days.

Poroshenko’s rule was catastrophic for the Ukraine. In several cities the central heating and warm water supply is broken. Ten-thousands will have to freeze during the winter, some of them to death. Since Poroshenko came to power millions of able Ukrainian workers have fled or work abroad, most of them to Russia. The most industrialized regions are in firmly in rebel hands. Most of the population is poor, the bureaucracy is utterly corrupt and the country is practically bankrupt.

There will likely be dozens of corruption cases brought up against Poroshenko himself as soon as he loses power. If he is smart he will flee the Ukraine the very day his term ends.

The international reactions showed that Poroshenko is no longer of value. While the russo-phobe Poland and the Baltic countries called for more sanction against Russia the European heavyweights Germany and France urged deescalation and direct negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. (Sources in Berlin say that Merkel firmly told him to stand down.) The U.S. reaction was delayed and mild. Trump punted the problem to the Europeans.

Pedro Poroshenko will leave the political stage as a despised man. But will also be much richer after he pilfered the Ukrainian state wherever he could. The people of the Ukraine should take their money back before dumping him abroad.

Posted by b on November 27, 2018 at 02:25 PM

Russia Blocks Ukrainian Navy From Militarizing The Sea of Azov – Updated

Originally posted Nov 25: 18:00 utc – Updated below on Nov. 26, 6:00 utc

The Ukrainian government under the oligarch Petro Poroshenko is in election campaign mode. That is one reason why it is launching new provocations against Russia. Yesterday Ukrainian forces reportedly occupied a town within the neutral zone between the government controlled part and the rebel held Donetsk area. Today the Ukrainian navy sent a tug and two small gun boats, recently acquired from the U.S. Coast Guard, Ukrainian build Gurza-M class types, to pass through the Kerch Strait into the Sea of Azov.

When the ships entered Russian waters without announcing their intent, a Russian coast guard ship rammed (vid) and damaged the tug. The two gun boats escaped but did not pass the strait. The pictures show the melee at sea. 

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With Crimea back in Russian hands, the Kerch Strait is solely Russian territorial water. The Treaty on the Legal Status of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait, signed in 2003 by Russia and the Ukraine, provides that military ship entry into the sea is only allowed with mutual consent. Ukraine disputes the status of the sea in an arbitration court. (For a legal discussion of the case see 1, 2, 3.)

The Ukrainian government, urged on by the U.S., wants to establish a new military harbor in the Sea of Azov. Two of its navy ships, a rescue vessel and a tug, passed through the street on September 23. In October the Russian government warned that it will not allow any further militarization of the sea. Some U.S. hawks even want NATO ships to enter the Sea of Azov. The Sea of Azov has a maximum depth of 7 meters. Typical U.S. frigates have a draft of 10+ meters. What NATO or U.S. ship could even go there? As Russia firmly controls the sole entry point into the sea and can easily attack any ship in the Sea of Azov from within its borders the idea is incredibly stupid.

The Kerch Strait is now blocked by a large cargo ship the Russians anchored under the new Kerch bridge.

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The passage is closed and a number of ships are bunched up on both sides.

Pic via MarineTraffic of traffic at 15:45 utc – bigger

The Ukrainian provocation may well be aimed to sour the meeting between President Trump and Putin that is planned for November 30 during the G20 summit in Argentina. It should be more careful. It is quite possible that Russia will block commercial traffic to the Ukrainian port of Mariupol over any further incident. The big loser of this useless provocation would then again be the Ukraine.



Update – Nov. 26, 6:00 utc

The Russian coast guard detained the three Ukrainian ships and their crews in Russian waters. They again illegally attempted to cross from the Black Sea through the Kerch Strait into the Sea of Azov. The Ukrainian side says the two of its seaman were injured.

Since Crimea voted to again become a part of Russia the Kerch Strait is Russian territorial water. Ships can pass the strait but are required to take on a pilot and to undergo inspections if the Russian coast guard demand such. The Ukrainian side understands that these are legal measures. In a report by the U.S. government outlet RFL/RE published in August the Ukrainian side admitted as much:

[The Ukrainian Sea Guard and the squadron’s spokesman] Poliakov said that, while Russia’s actions are “provocative,” because of a controversial 2003 agreement on cooperation and shared use of the Sea of Azov and Kerch Strait, “everything Russia is doing here is technically legal.

The three Ukrainian ships tried to pass Russian waters without informing Russian authorities and without taking on pilots. Since Russia build the $3.7 billion Kerch bridge which connects Crimea with Russia, U.S. commentators and Ukrainian politicians threatened to blow up the bridge:

“The Kerch Bridge is an enemy’s infrastructure. It connects the occupied territory with the mainland of the aggressor country, that is why it is an enemy’s infrastructure,” Mosiychuk said on air of 112 Ukraine channel.

According to him, “any normal country” in a state of war strives for destroying enemy’s infrastructure. Answering a question whether he personally would destroy the bridge, he said that he would do it if he were the defense minister.

The Russians are understandably careful with any traffic near to it.

Following yesterday’s incident the president of the Ukraine Pedro Poroshenko proposed to declare martial law. The parliament will have to decide on that. This is a very convenient move for Poroshenko as it will allow him to move the March 2019 general election date. Poroshenko trails in the polls with some 8% of the total vote.

Russia called for a UN Security Council emergency meeting which will be held at today at 11:00am EST. The passage through the Kerch Strait is again open for civil vessels.

The usual anti-Russian subject in “western” political circles use the incident to demand more measures against Russia. Fronting the effort is the weapon industry lobbying group Atlantic Council:

Anders Åslund, a resident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, said: “NATO and the United States should send in naval ships in the Sea of Azov to guarantee that it stays open to international shipping.”

Such action, Åslund said, “would be in full compliance with the UN Law of the Sea Convention of 1982 and the Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits of 1936.”

Anders Aslund is listed as member of the “U.S. & Canadian Cluster” of the secret influence operation by the British Foreign Office describe here two days ago. He is obviously unable to read a map, sea chart, or UN convention. The Ukrainian attempt to pass through the Kerch Strait without Russian consent is a breach of Article 7, 19 and 21 of the UN Law of the Sea Convention (pdf):

Article 7: “Subject to this Convention, ships of all States, whether coastal or land-locked, enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea.”

Article 19-1: “Passage is innocent so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State. Such passage shall take place in conformity with this Convention and with other rules of international law.”

Article 21-4: “Foreign ships exercising the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea shall comply with all such [coastal state] laws and regulations and all generally accepted international regulations relating to the prevention of collisions at sea.”

There will now be again a lot of noise in the media about the ‘nefarious Russians’ and new demands for even more useless sanctions. But the legal case is clear. It was the Ukrainian navy that willfully attempted to pass from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov through Russian territorial waters without regard to the laws and regulations of the coastal state. Russia was within its full rights to prevent the passage and to seize the Ukrainian boats.

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