During a briefing with Russian media, the NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated that NATO intends to increase its military presence in the Black Sea in response to “Russia’s violation of international norms.”
According to him, Moscow’s construction of a bridge over the Kerch Strait does not meet international laws since Russia’s control over Crimea was established illegally. “The unlawful detention of Ukrainian sailors [in November 2018] and seizing of ships increased our concerns about Russian violations,” said Stoltenberg.
In this context, NATO will continue to “provide Ukraine with practical support” and will increase presence in the Black Sea region, added the Secretary-General of the Alliance.
On the morning of November 25, Ukraine informed the Russian port of its intention to transfer three ships through the Kerch Strait, as required by the Agreement on the joint use of the Azov Sea and Kerch Strait. However, at around 8:00 a.m., Russian ships carried out acts of provocation against the Ukrainian vessels, even ramming into the Yany Kapu tugboat.
Russia later accused the Ukrainian ships of illegally entering its territorial waters, claiming that they were “maneuvering dangerously” and “not complying with the legitimate demands of the Russian authorities”. Russia also physically blocked the Kerch Strait with a transport ship. The Ukrainian ships decided to return to Odessa, but they were chased and subsequently attacked by the Russian military. The Berdiansk and Nikopol boats were hit, and two crew members were wounded. All three of the ships were seized by Russia.
On November 28, the Kremlin-controlled court of Simferopol placed the Ukrainian sailors under 2 months of arrest – until January 25, 2019.