European Parliament

10/23/2018 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 10/23/2018 05:18

Motion for a resolution on the situation in the Sea of Azov - B8-2018-0493

The European Parliament,

- having regard to its previous resolutions on Russia and Ukraine,

- having regard to the agreement of 24 December 2003 between the Russian Federation and Ukraine on cooperation in the use of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait,

- having regard to the Association Agreement between the European Union and its Member States, of the one part, and Ukraine, of the other part(1),

- having regard to the joint staff working document of the Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) of 14 November 2017 on the Association Implementation Report on Ukraine (SWD(2017)0376),

- having regard to the statement of the EEAS Spokesperson of 15 May 2018 on the partial opening of the Kerch bridge,

- having regard to Council decision (CFSP) 2018/1085(2) of 30 July 2018, adding six entities involved in the construction of the Kerch bridge to the list of those subject to restrictive measures in respect of actions undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine,

- having regard to the findings of the mission of its Subcommittee on Security and Defence which took place in East Ukraine from 16 to 20 September 2018,

- having regard to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),

- having regard to Rule 123(2) of its Rules of Procedure,

A. whereas the situation in the Sea of Azov is the result of a decision in the bilateral agreement of 2003 between Ukraine and Russia, which defines these territories as internal waters of the two states and gives both parties the power to inspect vessels transiting to and from the Sea of Azov;

B. whereas the construction of the bridge over the Kerch Strait, completed by the Russian Federation in May 2018, took place without Ukraine's consent;

C. whereas, as of the second half of April 2018, Russian border guards began stopping and inspecting foreign vessels navigating to and from Ukrainian ports (Mariupol and Berdyansk) located in the Sea of Azov; whereas these inspections coincided with the conclusion of the construction of the bridge linking the illegally annexed Crimean peninsula with mainland Russia over the Strait of Kerch;

D. whereas the construction of the bridge across the Strait of Kerch, the only passage between the Azov and Black seas, limits the passage of vessels via the strait to and from Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov and has created severe problems in the free flow of cargo;

E. whereas the newly constructed bridge limits the size of vessels that can reach ports in the Sea of Azov, as the bridge is 35 metres high, and only vessels with an air draft of less than 33 metres and a length of less than 160 metres may safely pass under it; whereas this eliminates Panamax-size vessels, which account for over 20 % of all ship traffic on these waters;

F. whereas the very detailed and long-lasting inspections of traversing vessels conducted by the Russian Federation can take up to 72 hours, causing serious delays, a decrease in cargo flows and tangible financial losses for the local Ukrainian economy and merchants whose vessels are subjected to this regime;

G. whereas, according to Ukrainian Government sources, more than 200 vessels had to undergo this tedious inspection regime until the end of September, with this number changing by the day; whereas, according to EU estimates, more than 120 ships under flags of various EU Member States were affected during the same period;

H. whereas before the opening of the bridge over the Kerch Strait in spring this year, inspections were random and non-intrusive, affecting an estimated one in fifty passing vessels, and did not cause disruptions to the free flow of vessels and cargo;

I. whereas since the illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula, the importance of the Ukrainian ports of Mariupol and Berdyansk in the Sea of Azov has significantly increased, as 80 % of the volume of Ukraine's maritime exports(3) passes through these ports and waters;

J. whereas the Russian Federation continues to illegally extract natural resources (oil and gas) from Ukrainian territory, particularly in the illegally occupied Crimean peninsula and on the shelf of the Black Sea;

K. whereas on 16 September in response to the heightening tensions and increasing Russian naval presence in the Sea of Azov allegedly to protect the bridge over the Kerch Strait, Ukraine announced its intention to create a naval base on these waters by the end of the year and decided to transfer additional forces of the Marine Corps and coastal artillery to the coast line; whereas Russia has a clear advantage in terms of the quantity and military capabilities of vessels it can deploy in the area and in this regard is taking advantage of its control of the Crimean peninsula and the port of Sevastopol;

L. whereas on 17 September Ukraine decided to repeal the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership between Ukraine and the Russian Federation signed in 1997 as a response to increased Russian military presence in the Sea of Azov;

1. Condemns Russia's activities in the Sea of Azov, which constitute a breach of international maritime law and Russia's own international commitments; considers the current hostile activities to be a creeping attempt to annex these waters and transform them into a Russian 'internal lake';

2. Expresses serious concern that Russia's actions in the Sea of Azov are impeding international maritime traffic and violating the freedom of the seas and navigation, with the aim of further destabilising the Ukrainian state and to the detriment of the economic foundations of the south-eastern regions of Ukraine, where the relevance of sea ports is ever more critical since the illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula; considers these actions by Russia to be a partial blockade of Ukraine's ports located in the Sea of Azov;

3. Expresses its very serious concern about the very volatile security situation in the Sea of Azov, which could easily escalate to an open conflict;

4. Strongly protests against the discriminatory practice of the excessively prolonged inspection regime to which vessels crossing the Kerch Strait transiting to and from Ukrainian ports are subject to, these inspections being carried out on account of bogus security threats related to the protection of the new bridge over the strait; demands an explanation as to why Russian and all other third-country vessels bound for Russian ports in the Sea of Azov are not subject to a similar regime; considers that Russia is consciously discriminating against Ukrainian ports and is abusing its inspection rights;

5. Regrets that the economic situation of the region is being undermined by the Russian Federation, and that the delays to and restriction of the flow of cargo have affected the workload of Ukraine's sea ports and hampered the regional economy; points out that the financial losses are already amounting to tens of millions of euros and concern also EU merchants operating vessels in these waters;

6. Condemns Russia's continued militarisation of the Black Sea and now the Sea of Azov region, particularly with the reinforcement of the Russian Black Sea Fleet and Coast Guard in the Sea of Azov; regrets that the Sea of Azov has become a new maritime arena of belligerent Russian actions against Ukraine;

7. Condemns the construction of the bridge over the Kerch Strait linking the illegally annexed Crimean peninsula with mainland Russia, with the aim of further integrating the peninsula with Russia by force and increasing its isolation from Ukraine, which it continues to be part of; considers this to be another example of the Russian Federation violating Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity;

8. Considers that this bridge seriously hinders navigation through the Kerch Strait between the Azov and Black seas;

9. Deplores the illegal extraction of oil and gas resources by the Russian Federation from Ukrainian territory; highlights the possible danger of Russia seizing existing Ukrainian oil and gas fields in the Sea of Azov once it achieves its aim of transforming it into an internal lake within the Russian Federation;

10. Considers Western protests, including those by the EU, against Russian actions in this regard to have so far been weak and ineffective, despite the serious nature and strategic intent behind Russia's Azov Sea operation and the increasing number of vessels under EU Member State flags affected by it;

11. Calls on the VP/HR to follow more closely the evolving security situation in the Sea of Azov, given its growing conflict potential on Europe's doorstep, which may have wider security implications affecting the EU and its Member States directly;

12. Calls on the VP/HR to assist the Ukrainian side in taking advantage of all diplomatic action and legal procedures provided for by international law and relevant conventions, including the ongoing arbitration process under the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas, with a view to countering Russian hostile practices in the Sea of Azov;

13. Reiterates its strong and unwavering support for Ukraine's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity;

14. Expresses its condolences and sympathy with the families of the victims of the mass murder at the college in Kerch on 17 October 2018, where 20 people were killed and dozens wounded, and with the Ukrainian people; calls for this tragedy not to be used as an excuse by the Russian occupying authorities to enhance its crack down on human rights and those opposing the new regime and to further militarise and strengthen its security control over the region;

15. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative of the Union for Foreign and Security Policy, the President, Prime Minister and Parliament of Ukraine, the President, Prime Minister and Parliament of the Russian Federation, the Member States, the Secretary-Generals of the United Nations and NATO, and the OSCE.