Delegation of the European Union to Russia

10/23/2018 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 10/23/2018 11:27

Speech by HR/VP Federica Mogherini on the situation in the Sea of Azov

Strasbourg, 23 October 2018

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Thank you Madame Chair.

I would like to thank the Parliament for keeping a strong focus on the security situation around the Black Sea, after the illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula.

We do not and we will not recognise the illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula to the Russian Federation. It is first and foremost a matter of principles and values - principles and values that all European nations agreed in Helsinki in 1975.

We all agreed to the basic principle that our frontiers cannot be changed by military force. This is a principle, this is a value, on which our common living together is based. This is also a fundamental interest of all Europeans, because this is the foundation of peace and security on our European continent. When this principle is violated - as it has been - we are all less secure in our continent.

The events in the Sea of Azov are a demonstration of this: when the basic rules of peaceful coexistence are disregarded, instability and tensions are bound to rise. The construction of the Kerch Bridge between the Crimean peninsula and the Russian Federation took place without Ukraine's consent, and it constitutes another violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. On top of that, the bridge hinders the passage of vessels to Ukrainian ports in the Azov Sea.

Six months ago, Russia started to apply a new inspection regime for cargo vessels coming from Ukraine's ports in the Azov Sea, or heading towards them. These inspections lead to long delays, which have increased dramatically over the past months. This has direct consequences on shipping costs, not only for Ukrainian exporters, but also for vessels flying a European Union Member State's flag. So far, more than 200 vessels under both Ukrainian and international flags have been affected by these controls by Russia, which in some cases lasted several days.

Even more worrying, tougher controls on naval traffic in the strait have gone in parallel with the militarisation of the Azov Sea. Russia has recently started deploying military vessels to the area in significant numbers, and Ukraine has partially responded with an increased military presence.

Let me recall that the Azov Sea used to be almost fully demilitarised, and that Ukraine and Russia have signed a cooperation agreement 'on the use of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait'. This agreement implies that disputes between the parties are to be resolved through consultations and negotiations. We appreciate that Ukraine is seeking justice in international courts, such as the ongoing case under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

When international law is violated, when Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity are violated, the European Union stands by the people of Ukraine. We immediately condemned the construction of the Kerch Bridge without Ukraine's consent. In July, the Council added six entities involved in the construction of the [Kerch] Bridge to the list of those subject to restrictive measures over actions that undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

A militarisation of the Azov Sea is in no-one's interest, and it can only destabilise the delicate security situation in the wider Black Sea region.

Let me remind us all that the Black Sea is a European sea, and we do not want to witness yet another military build-up in our immediate region. We will continue to push for the respect of international law and conventions, and to support Ukraine in these challenging circumstances. I am sure that I can count on the support of this [European] Parliament in this work we are doing.

Thank you.

Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I162142