Russia-Ukraine sea clash


  • GS Prelims, GS Mains paper II, Political Science Optional
  • International Relations, Russia-Ukraine clash

Why in News?

  • Recently, Russian forces fired at and seized three Ukrainian naval vessels at Kerch strait


Students are advised to learn every marking on the map: G. Rajput

Russia and Ukraine share the Sea of Azov as part of a 2003 agreement.

But after annexing Crimea in 2014, Moscow now controls the Kerch Strait, and with it access to Ukraine’s own ports.



  • Twenty five years ago, Ukraine was the world’s third-largest nuclear power, with more warheads than the United Kingdom, France and China combined.
  • After declaring independence in 1991, Ukraine found itself with thousands of Soviet nuclear weapons that were still controlled by Russian systems.
  • The government in Kiev inherited this arsenal after the breakup of the Soviet Union, finding itself in possession of an estimated 5,000 nuclear weapons, more than 170 intercontinental ballistic missiles and several dozen nuclear bombers.
  • In 1994, Ukraine agreed to dismantle this stockpile in return for a promise from Russia that the country wouldn’t be attacked.
  • But after Russian forces fired at and seized three Ukrainian naval vessels on Sunday, Kiev has pointed to this deal and suggested that the U.S. and Europe should do more to protect it against the vastly superior Russian military.
  • For months Ukraine has accused Russia of restricting access to its own ports in the nearby Sea of Azov, alleging the Kremlin wants to turn it into a Russian lake.
  • But the attack on the vessels and detention of their crews brought the relationship between the neighbors to a new low. Ukraine says the incident occurred in international waters.
  • Ukraine insists Moscow is again blockading the sea, something Moscow denies. Russia says it merely needs to inspect all ships passing through as a security measure to protect a $3.6 billion bridge it’s built across the Kerch Strait from its mainland to Crimea, which it annexed in 2014.

Analysis of the situation:

  • Criticism from the West: There has been renewed Western diplomatic pressure.
  • The UN Security Council and NATO are calling on Moscow and Kiev to de-escalate tensions. But there is little hope.
  • European powers are divided between those advocating greater diplomatic engagement with the Kremlin and others wanting to press with further sanctions to punish perceived Russian political interference.
  • But there has been little appreciation of the provocation for Moscow from NATO’s continued expansion into the former Eastern Europe and the erstwhile USSR.
  • The geopolitical imperative of greater engagement with Moscow has never been more urgent, as hawks in the U.S. administration make no secret of their preference for confrontation over dialogue.
  • The problem is that the Budapest Memorandum is a political agreementrather than a legally binding treaty. It does not say countries have to take any particular action if it is violated, other than enter into talks.
  • The U.S. says it remains committed to the agreement, and has provided more than $2.8 billion since 2014 to help Ukraine “defend its territory and implement key reforms.”
  • Some 200 U.S. troops are stationed at a base in western Ukraine, albeit hundreds of miles from Crimea or fighting in the east. And earlier this year the Trump administration sold Ukraine Javelin anti-tank guided missiles worth an estimated $47 million.
  • The recent escalations could serve well the leaders of both Russia and Ukraine to divert attention from the sagging popularity levels at home.
  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko faces a general election next year, which, it is widely forecast, he will lose.
  • But the humanitarian situation arising from the continuing conflict brooks no delay in arriving at a speedy resolution.
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