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Provoking Russia or propping up Poroshenko? NATO ridiculed over plans to ‘shield’ Ukrainian ships

Provoking Russia or propping up Poroshenko? NATO ridiculed over plans to ‘shield’ Ukrainian ships
Whatever the motivation may be behind NATO’s claims that it will ensure the free movement of Ukrainian vessels through the Crimean Kerch Strait, it’s still “a bad and dangerous” idea, Russian commenters believe.

“We are going to make sure that we have the capability to deter a very aggressive Russia,” US ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison told reporters on Tuesday. She claimed that a special “package” had been designed “to assure that there is a safe passage for Ukrainian vessels” through the Kerch Strait, a narrow waterway connecting the Black and Azov Seas, which Russia controls.

The strait became the scene of a tense maritime standoff last November as Ukrainian navy vessels deliberately violated Russia’s maritime border and were detained by the coastguard, which had to use force. Moscow decried the incident as a provocation linked to the upcoming Ukrainian election, while Kiev has kept threatening to send more of its ships into the area.

The fact that NATO decided to play the Kerch Strait card “indicates that it indirectly participates in the campaign of [Ukrainian President Petro] Poroshenko in the run up to the second round of the presidential election in Ukraine,” Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Russian Federal Council, wrote in a Facebook post.

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Western-backed Poroshenko needs some serious stunts to remain in power for another term, after being beaten –by an almost twofold margin– by comedian Volodymyr Zelensky in the first round last weekend.

“Kiev and candidate Poroshenko in particular don’t need a safe passage [through the Kerch Strait], but only provocations and a spike in tensions” to rally the voters behind him, the Senator argued. He decried NATO’s statement as “irresponsible,” saying that an increase in the bloc’s military presence in the Black Sea “won’t strengthen security, but will become a direct challenge to it.”

But the analysts commenting on Hutchison’s statement say that the saber-rattling will unlikely be followed by any real action from NATO.

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“There won’t be anything just because, if [NATO] decide to do something, it would mean a military conflict with Russia,” Konstantin Sivkov, a military expert and a retired Navy officer, said.

“Those making such statements have little knowledge of the Montreux Convention of 1936, which limits entry of naval vessels into the Black Sea,” Vladimir Kornilov, a historian and a political commenter, pointed out.

He offered a reminder that Ukrainian civilian ships have every right to pass through the Kerch Strait under a Russia-Ukraine treaty and “they invoke this clause every day.” Military vessels can sail through the strait too, provided that they notify the Russian port authorities in advance.

I can’t imagine how [NATO] would guarantee something to someone, and I’m sure they can’t imagine it too.

Konstantin Sokolov, an expert at the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, expressed concern that the Montreux Convention could be amended to “create tension” in the Black Sea. “They could revise it by a majority of votes” because “except for Russia, all parties to it are on the NATO side.”

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However, a show of force by NATO in the Kerch Strait didn’t sound realistic to Sokolov as it would mean “a military confrontation with Moscow,” which the bloc doesn’t want. As long as Russia can efficiently defend its maritime borders, he suggested reassuringly, there won’t be anything potentially dangerous in the Black Sea.

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