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Kyiv says Russia blocking Kerch Strait, plans to send Ukrainian navy ships

Russian construction of a bridge across the Kerch Strait, Sept. 15, 2016. (

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Ukraine is accusing Russia of keeping up its blockade of the Kerch Strait that links the Black Sea with the Sea of Azov, warning that it will soon send more navy ships through the strait.

The warning by Ukraine’s Defense Ministry sets up another possible military confrontation in the area, where Russian seized three Ukrainian Navy ships and 24 crewmen on November 25.

The Ukrainian Border Guard Service said on December 7 that more than 140 Ukrainian civilian ships were stuck on both sides of the Kerch Strait as a result of excessive checks and delays by Russia.

It accused Russia of creating a bottleneck for Ukrainian ships sailing between the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea.

The complaints come three days after Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Volodymyr Omelyan announced that Russia had “partially” unblocked Ukraine’s Sea of Azov ports, allowing Ukrainian ship to pass through the Kerch Strait for the first time since November 25.

“Vessels make their way to the entrance and exit through the Kerch Strait toward Ukrainian ports,” Omelyan said on December 4, adding that all Ukrainian ships “are stopped and inspected by Russia as before, but the traffic has been partially restored.”

The Ukrainian sailors remain in Russian captivity despite international calls for their release.

The November 25 incident off Crimea’s Black Sea coast near the Kerch Strait was the latest escalation in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine that began in 2014 when Russian forces seized and illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.