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Ukraine slams Russia’s ‘complete disrespect’ for international maritime law

President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with Russian Defence Ministry top officials and representatives of the Russian Defense Industry, at Bocharov Ruchei residence. (Klimentyev Mikhail/TASS /ZUMA Press/TNS)

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

Kyiv has urged an international arbitration panel in the Netherlands to hear its case about alleged Russian breaches of a United Nations maritime convention, accusing Moscow of “wholesale violations” of its rights in waters around Ukraine’s Crimea region.

Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Olena Zerkal on June 11 told the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague that Russia’s objections to the panel’s jurisdiction were “without legal merit.”

Alleged Russian violations in the Black Sea, the Sea of Azov, and the Kerch Strait showed Russia’s “complete disrespect for the international law of the sea,” Zerkal said.

Kyiv has filed a series of legal complaints against Moscow over its seizure of the Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has killed some 13,000 people.

Ukraine filed the case at the PCA in September 2016, accusing Russia of violating the Convention on the Law of the Sea concerning its rights in the Black Sea, the Sea of Azov, and the Kerch Strait.

The PCA began preliminary hearings into the case on June 10, with Russian representatives calling on the court to throw out Ukraine’s claim for lack of jurisdiction.

They argued that the dispute is about sovereignty over Crimea and falls outside the terms of the Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Zerkal disputed that, telling the PCA that it had jurisdiction to decide any disputes arising from the UN maritime convention, which covers issues such as mineral and fishing rights.

The deputy foreign minister reiterated Ukrainian and Western accusations that Russia is illegally restricting passage of Ukrainian ships through the Kerch Strait — the sole passage from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov.

“Russia built an illegal bridge across an international strait. It harasses ships of all countries as they navigate to and from Ukrainian ports,” Zerkal said.

“It steals our energy resources within our maritime areas,” she continued. “It excludes our fishermen from the waters they have always fished.”

Zerkal accused Russia of acting like an imperial power, adding, “Russia believes that it alone can make the rules, but it can’t.”

It is not clear when the PCA, the world’s oldest institution for the arbitration and resolution of disputes involving states, will issue a decision on jurisdiction.