Reconnaissance in force: Why Ukraine needs a law on expanding control in the Black Sea

20:30, 09 November 2018
Politics
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Opinion

On November 8, the Verkhovna Rada passed in the first reading a bill on the legal regime of the adjacent zone of Ukraine, which would actually increase the territory of control in the Black Sea - the adjacent zone will be the water area bordering the territorial sea of Ukraine at a distance of 24 nautical miles instead of today's 12 miles.

Even before the war in Donbas, Ukraine offered Russia to discuss various options for expanding the adjacent zone in the Black Sea, but this did not suit the Russians, because in this way Ukraine could get an extensive legalized economic zone. For example, an option was discussed, where the water area of the seas would be controlled by the international law of the sea, to which the Russians, of course, did not agree. Indeed, thanks to this approach, Ukraine could have gotten the opportunity to develop the Black Sea shelf without coordination with Russia, requesting international companies' assistance. In addition, in this case, again, without coordination with the Russian Federation, Ukraine would have gotten the right to allow the entry of foreign warships...

Given the current difficult situation at sea, a number of American experts believe that the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea have long needed paving a kind of “red line” and, in case of its violation by Russia, Ukraine would already quite legitimately be able to proceed to military actions. But this is only a view from beyond.

As is known, the situation has worsened due to the escalation in the Sea of Azov, because there the use of the sea is based on a treaty signed with the Russian Federation in 2003. Then the position of Ukraine was not the strongest, and therefore the deal was signed with damage to our country. These shortcomings in the treaty are being used by the Russian authorities today, in particular, when they stop and inspect vessels for hours, thereby worsening the economic situation for Ukrainian ports.

Given the current difficult situation at sea, a number of American experts believe that the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea have long needed paving a kind of “red line” and, in case of its violation by Russia, Ukraine would already quite legitimately be able to proceed to military actions

As for the first reading of the draft law on the legal regime of the adjacent zone of Ukraine, it is one of the desired ways to overcome problems with Russia. In my opinion, this is an opportunity to gain control for 24 miles, try out such a scenario on the Black Sea, in order to subsequently apply the same division of the sea in the water area of the Sea of Azov. With the help of this law, Ukraine will have the opportunity to increase its naval presence.

We can definitely say that the reaction from the Russian side will be negative – for example, Russia may try to block access to the Sea of Azov for all ships except the Russian ones, apply regular economic sanctions and, ultimately, try to draw that “red line” themselves, which will only worsen the situation.

As for the first reading of the draft law on the legal regime of the adjacent zone of Ukraine, it is one of the desired ways to overcome problems with Russia

I think the possibility of such a bill working out is 60% to 40%, because by adopting a document in the first reading, we will be able to see the reaction not only in Russia, but also by the international community. Thus, it is quite possible that the bill is a kind of testing ground, the case when the reaction to the document itself is more important than the result.

Ihor Romanenko is a Ukrainian military expert, ex-deputy chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine

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