Saving Ukrainian sailors

Taras Semeniuk
13:00, 28 November 2018
Politics
853 0
Opinion

The Russia-controlled court in the occupied Crimea's Simferopol on Tuesday started handing down rulings on remanding in custody Ukrainian Navy sailors captured by Russians in neutral waters off the Crimea coast. Until January 25, 2019, they will remain in custody. Ironically, the invaders accuse Ukrainians of violating sea borders under Article 322 of the Russian Criminal Code.

Therefore, the question now arises of how can we achieve their release and which legal instruments can be applied to protect them.

The Russians transported Ukrainian crew specifically to the occupied Crimea, not mainland Russia, to prevent the arrival of Kyiv's official representatives

The complexity of the situation is that the Russians transported Ukrainian crew specifically to the occupied Crimea, not mainland Russia, to prevent the arrival of Kyiv's official representatives. The case of Sentsov and other Kremlin political prisoners is quite different, because they were tried in Russia.

Therefore, unfortunately, families cannot visit their captured relatives right now as it is not that easy to come to Crimea. There is no access to the captives for representatives of Ukraine's diplomatic institutions, except for the Parliamentary Human Rights Commissioner Liudmyla Denisova (only with the support of international organizations). The only way to reach out to the crew is through their lawyers. Therefore, it remains to rely on the skill of the defenders and expect the presence and pressure on the Russians of international organizations, such as the Red Cross.

Besides, Ukraine could employ proven means of international pressure and demand economic sanctions.

Russia does not care too much about international pressure, which is clearly seen in the Sentsov case as well as cases of other political prisoners. A state that systematically violates international law and independently sets its own laws that should have been agreed with its neighbors will not listen to third parties

It should also be noted that official Kyiv considers captured seamen to be prisoners of war, because there was an unconcealed act of military aggression on the part of Russia that resulted in the capture of Ukrainian navy boats and their crews.

Is there any chance of having Ukrainian sailors released in this case? There is a chance, but it is not that great. Russia does not care too much about international pressure, which is clearly seen in the Sentsov case as well as cases of other political prisoners. A state that systematically violates international law and independently sets its own laws that should have been agreed with its neighbors will not listen to third parties. Besides, they have long got used to that "concern" traditionally expressed in the West over their wrongdoings.

The UN Security Council could have an impact on the situation, but Russia's veto right will more than obviously be applied. The only way for the UNSC not to recognize Russia's veto right is to recognize it "party to a dispute." That's when Russia "shall refrain from voting at a decision based on Chapter VI and on the basis of paragraph 3 of Article 52," according to Art 27 of the UN Charter.

Therefore, the only thing Ukraine has left to do to have the POWs released is to once again unite the international community around the problem of illegal arrest and trial of Ukrainian seamen, since they were captured in the water area, which, according to an international agreement between Ukraine and Russia of 2003, is a water area for free use by both Russia and Ukraine. The fact of Russia's violation of this agreement is more than obvious.

It should be understood that legal instruments may still fail, while economic tools of pressure might actually play the required role.

Since the military conflict at sea unfolded at NATO borders, this is no longer a "local brawl," but an incident claiming to gain the geopolitical context

Another scenario that will make it possible to have Ukrainian sailors released may arise from direct talks between Ukraine and Russia. This could be, for example, the exchange of prisoners of war. However, the success of such a scenario depends on a powerful mediator in the talks. Such mediator could be the United States or Turkey. Since the military conflict at sea unfolded at NATO borders, this is no longer a "local brawl," but an incident claiming to gain the geopolitical context. And, given that it could trigger further escalation and Russia's aggression at sea against Ukraine, neighboring countries may also be affected.

After all, Russia never gave up on its plans to gain full control not only in the waters of the Sea of Azov, but also in that of the Black Sea.

Taras Semeniuk is an analyst with KyivStratPro

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