One month after Russia attacked three Ukrainian navy ships in the Kerch Strait, Ukraine's Navy chief said his country was prepared to defend its sovereignty from its bigger neighbor and exert its freedom to navigate in the body of water.
"There's a war going on, initiated by Russia…and this war is raging at the sea too, since 2014. Whether we want and don't want to lay low at bases and offices; we have to fulfill our duties regarding the protection of our sovereign interests. And the sovereign interests of Ukraine apply to the Kerch Strait as well," Vice Admiral Andriy Tarasov, chief of Ukraine's naval staff, told the Kyiv Post.
"If we face an act of aggression, we will be ready to have different rules, particularly regarding the use of weapons, if we are forced to do so, and if we are fully entitled by international and Ukrainian law," Tarasov continued.
On November 25, Russia attacked the three Ukrainian navy vessels after obstructing their passage through the Kerch Strait from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov. The strait connects mainland Russia and the Russian-occupied Crimean peninsula, Newsweek reported.
According to article 123 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, both Ukraine and Russia are required to share use of the Strait as well as the other waters surrounding the two countries.
Russia has been working to make it increasingly difficult for Ukraine to use the ports surrounding the Crimean peninsula, and the recent attack is considered part of that strategy. About 24 Ukrainian sailors were detained in the skirmish, and they have yet to be released.
Nevertheless, Tarasov expressed his conviction that Ukraine's Navy must continue to operate in the area.
Other officials in Ukraine argued that the country needs the international community to continue to pressure Russia to allow freedom of navigation in the waters.
"Our ships were navigating sea routes where freedom of navigation is guaranteed by international maritime law. This is not an opinion but an indisputable fact. The only 'crime' to have taken place was that perpetrated by Russian forces, which fired on and then seized Ukrainian ships and their crews in open waters," Ukraine's minister of foreign affairs Pavlo Klimkin wrote in an op-ed for Politico Europe.
"It is our firm belief that the highly volatile and dangerous situation in the Sea of Azov and Kerch Strait can only be deescalated through solidarity among countries with a shared respect for international law," Klimkin continued.
Earlier, Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine Oleksandr Turchynov said Ukrainian ships would try to pass through the Kerch Strait, taking representatives of OSCE and other international organizations on board as witnesses.