Russia harasses international shipping in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait, the United States said on Thursday, adding that this is a further example of Moscow’s attempts to “destabilize” Ukraine, VOA News reports.
The State Department accused Russia of impeding hundreds of commercial vessels since April by limiting the size of ships that can transit the strait, the only path to reach Ukraine’s territorial waters in the Sea of Azov from the Black Sea.
“Russia’s actions to impede maritime transit are further examples of its ongoing campaign to undermine and destabilize Ukraine, as well as its disregard for international norms,” the State Department said.
“We call on Russia to cease its harassment of international shipping in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait,” it said, adding that the United States continues to support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, including its territorial waters.
In response, Russia’s Embassy in Washington said it denies claims by the U.S. State Department that Russian ships were delaying commercial vessels in the Sea of Azov bounded by Ukraine.
“U.S. authorities continue to generate new accusations against Russia to deflect attention from flagrant violations of human rights both in its satellite states… and at home,” the Embassy said in a statement.
Russia in 2014 seized and annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region, leading to a series of sanctions being imposed against Moscow by the West, which has not recognized the annexation. This year, Russia opened its $3.7 billion Crimean Bridge, after two years of building. The project aims to link the occupied Ukrainian peninsula with southern Russia across the Kerch Strait. The move led to condemnation and additional sanctions from Kyiv and Western governments.
In mid-May, following the bridge’s completion, Russia reportedly moved naval vessels, including warships from its Caspian Flotilla to the Sea of Azov, citing a need for stepped-up security around the new structure.
Since then, Russia has detained more than 148 Ukrainian and foreign merchant ships — many more than once — and interrogated their crew members, according to Ukrainian officials, port authorities, local shipping companies, and experts.
Ukraine on August 29 said it would soon boost its naval presence in the Sea of Azov.