Over the last month we witnessed a massive Russian mobilization on the Ukrainian borders. The exact purpose of the show of force is still uncertain, but the immediate risk of war seems to be over as most of the soldiers are now back in their barracks. However, the closed areas in the Black Sea that Russia established remain in place.
There has been much confusion as to what exactly it is that Russia is doing with these zones. For example there are reports like this one saying that the Kerch Strait is closed for Ukrainian vessels, while others say that the Kerch Strait will stay open. So I thought it would be useful to look into the question.
What is Russia doing?
Russia has announced that from 24 April until 31 October 2021, the right to innocent passage of Russian territorial waters is suspended for foreign warships and other state ships in three defined zones in the Black Sea. The coordinates are listed on page 28 in the Russian navigational warnings 17/21.
I have marked the three zones in the image below. As can be seen, one of the zones covers the southern approaches to the Kerch Strait. This means that in practical terms the Kerch Strait is closed for Ukrainian warships and other government ships. The two other zones cover the westernmost and southernmost areas of Crimea.
Innocent passage is defined in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) articles 17-19. The gist is that all ships have the right to navigation through the territorial sea of another state. The passage must take place in a continuous and expeditious manner, and it is not allowed to engage in activities other than those related to the passage such as weapons practice or intelligence collection.[Read more…] about Russia challenges international law with Black Sea prohibition zones