On March 15, the European Union added eight Russian officials to the list of those subject to restrictive measures in respect of actions undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine.
These new listings have been adopted by the Council of the EU as a response to escalation in the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov and the violations of international law by Russia, which used military force with no justification.
“The officials sanctioned include the head and deputy head of the border directorate of Russian federal security service for the Republic of Crimea and City of Sevastopol, three commanding officers of Russian border patrol boats and an anti-submarine ship which actively participated in actions that prevented Ukrainian vessels from accessing their coastline on the Sea of Azov, two heads of service of Russian control points, and a Russian armed forces commander responsible for military forces in the region, including the illegally annexed Crimea and Sevastopol,” the statement reads.
The Council also extended the validity of these restrictive measures for a further 6 months, until 15 September 2019. The Council removed one deceased person from the list. The measures now apply to a total of 170 persons and 44 entities. They consist of a travel ban and an asset freeze. EU operators are also forbidden from making funds available to the listed individuals and entities.
As stated by the European Council on 13 December, the EU requests the immediate release of all detained Ukrainian seamen as well as the return of the seized vessels and free passage of all ships through the Kerch Strait. It reaffirms its commitment to international law, the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of Ukraine and the EU’s policy of non-recognition of the illegal annexation of Crimea.
On November 25, three Ukrainian ships were captured by the Russian special forces when going from Odessa to Mariupol. The Russian side accused them of violating the state border and ‘dangerous maneuvering’ and sent military reinforcements to the scene of the incident, including combat helicopters.
Since the Ukrainian ships were not allowed into the Sea of Azov, they finally turned back to Odessa. But the Russians pursued the Ukrainians in neutral waters, demanded a halt, and eventually used lethal force. “Nikopol”, “Berdyansk” and “Yany Kapu” gunboats were captured and sent to Kerch. Russia took prisoner 24 people, 6 sailors were injured.
In response, 30-day martial law was introduced in 10 regions of Ukraine — those bordering Russia, Transnistria and the Black Sea coast, as well as in Chernihiv region bordering Belarus. In turn, Vladimir Putin called the incident ‘provocation staged by Petro Poroshenko ahead of the presidential election in Ukraine’.
On January 7, Ukraine filed a lawsuit against Russia in the European Court of Human Rights for the detention of sailors in the Black Sea.