Five points on the Kerch Strait incident and its effects

  1. The Russian attack on Ukrainian navy ships on 25 November in the Kerch strait was the first occasion that Russian armed forces conducted an operation against Ukrainian military units under a Russian flag. The attack breached the 2003 Russian-Ukrainian agreement on the joint use of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait. Russia’s intention was presumably to demonstrate Ukraine’s weakness and forcing Kiev to stop monitoring the naval traffic on the Sea of Azov. Russia could also have aspired to weaken Petro Poroshenko’s position in the Ukrainian presidential elections.
  2. The incident had serious potential for escalation; the fact that nobody died during the incident even though Russia used force is partly the result of pure luck. The three captured ships and 23 Ukrainian sailors (including multiple injured) are currently awaiting a decision on their fates in the Crimean port of Kerch.
  3. The international community reacted swiftly and resolutely. The Russian aggression was condemned by the European Union, NATO, the US, the British, German and other governments. Russia fell under strong international pressure thanks to these reactions, which is important considering the fact that Moscow wants to avoid the implementation of further sanctions against it. On 26 November, Russia was already trying to de-escalate military tensions.
  4. The Ukrainian reaction was just as tough. As a response to the incident, Ukraine mobilised its navy and declared a state of military emergency in 10 administrative divisions, which is not a declaration of war against Russia. From the Hungarian perspective, it is even more important than no such state was implemented in Transcarpathia.
  5. At the same time, the Ukrainian Parliament fixed the election date to 31 March to avoid any speculation that President Poroshenko provoked the Kerch Strait incident to delay the election. The decision strengthens Ukraine’s internal and foreign policy stability in the eyes of the international community.

András Rácz

Historian, political scientist and specialist on Russia-affairs. He defended his Ph.D. in Modern History in 2008 at the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary. Between 2007 and 2014 he worked at the former Hungarian Institute of International Affairs, as well as at the Center for Strategic and Defense Studies. In 2014-2016 he was Senior Research Fellow of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs in Helsinki. Since his return to Hungary he has been Associate Professor at the Institute of International Relations and Political Sciences of the Pázmány Péter Catholic University. Besides, he is Non-Resident Research Fellow of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute operating in Tallinn. His fields of expertise are the security and defense policy issues of the post-Soviet region, as well as relations of Russia and Central-Europe. His most important works include the book ‘Russia’s Hybrid War in Ukraine: Breaking the Enemy’s Ability to Resist’, published in Helsinki in 2015, and a collection of studies titled ‘Fog of Falsehood: Russian Strategy of Deception and the Conflict in Ukraine’, co-edited with Katri Pynnöniemi, published in 2016.

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