Russia hits back after Ukrainian admiral seeks Bosphorus blockade

A Russian politician has hit back after the commander of the Ukrainian Navy, Vice Admiral Ihor Voronchenko, called on Turkey to block Russian ships from crossing the Bosphorus Strait, which separates the Black Sea from the Sea of Marmara

On Thursday Voronchenko said his country would ask for Russian ships to be banned from using the Bosphorus Strait as tensions continue to simmer days after Russian military forces fired on and then seized three Ukrainian navy vessels. Moscow also apprehended sailors on the vessels, several of whom were wounded in the incident on Sunday.

"Legally speaking, Kiev’s intention to close down the Bosporus for Russian ships is useless,” the Russian federal parliament’s Committee on Defense and Security First Deputy Chairman, Franz Klintsevich, told reporters on Thursday.

The Russian government says the Ukrainian vessels had illegally entered its maritime territories and were dealt with lawfully. Kiev, however, says the ships – two gunboats and a tug – had been headed off as they tried to enter the Kerch Strait, which connects the Azov Sea to the Black Sea, and were attacked as they turned back toward Ukraine after a long standoff.

The 23 soldiers captured during the incident had still not been returned by Thursday, a fact that apparently prompted U.S. President Donald Trump to cancel a meeting with Putin scheduled during the two-day G20 summit in Argentina, which starts on Friday.

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that he had proposed his own country as a mediator between Ukraine and Russia.

While the Kerch Strait incident was the first sign of open conflict between the countries, Ukrainian forces have been fighting Russian-backed groups in the east Ukrainian Donbass region since shorlty after the Ukrainian revolution in February 2014.

Moscow annexed the Crimean Peninsula in March that year, granting it control of the Kerch Strait, the only maritime route leading to the Sea of Azov, where Russia and Ukraine both have coastlines.

Kiev is reportedly concerned that the incident could lead to a full-scale invasion by Russia, and has appealed to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to send ships to the Black Sea. Voronchenko also declared on Thursday his country’s intention to call on Turkey to revoke Russian access to the Bosphorus.

The Ukrainian admiral invoked the 1936 Montreux Convention, which acknowledges Turkey’s control of the straits and regulates naval transit in the area, saying the Russian vessels could be barred entry based on paragraph 19 of the convention. This allows Turkey to block vessels at times of war or when they pose a direct security threat.

However, Klintsevich said, the paragraph has “nothing to do” with the Kerch strait crisis.

“"Russia is not at war with anyone and is not going to wage one," he said. "By strongly reacting to the illegitimate attempts of the Ukrainian naval vessels to pass through our territorial waters, the Russian border guards acted strictly in line with international law."