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Ukraine Unilaterally Closes Ports to Russian Ships

© Sputnik / И. ЗенинShips in Dnister River, file photo.
Ships in Dnister River, file photo. - Sputnik International, 1920, 01.01.2022
Ukrainian authorities first proposed restrictions on Russian commercial vessels operating in Ukraine’s internal waters in 2018, deeming them a potential “terrorist threat to critical infrastructure.” In late 2020, Ukraine’s parliament passed a bill to put the restrictions in place, with the law stepping into force 1 January 2022.
Ukraine’s new law ‘On Inland Water Transport’ prohibits Russian-owned cargo and passenger vessels from accessing inland waterways both large and small, including the Dniester, Dnieper and Danube rivers and various reservoirs.
“Coastal passage between river ports…for the carrying out of cargo operations in the inland waterways of Ukraine…can be conducted by Ukrainian ships or foreign vessels, the owners of which are business entities registered on the territory of Ukraine, except for ships flying the flag of the aggressor state, ships whose owners are citizens of a state deemed by Ukraine as an aggressor state or an occupying state,” the law says.
“Aggressor state” is a term that has been widely used by Ukrainian authorities to refer to Russia following the February 2014 coup d’état in Kiev, which installed a pro-Western government and prompted the citizens of Crimea to stage a referendum vote to break off from Ukraine and rejoin Russia.
Passed by Ukraine’s parliament – the Verkhovna Rada, in December 2020, the law ‘On Inland Water Transport’ is ostensibly aimed in part at reviving domestic traffic along the country’s river arteries, with the ministry of infrastructure expecting total tonnage to increase to 30 million tonnes per year, and the equivalent of about $450-$565 million US in revenue.
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Non-“aggressor state” foreigners and foreign companies can charter vessels for operations in Ukraine’s internal waterways, sans crew, and foreign ships will be required to provide documents and the owner’s permission for temporary registration in Ukraine. Vessels flying foreign flags entry into ports to unload cargo or passengers will continue to be regulated by international treaties, the law says.
The ministry of infrastructure came up with the idea of barring Russian ships from accessing the country’s internal waterways in 2018, citing the supposed “terrorist threat” posed by Russian vessels. The idea came amid a diplomatic spat between the two countries over the illegal detention of a Russian fishing vessel by Ukrainian border guards in the spring of 2018. Russia subsequently warned ship owners operating in Ukrainian waters to take note of the “risks of pirate-style seizures of Russian vessels by Ukrainian authorities.”
The economic impact of the new law is not yet known. Russian-Ukrainian economic and trade ties have degenerated dramatically since the 2014 coup, with cooperation in important areas including rocketry and aeronautics, machine- and shipbuilding collapsing and putting some Ukrainian industrial giants on the brink of bankruptcy. Overall trade has declined from over $45 billion in 2013 to $7.3 billion in 2020.
Russian President Vladimir Putin recently estimated that between 1991 and 2013, Russian price subsidies on gas saved Kiev over $82 billion, and lamented on the breaking up of a “natural complementary” economic partnership between the two nations which had been formed over the centuries.
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The new law ‘On Inland Water Transport’ comes amid the broader deterioration of Russian-Ukrainian ties and claims by Kiev that Moscow may be preparing an “invasion”. Russian authorities have dismissed these claims, accusing the Ukrainian government and its Western curators of deliberately exacerbating tensions as a pretext for new sanctions, and as a way to take their respective public’s minds off internal problems.
In November and December, Ukraine slapped new sanctions on Russian individuals and entities involved in the organisation of September’s elections to the Russian Duma from Crimea, and slapped restrictions on those involved in the construction of the Crimean Bridge.
On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned his US counterpart Joe Biden that new sanctions against Russia by Washington over Ukraine would be a “colossal mistake” that could rupture diplomatic ties. US officials, lawmakers and think tank pundits have openly called for new tough restrictions against Russia, with some even proposing carrying out a financial “preemptive strike” against Moscow by cutting the country off from the SWIFT payment system, regardless of whether or not it “invades” anyone.
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