On Sunday, Ukraine's Berdyansk and Nikopol gunboats and the Yany Kapu tugboat illegally crossed the Russian maritime border. According to Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), the vessels sailed toward the Kerch Strait, the entrance to the Sea of Azov, and were seized by Russia after failing to respond to a demand to stop.
As a response to the incident, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a decree declaring martial law in select regions of Ukraine that lie on the Russian border as well as the coasts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov for 30 days.
Third Party's Possible Involvement
'The Westerners, mainly the United States, who so far had not dared to defy Russia militarily in the Sea of Azov, obviously pushed Poroshenko on the offensive. Their hope was that Russia would respond militarily, which would make them the bad aggressors', French geopolitical specialist Jean-Paul Baquiast said.
Belgian military expert Pierre Henrot agreed with his French colleague, saying that the incident indeed might have been inspired by Washington and sought to test Russia's resolve.
'When Kiev sends three small naval vessels to cross the strait without warning Russia, it is a pure provocation or testing the Russian resolve. Has it been 'encouraged' by Washington? It is very possible. Militarizing the small Sea of Azov is a very bad idea that Moscow cannot accept. The Russian deep seawater fleet is in Sevastopol, in Crimea, since the time of the tsars and the Soviet Union', Henrot indicated.
He also warned that any attempt to alter the situation might result in Moscow blocking of the port of Mariupol and recommended that Kiev should not disturb "the Russian bear."
'A trigger for these incidents is the approach of the presidential election… in Ukraine scheduled for March 2019. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is a candidate for re-election, but his popularity is terribly low, around 8 per cent of favourable opinions! He very probably decided for the clash to enact martial law. This allows him to ban street protests, control the media and possibly postpone the elections', Baquiast suggested.
Jaromir Kohlicek, a member of the EU Parliament’s Delegation to the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Association Committee, shared Baquiast's views.
'I think it is a clear-cut provocation. I understand presidential elections in Ukraine are approaching. According to opinion polls actually [Yulia] Timoshenko is two times more popular than Poroshenko. How to change this state? The incident is the consequence of this reasoning. In Kiev battalion, Azov immediately responded;, Kohlicek said.
According to Nina Bashkatov, a professor of political sciences at the Liege University in Belgium, Poroshenko used his preferred method of fighting an external enemy.
'President Poroshenko has built his career by presenting himself as a wall against Russia. The economic situation of Ukraine has degraded a lot and his poll ratings are very low at 5 per cent now. That is why he more often appears in the uniform of the commander in chief. He is put in difficulty by the ultra-nationalists, and parliament has not followed him in all his requests about martial law. The elections are confirmed for March 31', Bashkatov stated.
'This Kerch Strait incident has come at the right time to poison the G20 meeting, where Trump and Putin will meet at the coming weekend. This has the flavour of a tactical provocation, conceived to make any rapprochement between the superpowers impossible', Bashkatov believed.
She added that he believed that Europe was ready to believe in anything that comes from Kiev.
Belgian lawmaker Filip Dewinter, for his part, expressed hope that the incident in the Sea of Azov would open the eyes of the European politicians and demonstrate the risks of military cooperation with Ukraine.
The views and opinions expressed by the speakers do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.