eIn half a year after the violence against Ukrainian ships in the Black Sea, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg wants to defuse the dispute between Moscow and Kiev. As a first measure, Russia had to release the 24 sailors arrested last November, Judge Jin-Hyun Paik judged on Saturday in Hamburg. Likewise, Russia must return three seized vessels to Ukraine. It is unlikely that Moscow will implement this order immediately. Russia is boycotting the case because it questions the jurisdiction of the court in this case.
The sailors were violently stopped and arrested last year by the Russian Coast Guard while trying to reach the Sea of Azov from the Black Sea. Since then, the men have been in custody in the Russian capital. They face up to six years imprisonment in a trial in Russia.
The background to the dispute is also the complicated situation following the annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014. Both Ukraine and Russia use inland waters. Russia considers the strait of Kerch as its territory, even though a 2003 Treaty guarantees Ukraine free passage. That's why Moscow wants to take the sailors to court for violating the state border. However, Kiev considers the detainees prisoners of war. At the same time, however, there are voices in Ukraine that Petro Poroshenko, the then incumbent president, deliberately provoked the incident and thus risked arresting the men.
A release from Moscow could be an important signal to ease the broken relations between the two countries, wrote the new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Selenskyj on Facebook. So Russia could show whether it is seriously interested in a solution to the conflict with the neighboring country. “Let's see which way the Kremlin will choose,” he wrote. Selenskyj had announced after his election victory in April that his main task was to free the sailors from Russian custody.
Immediately after the verdict, the Russian Foreign Ministry emphasized that Moscow still refused to participate in the trial. Reason was that military activities by ships and planes of the government under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea were not within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, it was said.
The court that oversees compliance with the convention does not see it this way: the incident is not a military action, the judge said. Likewise, the use of force by the Russian authorities is seen as law enforcement rather than military action.
Federal government is committed to seafarers
Therefore, both sides should not initiate additional measures to further aggravate the extremely tense situation, it was said. Russia is obliged to meet the demands. By June 25, Ukraine and Russia would have to send a report to the judges in Hamburg.
The Federal Government had repeatedly called for the release of the 24 sailors and a peaceful solution to the conflict. Green politician Manuel Sarrazin said Germany must demand the implementation of the conflict. In addition, the judgment shows that “whether the Kremlin is interested in compliance with international law at all.”