WASHINGTON—Following recent Russian attacks on Ukrainian ships in the Black Sea, the subsequent capture of Ukrainian sailors, and the introduction of martial law in areas of Ukraine, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) issued the following statement:
“I strongly condemn Russia’s recent violence against Ukrainians, including the seizure of Ukrainian vessels in the Black Sea and Azov Sea regions. Russia must release the Ukrainians it has illegally detained. I also urge the government of Ukraine to respond to these incidents in a manner consistent with the preservation of the rights and freedoms of its citizens. To jeopardize these principles in the name of national security is to play into the hands of Vladimir Putin’s propaganda.
“To facilitate U.S. policy responses, I hope the State Department and Department of Defense will clarify the international status of the Azov Sea, which has important implications for freedom of navigation worldwide. It is clear that Russia has repeatedly violated the 2003 agreement between Ukraine and Russia on the sea as shared waters.”
In May 2018, Russia completed the Kerch Bridge, connecting Russia with occupied Crimea and allowing Russia to control the Kerch Strait, which connects the Black and Azov seas. Since then, Russian ships have systematically harassed Ukrainian vessels and sailors, subjecting them to costly delays and taking a severe toll on the Ukrainian economy. A 2003 agreement between Russia and Ukraine states that the Azov Sea is shared waters.