Behind Ukraine-Russia naval tensions, a more brutal economic war

By | November 26, 2018

Christian Science Monitor reports:

Russia’s conflict with Ukraine is back in the headlines after Russia seized three Ukrainian military vessels and their crews near Crimea, triggering a declaration of martial law in Ukraine and a fresh escalation of tensions between the two formerly friendly neighbors.

But very little attention has been paid to the economic slugfest between the two, which has caused far more destruction than Russia’s sanctions war with the West over the past five years, and will leave lasting consequences even if they manage to resolve the present, seemingly intractable, political conflict.

Russia and Ukraine were joined at the hip as part of a single state for more than three centuries. Both countries were hard hit by the rupture of traditional ties when the Soviet Union collapsed almost three decades ago, but that greatly intensified after a pro-Western government came to power in Kiev in early 2014, and Russia responded by annexing Crimea and promoting a separatist war in eastern Ukraine. The fallout from all that, plus repeated waves of bitter mutual sanctions, has caused Russian-Ukrainian trade to collapse by two-thirds in the past five years. Fresh sanctions levied this month by Moscow against leading Ukrainian politicians and companies suggest the rift may be solidifying into permanence.

But it is a remarkable fact that Russia remains Ukraine’s biggest single trading partner by a wide margin, while most individual countries of the European Union – the community aspired to by Ukraine’s Maidan Revolution – remain far down the list. The stubborn persistence of age-old economic ties in the face of harsh new political animosities is a reality that frustrates hardliners in both countries. But those ties also contain shreds of fading hope, amid the mutual acrimony, that differences might be peacefully bridged one day. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports:

Ukraine’s Parliament voted Monday to declare martial law in areas bordering Russia, responding to an attack a day earlier by Russian forces who fired on and impounded three Ukrainian naval vessels, leaving several sailors wounded.

The action by Parliament, which called it a “partial mobilization,” takes effect Wednesday morning, will last for 30 days and represents a further escalation of tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine had requested the vote, which happened as criticism of Russia was rising at the United Nations Security Council and NATO over the Sunday attack.

Russia’s attempt to use the Security Council session to blame Ukraine for the violence backfired, as ambassadors from the United States, Britain, France and others accused Russia of recklessness and violating Ukraine’s sovereignty. [Continue reading…]

Simon Tisdall writes:

The Kerch strait confrontation is a stark reminder of unfinished business between Russia and Ukraine. Tensions have been rising in recent months, caused by tit-for-tat sanctions, upcoming elections, religious rivalries, unchecked human rights abuses and unexplained “terrorist” bombings.

But the basic problem remains unchanged: the crisis in relations caused by Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014 after Ukraine’s pro-western Euromaidan protests, the subsequent low-intensity war in the eastern Donbass region bordering Russia, and the international community’s chronic failure to find a solution.

Speaking three days before the naval clash on Sunday, Stepan Poltorak, Ukraine’s defence minister, said the Donbass conflict was entering an “active phase”, with the threat of open aggression by Russia. Some in Kiev suspect Moscow of seeking to impose a de facto sea border, blocking access to the Sea of Azov and the contested Mariupol industrial region. [Continue reading…]

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