Mon. Mar 25th, 2019

US imposes fresh sanctions on Russia over Kerch Strait standoff

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Washington has slapped a fresh batch of sanctions on Russia over “unjustified” actions during a maritime incident last November in the Kerch Strait near Crimea when three Ukrainian boats went into Russia’s territorial waters.

The US Treasury Department included six people and eight entities in its Friday update of “Ukraine and Russia-related Designations.” The deputy director of the Russian Border Guard Service, which is under the command of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), as well as the head of the FSB service in Crimea and Sevastopol are among the sanctioned individuals.

The list of entities consists of eight enterprises related to the shipbuilding industry and operating as Russia’s defense contractors, including a St. Petersburg engine manufacturer, several shipyards located both in Crimea and mainland Russia, and companies producing hydroacoustic devices and ship automatics.

The sanctions were imposed over the “unjustified November 25 attack on three Ukrainian naval vessels near the Kerch Strait,” the US State Department said in a statement, accusing the designated individuals of no less than personally “orchestrating” the assault.

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Two people were separately subjected to sanctions over what the state department called “sham” elections in Eastern Ukraine in November. It also said that the action was coordinated with Canada and the EU.

In November last year three ships of the Ukrainian Navy entered Russia’s territorial waters while traveling from the Black Sea through the Kerch Strait, which separates Crimea from mainland Russia.

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Moscow said that the Ukrainian vessels didn’t follow established procedure to request the passage, made dangerous maneuvers and did not comply with demands from Russian authorities to stop. Following an hours-long standoff, the ships were rammed by the Russian coast guard and three Ukrainian personnel were injured. In total, 24 Ukrainian sailors were detained and prosecuted for illegally crossing Russia’s border.

Russia also later said that the detained ships were armed beyond the regular payload and apparently planned to move “stealthy” through the Russian waters. The incident predictably drove Kiev into a frenzy and rushed to call on its backers to punish Russia for its actions. Ukraine even urged Turkey to close the Bosphorus Strait to Russian ships in response to the incident and repeatedly called on the US and its allies to send their Navy ships to cross the Kerch Strait and see how Russia “reacts.”

Washington’s European allies, however, appeared to be reluctant to heed Kiev’s call. Following the incident, Berlin and Paris rebuffed calls for fresh sanctions against Russia. In March it was revealed that the German Chancellor Angela Merkel stood up to pressure from Washington as she declined a proposal by Vice President Mike Pence to send German Navy ships towards Russia’s Crimea. Paris also dismissed such proposals by calling such actions an “unnecessary provocation.”

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