On November 25th, 2018 three Ukrainian naval vessels sailed from the port of Odessa, Ukraine toward the Kerch Strait. When they reached Russian waters, the vessels were told to stop. The Ukrainians vessels which included two naval artillery ships and a raiding tugboat refused to stop.
Russia met Ukrainian’s warships with their border patrol and coast guard. The tugboat was rammed. Russia claims warning shots were fired and then a shot was fired at one of the artillery ships.
What we know in the time since the Kerch incident is that Ukraine’s president Petr Poroshenko had multi-pronged goals that could only be accomplished through a small controlled confrontation with Russia.
- The G-20 was about to start and Ukraine wanted to embarrass Russia and get support from the international community.
- Petr Poroshenko needed a reason to push Martial Law through the Ukrainian Senate (Rada). The reasons for this were made clear by the amended law that went through. Poroshenko wanted martial law for 60 days, he got it for 30 days because it interferes in the 2019 presidential election and gives Poroshenko an advantage over his opponents he currently lacks.
- The meeting (Sobor) to decide whether the Ukrainian Orthodox Church will split with the Moscow Orthodox Church was supposed to happen. Out of more than 80 Bishops, only two support the church splitting.
Since then, three of Ukraine’s sailors, one a Ukrainian SBU senior Intel officer, a gunney lookout, and one of the vessel’s captain have unequivocally admitted to Ukraine giving orders for them to provocate an incident.
Today, Ukraine isn’t arguing whether or not it tried to provoke Russia into sinking its warships. Their argument coming through their Intel resources at Bellingcat is saying when the Russians fired on one of the ships, the ships could have possibly been in international waters, not Russian territory.
Special Envoy Paul Volker is taking the position of supporting Bellingcat even though their report is inconclusive at best. Bellingcat promotes the use of terms like “it can be argued” because of the absence of solid evidence. That evidence does exist because the navigation logs will show exact positions. These are kept because of how shallow and dangerous navigating the Kerch Strait is and take all the guesswork out of finding positions.
Ukraine and Russia have an agreement specifically about navigating the Kerch Strait that has been in place since 2003. Kerch is the entrance to the Azov Sea which is an internal sea for Ukraine and Russia. It is not international waters.
The agreement stipulates scheduling the passage 48 hours in advance to go through. This is done at the Kerch Port Captain Office. Then you confirm the plan 24 hours ahead of arrival and once again 4 hours before you go through. You are then given a slot in the queue to go through the Strait.
At first, Ukraine stated unequivocally they complied. Later, both the Russians and Ukrainians agree that Ukraine did not follow the procedure as it is stipulated in the 2003 agreement.
Because of the shallow water, pilots services are required for ships with questionable hull drafts (sit deeper in the water). Russia says the Ukrainians refused. Ukraine stated Russia refused to supply a pilot but then said they never applied to go through the channel. Hence, they never asked for a pilot.
This isn’t the first time Ukraine has taken military vessels through the Kerch Strait. In September 2018 Ukraine took frigates through and had no problem at all. The apparent change came when Ukraine decided to rewrite the rules. There is no question that the established procedures were being followed to that point in time.
No ships without Kerch Strait pilots are allowed to just steam through because of the dangers of running aground or collision with other ships because of the narrow shallows.
Declaring Martial Law In Ukraine
With all these things considered, why would Petr Poroshenko declare martial law in Ukraine directly after the Russian border patrol took his warships?
The Ukrainian presidential elections are set to go in March 2019 and Poroshenko is a shoo-in to lose. Yulia Tymoshenko is ahead by double digits and the current president is behind a TV comedian with no political experience.
By declaring Martial Law on regions that voted against him, Poroshenko hoped to skew the election results because those regions have no right to vote. Secondly, he could have delayed the elections and used the time to his benefit and raise his standing in the polls.
The biggest reason seems to be Poroshenko wants to keep his platform at all costs.
This is Poroshenko’s pyramid of promise. He is rebuilding the army. Europe and the US are paying for it. He is making Ukraine a single language country. He is breaking the Ukrainian Orthodox Church away from the Russian Orthodox Church which has had oversight for almost 500 years.
Out of the three, this is the excruciatingly hard one. If he fails, he loses respect and support from Ukraine’s powerhouse lobby Diaspora. If he wins, he damages and diminishes Russia in front of the world. Ukraine beats Russia.
Today, only two out of more than eighty bishops that are voting support separation from the Moscow Patriarchate.
Poroshenko’s dream would remain a dream unless he can do something drastic about it. Declaring martial law presents an opportunity that is uncommon. Because very few Bishops will be free to vote, it is possible he could get a unanimous decision in favor of separating the Ukrainian Orthodox from the Russian Orthodox church. That is if only 2 voting Bishops showed and voted to make it unanimous.
The Church has instead postponed the meeting after taking its own poll.
Any way you look at it, Eastern Europe is taking the rest of the world on a wild ride. If we are lucky, calm heads will prevail and look at facts and evidence as things develop.