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Wag the dog in Ukraine?

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05.12.2018

On November 25, Russia attacked and seized three Ukrainian gunboats and their crew while they were attempting to transit into the Sea of Azov through the Kerch Strait. The move caused a wave of international condemnation, with Ukraine claiming it signalled renewed Russian aggression and pleading with NATO to confront Russia in the Black Sea region.

On the surface, it seems this is just the latest iteration of the Russian-Ukrainian military and political confrontation which the Maidan revolution sparked back in 2014. In March that year, Russia occupied the Crimean Peninsula and used hybrid forces to start a civil conflict in Eastern Ukraine.

The Kerch Strait separates Russia proper from Russian-controlled Crimea and connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov. In the aftermath of the annexation, Russia built a bridge across the strait, which Ukraine never agreed to.

On paper, movement in and out of the Sea of Azov for Ukrainian ships is regulated by a treaty signed in 2003 between Ukraine and Russia, which gives free access to vessels from both countries. Since the Crimea bridge was completed earlier this year, Russia has been impeding traffic of commercial vessels bound for the Ukrainian port of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov and after last week's incident, it has virtually imposed a blockade on it.

Given the subsequent exchange of accusations between Ukraine and Russia, it is important to make a number of points clear.

Does Ukraine have the right to send gunboats from Odessa to the Sea of Azov as it did in the prelude to the Kerch Strait incident? Yes, it does.

Can it test Russia's patience by ignoring demands to........

© Al Jazeera