Germany Condemns Russian Naval Restrictions in the Black Sea

Kamilla Sorskar Engen, International Law and Affairs Officer

25 Apr 2021

According to Russian news agency RIA, the Russian Defense Ministry has stated that the restrictions will last from the evening of 24 April until 31 October, and will apply to a zone on the Crimean coast between the cities of Sevastopol and Gurzuf, an area near the Kerch Peninsula, as well as a small area close to the western tip of Crimea. The restriction of movement has resulted in criticism from Ukraine, the European Union, and NATO.

The spokesman for the German Foreign Minister, Christofer Burger, told reporters that “Restrictions on the so-called peaceful passage through coastal waters lasting for such a long period of time are without precedent and problematic from an international law perspective… As far as international waters and the coastal waters of illegally annexed Crimea are affected, we consider this to be a breach of international law. We continue to urgently examine the situation there and also the legal position.”

In 2014 Russia annexed Crimea - a move that has never been recognized by the wider international community. In addition, Russia has claimed the areas in which it has blocked movement to be its territorial waters. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry declared Russia’s actions in restricting access to the Black Sea to foreign warships as illegal.

However, on 23 April the RIA noted that the restrictions would not affect the Kerch Strait, which is a central channel connecting the Black Sea with the Azov Sea. Closing it off would have affected regional trade, as well as Russia-Ukraine tensions. In 2003, Ukraine and Russia signed an agreement recognizing the Azov Sea and Kerch Strait as internal waters of both states.