Mariupol in the loop: how Russia is blocking Ukrainian ports of the Azov sea

Мариуполь в петле: как Россия блокирует украинские порты Азовского моря

The end of the summer was distinguished by increased attention to the Azov sea, which Russia is stepping up its military presence and delays the passage of the Ukrainian courts across the Kerch Strait. The Minister of foreign Affairs of Ukraine Pavlo Klimkin said on August 30 that the foreign Ministry will make the issue of the Russian “provocations” in the region for discussion of the UN General Assembly. A day earlier, in the framework of the exercise “Storm — 2018”, the commander of the Ukrainian naval forces Igor Voronchenko said that Ukraine in the near future intends to strengthen its forces in the sea and in the coastal areas of the Azov sea. According to him, it is as the ships and the Marines and coast artillery.

This activity of the Ukrainian diplomats, and the military is quite different from the lull from mid-spring, when the first delay of the Ukrainian courts, bound for the Azov ports of Ukraine. Still on 20 July, the Deputy klimkina Elena zerkal on the air one of the Ukrainian TV channels assured that the media on this issue is a “artificial aggravation in the information field”.

The story of the blockade

However, the data of the monitoring group of the public organization “Maidan of foreign Affairs”, “the Institute of the black sea strategic research” and publication “BlackSeaNews” show from the 30th of April this year, the marine guards of the Federal security service (FSB) of the Russian Federation began in the Kerch Strait total inspection vessels in the Mariupol and Berdyansk. If at the beginning these examinations do not lead to the significant delay of the courts in June, instead of the usual two to five hours, they started to last for 20-30 hours, and in the first half of August the average waiting time to reach the beginning of 65.5 hours.

Also in may we had the first delay of vessels directly in the sea of Azov on the approach to the Ukrainian ports, and in June started to grow rapidly and the waiting time of ships at the exit from the sea of Azov through the Kerch Strait. In the latter case, the average waiting time in August reached 80,5 hours — more than three days.

In fact, due to the formation of queues of the courts, the process of passing the Kerch Strait sometimes take a few days. “Become already traditional situation when at the entrance to the sea of Azov, in the Kerch Strait accumulates 10 or more ships waiting in the ports of the four or five days”, — stated in the report of the monitoring group.

Multimillion-dollar losses

According to the Center for transport strategies, in the first half because of systematic delays of the courts of the Russian border guards and the opening of the bridge across the Kerch Strait, the freight turnover of the Ukrainian ports of the Azov sea has decreased by 12 percent. “In light of the fact that for the other ports of Ukraine the figure was only three percent, it shows that the ports of the Azov lose a large proportion of goods,” — said the expert of the center Andriy Isayev.

According to the Chairman of the Agency of development of the Azov region Konstantin Batozsky, at the end of the summer this loss could increase to the rate at 20 percent and in monetary terms to reach more than 250 million in lost profits. However, the problems of the ports is only the tip of the iceberg, adds the expert. Logistical problems, he said, forcing steel mills to put a part of raw materials and products by rail to ports on the Black sea. “But, except for the additional logistics costs, this branch can only 52 freight trains per day, which Industrialists just can’t increase production”, — says Batozsky.

Difficulty handling and also among farmers, the expert adds, in fact they are in Mariupol port bet after reducing the flow of goods and raw materials from the occupied part of Donbass. “But now the prospect of completion of a large grain terminal (in Mariupol. — Ed.) was a big issue,” sums up Batozsky.

Sluggish reaction

The lack of a decisive response from the official Kiev first became subject to criticism from some Ukrainian experts and analytical centres, and later to Western observers. Thus, the President of Jamestown Foundation Glen Howard in an interview said that Ukraine had to resort to at least symbolic steps. “They lost Crimea, lost the Kerch Strait, and now they lose the sea of Azov. Then they lose Mariupol, next — Berdyansk. And then Russia will shape the way by land to the Crimea”, — was indignant Howard.

However, according to the Deputy Director of the Institute of world politics Nicholas Belenkova, resources of Ukraine to respond to Russia’s actions is extremely limited. According to him, from a military point of view, Kiev 2014, bet on the strengthening of the ground forces and air defense, and Navy were marginalized. “It is quite justified, because the biggest threat Russia poses on land and in the air, but under these conditions, the Ukrainian military is able to repel Marines Russian”, — said the expert. Therefore, in his opinion, to complain about the lack of decisiveness of the Ukrainian side of the sea inappropriate.

The main miscalculation of the Ukrainian authorities Beleskov sees insufficient attention to the problem on the information front. From the beginning of the crisis was not a campaign to inform Western partners about the issue with the involvement of influential media, says the expert, according to which it could afford to attract the West to put pressure on Russia in this matter. “The prospect of sanctions against the Russian port of Novorossiysk, could change the behavior of Russia in the Azov sea — notes of Beleskov. — But getting the necessary support by itself requires at least half of the year, and with this in mind, the first months of the crisis, Ukraine has actually lost.”