Implications of Russian Note Regarding Captured Ukrainian Sailors
Ukraine refuses Russia's request in the diplomatic note sent to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry
Photo from Ukrinform – UATV
On June 25, 2019, the Russian Foreign Ministry sent a note to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry regarding the illegally captured Ukrainian sailors currently being held by Russia.
The Russian note requested that Ukraine participate in all future legal actions against the detained Ukrainian sailors. The MFA of Ukraine responded by declining the offer and reiterating Ukraine’s rights under various international laws, norms and conventions.
This exchange caused a conflict between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Minister for Foreign Affairs Pavlo Klimkin. Zelensky felt that Klimkin should have discussed the note with him before replying. Klimkin responded by saying that this was a diplomatic issue and fell within the purview of the MFA.
Outside of the internal conflict the note from Russia caused, there is speculation that the note could have lead to several conclusions that would have been advantageous to Russia.
First, had Ukraine agreed to the conditions of the note, it would have meant that Ukraine supported Russian law in the matter of the detained soldiers.
Second, if Ukraine were to accept Russian law, it would mean that Ukraine would admit that the detention of the sailors was a lawful act by Russia thereby negating all Ukrainian legal challenges to the their detention.
Third, it would be a backdoor way for Russia to get Ukraine to say that Crimea is now Russian territory, something Ukraine would not do. By admitting to the legality of Russian actions, it would mean that Ukraine recognized the courts in occupied Crimea.
Similar views were expressed by Foreign Minister Klimkin in an article in Kyiv Post.
On May 25, 2019, the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea ruled that Russia was to immediately release the sailors and the impounded naval vessels. Russia has stated that it will not comply with this order and says that the ITLOS has no jurisdiction since Russia claims that both the Kerch Strait and Azov Sea are Russian territorial waters.
However, so far Ukrainian allies and international institutions do not share this view.
In comments to Polygraph.info, “US special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker said Russia’s capture of the Ukrainian ships and sailors in international waters last November violated international law, and that their continued detention is illegal.
“He also noted that a UN court (ITLOS) had ruled against Russia and demanded the immediate release of the sailors.
“Volker said Russia’s ‘offer’ to Ukraine to participate in the criminal investigation of the sailors was an affront to justice, since there was no basis to detain them in the first place, as well as an affront to the UN and Ukrainian sovereignty.”
As things currently stand, Ukraine will not consider the request from the Russian government and will continue to work within the international legal structure in order to secure the release the of the 24 Ukrainian sailors which have been held by Russia since November 25, 2018.
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