Ukraine-Russia conflict spreads to sea
September 25, 2018 -- As the standoff between Ukraine and Russia intensifies, a military build-up by both countries is threatening to spread the conflict from ground battles in eastern Ukraine into the Sea of Azov.
Ukraine has deployed two armoured artillery boats to the Sea of Azov as part of plans to set up new naval base before the end of the year.
For its part, Russia has reportedly redeployed at least 10 warships and up to 40 patrol boats to the Sea of Azov in recent months.
The military buildups have been triggered by Moscow's construction of a bridge between Crimea and mainland Russia.
Moscow’s building of the Kerch Strait Bridge in 2015 has cut cargo shipments to the Ukrainian ports of Mariupol and Berdyansk by 27% and 47% respectively, costing Kiev between $20 million and $40 million every year.
Around 80% of Ukraine’s exports pass through the Kerch Strait.
On September 15, U.S. special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker said that Washington would consider providing more armaments to Kiev.
Volker said the U.S. is concerned about the expansion of Russian naval operations in the Sea of Azov, which borders Ukraine, Russia and the Russia-annexed Crimean Peninsula.
The separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine have long threatened the Azov port of Mariupol; taking the city would be a key step toward their establishing a land corridor between Crimea and Russia.