Map: Stratfor; Euromaidan Press edits: the misspelled city names corrected, and the occupied areas marked as "occupied" instead of "disputed."
By blocking water transit on the Sea of Azov and in the Kerch Straits, Moscow is pursuing two goals, Mykhailo Samus says. First of all, it hopes Ukraine will recognize the Russian annexation of Crimea; and second, it hopes to force Ukraine to lessen its blockade of Crimea and thereby reduce the burden on Moscow of supplying the peninsula.
Moscow is unlikely to achieve the first; but in pursuing the second, the deputy director of Kyiv’s Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies suggests, it may be creating the basis for a kind of mini-deal some in the West might try to force Kyiv to accept.
According to Samus,
“Russia is seeking to create a problem for Ukraine in order to force it into negotiations.” At the same time, he says, the Russia side is seeking to create “more comfortable conditions for the functioning of occupied Crimea,” something that would become true if Kyiv were forced to make concessions on transit.
At present, no such deal seems possible; but Ukraine is entering into an election season and Moscow can be expected to turn up the pressure in the hopes of creating divisions within Ukrainian society that the Russians can exploit, the Kyiv analyst continues, especially as Russia’s partial blockade has already imposed severe hardship on the Azov Sea port cities.
If these economic tools do not bring Kyiv to the negotiating table, Samus says, Russia could consider using force, either direct or hybrid. But he says that despite the alarmist predictions of some, he believes that such use of force is improbable at least at present, given the size of the Ukrainian forces in the region and the certainty of more sanctions.
But because this economic pressure could have such serious consequences, Samus calls for the immediate convoying of ships into the Sea of Azov to Ukrainian ports and the denunciation of the Ukrainian-Russian agreement on the sea which effectively prevents Kyiv from seeking the support of NATO navies.
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