February 20, 2020


Moscow refuses to adhere to the decision of the International Tribunal

The UN International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) has obligated Russia to release Ukrainian sailors and warships seized in the Kerch Strait in November 2018. The international organization regards this incident as a gross violation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Notwithstanding the rendered verdict, Russia holds off on meeting the demands of the Maritime Tribunal. The country’s authorities justify their position by the fact that the states are free to decide themselves whether to accept or not the decisions and jurisdiction of a particular UN body. At least, that was the rationale for the country’s position during voting and delivery of the decision on coercive measures, presented by Roman Kolodkin, the Russian representative, who voted down while the other 19 Tribunal members considered the arguments of Ukraine substantial enough and called for the immediate release of the captured Ukrainian sailors and return of the ships.

However, Russia had already declared that they were not about to abide themselves by the demands of the Tribunal. In this regard D.Peskov, Putin’s press secretary, stated that the verdict of the specialized tribunal would in no way affect the situation with the Ukrainian sailors and ships, referring to the decision adopted by the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation in 2015 on the primacy of national law over international.

Simple as that: Kremlin expects to take advantage of the lack of punishment for non-compliance with decision of the international court. The Russian authorities believe that since there is no authority entitled to monitor over the implementation of rulings delivered by the Tribunal, their implementation is optional. The Tribunal’s function is framed with judgement awarding and there is no enforcement mechanism in international law, as it seems evident that pacta sunt servanda principle shall apply in this case. Moscow makes the implementation of the decision of the Tribunal dependent on the political situation and considers its implementation exclusively as a goodwill gesture, which in this case should not be expected.

Russia took the similar line in 2013 in the Greenpeace case, therefore, they expect to avoid tangible losses again. It should be noted that Kremlin has adhered to such tactics for the last five years, disregarding almost all decisions of international organisations and UN bodies related to aggression in Ukraine: United Nations General Assembly’s resolutions as regards Crimea, the Black and Azov Seas, interim decisions of the ICC on recognition of the “armed conflict” between Russia and Ukraine, and, accordingly, findings of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the recognition of captured and detained Ukrainian sailors as prisoners of war.

The reasons for such line of conduct are clear: Russia still remains unpunished for violations of international law, while Kremlin considers sanctions imposed by the international community as politically motivated actions of the West aimed at “weakening” and “humiliating” Russia rather than as a punishment for the committed crimes. Responding to any accusations, Moscow exploits the idea of inefficiency and injustice of international law system established following the World War II, therefore it should be revised to take into account their “special” interests (due to the “exclusivity” of their status).

Moreover, the Russian leader deliberately creates the feeling of some inadequacy through his statements on many issues of the international agenda constantly reminding about the Russia’s possession of modern types of military weapons (including nuclear ones) and preparedness to apply them in the case of a “real” threat. These statements are meant to force the leaders of the key world players to come to the negotiating table on Russia’s terms, keeping in mind its nuclear status. That was the true message of the Russian leader following the incident in the Kerch Strait on 25 November 2018. In his speech he told that they “…wanted to negotiate …proposed to sit down and agree… but they came with their troops to our territory …and tomorrow they will require babies for breakfast…”

This is evidenced by the Russia’s saber-rattling in dangerous proximity to the NATO borders with becoming regular violations of the airspace by Russian military aircrafts and entry of Russian military ships into the territorial waters of the bordering states.

Russia has already turned the illegally annexed Crimean Peninsula into a powerful naval base on the Black Sea (having placed nuclear weapons there). They keep aggravating the situation in the Black and Azov Seas, turning them into a “grey area” to cover the schemes of prohibited types of weapons supply (including to support the Assad regime) and to deliver sea cargo to the closed ports of the Crimea bypassing the sanctions through the use of foreign companies. Following militarization of the Crimean peninsula, Russia proceeded to active deployment of military forces in the Arctic, resuming operation of the Arctic military base of the Cold War era.

Russia demands getting permission to pass through the Russian controlled straits and makes it a condition that its navigation pilots shall be present on foreign ships (both in the Black, and in the Northern, Baltic and Mediterranean seas), otherwise Russia threatens to detain the vessel, including by force.

All of this testifies to the fact that Russia is confident in unpreparedness of the West to a tough reaction in response to its provocative actions. The Russian authorities are convinced that the EU and the US are not currently interested in straining relations.

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