Russia blocks two Ukrainian Azov Sea ports

Cranes are seen in the Azov Sea port of Mariupol, Ukraine.

Two Ukrainian Azov Sea ports, Berdyansk and Mariupol, are effectively under blockade by Russia as vessels are being barred from leaving and entering, Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, Volodymyr Omelyan, said on Thursday.

Overall, 35 vessels have been prevented from carrying out normal operations and only vessels moving towards Russian ports on the Azov Sea are permitted entry, he said on Facebook.

“The goal is simple – by placing a blockade on Ukrainian ports on the Azov Sea, Russia hopes to drive Ukraine out of our own territory – territory that is ours in accordance with all relevant international laws,” he said.

Omelyan said 18 vessels were awaiting entry into the Azov Sea, including four to Berdyansk and 14 to Mariupol. There is also a line of nine vessels to leave the Azov Sea and eight other vessels are standing by near the port berths.

Grain and steel dominates the Azov ports shipments.

Russia seized three Ukrainian navy ships and their crews on Sunday near the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014, over what it said was their illegal entry into Russian waters – a charge Ukraine strongly rejects.

The United States and the European Union have both imposed sanctions on Russia over its conduct toward Ukraine since 2014, when Moscow seized Crimea after a pro-Russian leader was toppled in Kiev.

Moscow later backed pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine in a conflict in which more than 10,000 people have been killed. Major fighting ended with a 2015 ceasefire but deadly exchanges of fire are still frequent.

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