WHY DOES RUSSIA BUILD A DAM IN THE KERCH STRAIT?

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Russian continues building a dam In the Kerch strait. As is known, construction of the dam began on September 29; the project is aimed at linking the Kosa Tuzla isle (Ukraine) to the Russian coast of the Tamansky peninsula.

According to Ukrainian border guards, only 376 meters of water separated the dam and the line of the Russian-Ukrainian border on October 21. In all, the length of the dam already reaches 3,476 meters.

The distance between the isle and the border is around 150 meters. In the meantime, the width of the strait is 4.5 kilometers, and Russia intends to cover it with earth because it thinks that Kiev created the border spontaneously. If Russia manages to build the dam, the Kosa Tuzla isle will be considered as Russia’s territory in according to international laws.

Russia does not hide its plans. However, Moscow explains construction of the dam by the necessity of restoring an ecological balance in the region. The Russian foreign minister assured his Ukrainian counterpart at the start of this month that Russia would not violate Russian-Ukrainian agreements regarding the border when restoring the coastal zone of the Tamansky peninsula. Russian-Ukrainian agreements concern the ground border; Kiev and Moscow have some problems in the sea and straits.

Russian Ambassador Victor Chernomyrdin stated in Kiev on Tuesday that the dam, which Russia is building in the Kerch strait, will end on Russian territory. However, he did not specify if he considers Kosa Tuzla as Russian territory.

A statement made by the press service of the North-Caucasian regional border guard department testifies that Russia considers this isle as a disputable territory. According to the department, the construction operation is carried out on Russian territory and in waters adjacent to the Russian coast.

The press service noted: “Ukraine’s statements regarding some delimitation lines in the Kerch strait, the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov are considered as being unilateral.” In other words, this is an indirect evidence that Moscow will not give up attempts to link the peninsula to the isle. Interfax-Ukraine reports that Nikolai Litvin, head of the Ukrainian border guard service, and Peter Shatkovsky, Secretary of the National Defense and Security Council, visited Kosa Tuzla this week. The official goal of their visit was to examine the situation and check the reliability of protection of the state border. They held a meeting with the Azov-Black Sea regional border guard department and analyzed all possible alternatives of the development of the situation. The officials noted at the meeting that Ukrainian border guards must not give reasons to become entangled in international political problems.

The Ukrainian border guard service noted: “Ukrainian border guards will not use weapons in this sector despite the situation has not been resolved yet. However, this does not mean they will play the role of observers; they have enough strength, weapons and skills to conduct military operations and detain trespassers under any condition.”

It is difficult to predict the development of events. Taking in consideration statements made by Ukrainian border guards, a military conflict is not out of the question. However, the probability of open confrontation is very small. It is possible that the conflict will be resolved after Igor Ivanov’s visit to Kiev on October 30. However, it is not clear if builders will manage to complete the dam by that time. Anyway, the conflict is expanding. Everyone has forgotten why Russia initiated construction of the dam against this background. According to open sources, there are several reasons.

Firstly, Russia will control the entrance to the Kerch strait from the Black Sea if its gains control over Kosa Tuzla. Moscow needs such control in order to prevent foreign warships from entering the Sea of Azov. Such visits are undesirable, considering Ukraine’s intention to join NATO.

Secondly, it should be noted that the dispute between Moscow and Kiev concerns the Kerch strait and the status of the Sea of Azov. Kiev proposes to observe the UN convention on the maritime law dated 1982 according to which water surface lying beyond 12-mile zone of territorial waters is open for all foreign ships. This is a suitable decision for Kiev, which does not have big fishing ports and strong military infrastructure in the Sea of Azov (Kiev demands that the Sea of Azov be divided along its midline). Moscow proposes to divide the seabed of the sea.

Thirdly, construction of the dam will contribute to restoration of fish resources in the Tamansky bay. As is known, the Tamanskky bay is a Russian territory. This is why Russia ventured to build the dam.

Fourthly, Igor Franchuk, president of Chernomorskneftegaz (Uktaine)stated on September 17 that Ukraine would soon explore the Kerch-Tamansky shelf. According to preliminary reports, it contains over 162 million tons of fuel. To all appearances, Moscow could not put up with this.

In other words, these circumstances prompt that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine will continue for a long time, until the sides sign an agreement on the status of the Kerch strait and the Sea of Azov. The Tuzla isle is a small problem, which has concentrated huge misunderstandings between Russia and Kiev. To all appearances, Moscow thinks that construction of the dam will make it possible to solve these problems. However, it is hardly likely that Kiev will make concessions.

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