In a stern rebuke to Russia for breaching international law by detaining vessels belonging to Ukraine in the Sea of Azov, the International Tribunal of the United Nations for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) has ordered the Russian Federation to release the Ukrainian naval vessels Berdyansk, Nikopol and Yani Kapu, and return them to the custody of Ukraine. The Tribunal has also ordered Russia to release 24 detained Ukrainian servicemen captured on board when the vessels were unlawfully seized and to allow them to return to Ukraine as soon as possible.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine has issued a statement urging Russia to comply with the Tribunal’s order.
On his personal Twitter account, Ukraine President Zelenskiy said yesterday that if Russia complied with the Order of the Tribunal, this could be a first signal from the Russian leadership of a real readiness to end conflict with Ukraine, showing that they were ready to solve problems in a civilised way.
President Zelenskiy is new to international policy communication and is approaching it in his own style, which others – not least the Russian Federation – must now learn how to deal with and how to respond.
We hope that the Russian leadership will be pragmatic and open to dialogue with Ukraine’s new President, but whatever course of action they decide, Ukraine wants its servicemen back home now, and has every right under international law to claim full financial compensation and damages for their unlawful detention by Moscow. The Kremlin would be wise to acknowledge their fault, respect international law, and move to an early settlement of the matter.