The dispute between Russia and the West over the fate of Ukraine has entered a new and risky phase. This month, the Russian navy opened fire on three Ukrainian ships before seizing them in the Kerch Strait, the narrow passageway connecting the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea and the key waterway for sea traffic to both countries. Russia Today reported that the Ukrainian ships entered Russian waters without permission and that the Russian navy had issued a warning as the vessels crossed Kerch strait and accuses the Ukraine of ‘acts of provocation’. Russia’s federal security service claims that the territorial waters, which the Ukrainian vessels entered, were part of Russia even before Crimea ‘rejoined’ the country. Ukraine, in turn, called the attack on the ships an “act of aggression” and its parliament voted to declare martial law in its border territories. These measures will include a partial mobilization, a strengthening of Ukraine’s air defenses, and several unspecified steps “to strengthen the counterintelligence, counterterrorism, and counter sabotage regime and information security”. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko warned of the “extremely serious” threat of a land invasion. However, critics argue that Poroshenko is using the conflict as a way to delay presidential elections, which are scheduled for March and which, according to polls, he is likely to lose. European leaders have responded by calling for new sanctions on Russia over its aggression against Ukraine. The U.S. President Trump only reacted via outgoing United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley who announced that the U.S. would play a supporting role to European efforts to ease tensions. The “Trident Juncture,” a major NATO military exercise centered on Norway, earlier this month further marked the growing tensions and preparation for a possible confrontation between Russia and Western alliances. The exercise imagined an attack in which the Western alliance was forced to stop an unnamed adversary intent on occupation or even annexation.
RISKS MARKED ON THE RISK RADAR AS NUMBER1: Deteriorating relationship Russia and the West