Disinfo: Ukrainian ships violated naval safety rules in 2018 Azov Sea confrontation


Russia detained three Ukrainian vessels which  attempted to cross the Kerch Strait on 25 November 2018. Both Ukrainian and Russian ships have passage rights, but there are strict safety rules, which Moscow said the Ukrainian Navy had breached.

The conflict stopped short of bloodshed and resulted in the arrests of the Ukrainian sailors and their ships for “violation of territorial waters.”


Recurring pro-Kremlin disinformation narrative on the November 2018 Kerch Strait incident.

The so-called "safety rules" referred to in the report are not the internationally recognised standards enshrined in long-standing treaties and customary law, but rather a set of makeshift guidelines which Russia unilaterally adopted in 2015 and Kyiv never recognised, given that the regulations are based on Russia's illegal claim to Crimea. Since then, Russian patrols have routinely carried out arbitrary arrests of Ukrainian and foreign ships, demanding that all vessels give "advance notice" of passage through the Kerch area, contrary both to the provisions of the 2003 agreement and to actual navigation safety guidelines.

In a May 2019 ruling concerning the incident, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea rejected Russia's arguments and ordered it to return all three Ukrainian ships and to release all 24 crew members (they were returned to Ukraine on 7 September 2019, as a part of a mutual release of detainees by Ukraine and Russia. On 18 November 2019, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it had handed three naval ships back to Ukraine).

The report falsely claims that the incident "stopped short of bloodshed." In fact, Russian security personnel opened fire at the Ukrainian vessels and wounded a number of their crew.


  • Reported in: Issue 174
  • DATE OF PUBLICATION: 18/11/2019
  • Language/target audience: English
  • Country: Russia, Ukraine
  • Keywords: Azov sea, Kerch, Military, Provocation, International Law, FSB, Crimea


Cases in the EUvsDisinfo database focus on messages in the international information space that are identified as providing a partial, distorted, or false depiction of reality and spread key pro-Kremlin messages. This does not necessarily imply, however, that a given outlet is linked to the Kremlin or editorially pro-Kremlin, or that it has intentionally sought to disinform. EUvsDisinfo publications do not represent an official EU position, as the information and opinions expressed are based on media reporting and analysis of the East Stratcom Task Force.

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