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Russian Policy in Black and Japan Seas: Bridges to Nowhere

Prof. Borys Babin

Modern Russian state reflected dramatically its external, neighbour and maritime policies by the attempt of annexation and ongoing occupation of Crimean peninsula. Those actions allowed to Russians use the Crimea as the classic “unsinkable aircraft carrier” for Russian military expansion in Black and Mediterranean regions, also as in Near East and Africa.

Now the Russian policy in peninsula allows rebuilding the economy of Crimea by totally restructuration to the military vector. Some ambitious infrastructure projects were realised just for this purpose, like bridge via Kerch strait, Tavrida autoban, two thermal power stations. Some Crimean factories got orders on vessels and equipment for Russian Army and Navy and Russia make a strong attention to the excavation the gas from the Black Sea shelf. Russian Black Sea fleet became the most developed Russian Navy structure in XXI century. But in the same time others economic sectors in Crimea are degrading.

As the Russian effective control over the Crimean peninsula is illegal – any usual cooperation or neighbourhood with Crimea by Black Sea states is impossible and the interstate Ukrainian-Russian conflict is still not solved. So Russia has only frontlines with other state of this region and uses such situation actively. Russia rejects any official negotiations, related to Crimean issues and tries to bet the de-facto recognition of own “sovereignty” over peninsula in bilateral or collective treaties and organisational activities in areas of fishery, ecology, maritime transport.

For example such issues were reflected in activities of the Ukrainian-Russian Commission regarding the Azov Fishery, of the Black Sea Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control, and in work of the Moscow office of the International Committee of the Red Cross. But in the same time Ukraine initiated the international legal proceedings relating human rights in Crimea in the European Court on Human Rights, related racial discrimination in Crimea in the International Court of Justice, passed suits to international arbitraries regarding violation the international maritime and investment law. In those institutions, also as in the International Criminal Court Russia has to negotiate de-facto with Ukraine regarding the peninsula problem.

And in 2020 Russia passed changes to own Constitution, banning the «alienation of Russian territory» and any negotiations on this issue. Of course, this step has importance for Russian internal policy only, as constitutions may not contradict to the state`s international obligations. And more, constitutions did not save the U.S.S.R. or the Ottoman Empire from crash. By the way, even modern Russian Basic Law bans the «alienation», not the separation of new independent states.

But politically the modern proclamations of Russian «territorial integrity» reflect not Crimean example only, but also the Northern Territories dispute.

Is allows us to compare the policy of Russia in Black and Japan Seas. And two bridges are the brightest analogy for this policy – Kerch Bridge, build by Russia from its mainland to Crimea and the Sakhalin Bridge, uniting this island with Siberia.

It is extremely symptomatic that before the occupation of Crimea Russia announced, as its main and commercially successful bridge project, the Lena Bridge, uniting the reach regions of Sakha (Yakutia) by railroad with central Russia. But now the Lena Bridge stopped not only for possibility to concentrate the efforts for the Kerch Bridge, but for Sakhalin Bridge also.

More, as Kerch so the Sakhalin projects have no well-grounded commercial value – as their main goal is to facilitate the possible Russian military operations on the both “unsinkable aircraft carriers”. More, Russia use similar manipulations to spread own control over Black, Japan and Okhotsk Seas, including illegal pressure over the neighbour countries` fishermen, military training, pressure to the indigenous population`s rights to sources, fake statements in the international structures. Russia demands to recognise its «sovereignty» over Crimea of Iturup as the condition of allowance to realise the natural rights of other states on usage the seas for the trade shipping and fishery.

So the Russian neighbour states have only one effective way for defence the own legitimate interests – to enforce the cooperation with all civilised nations on grounds of international law and rights of economic, security and humanitarian self-defence. Such cooperation will reflect pragmatically all the current regional risks and allow to elaborate the models of possible counteractions

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