ON SUNDAY the Ukrainian regime, with the complicity of its EU and US imperialist backers, staged a provocative military action by the illegal incursion of three warships in Russian territorial waters in the Azov Sea off the coast of Crimea.
The Ukrainian navy vessels were sailing through the narrow Kerch Strait between Crimea and mainland Russia which connects the Azov Sea with the Black Sea. Under a 2003 treaty, ships from both Russia and Crimea have freedom to pass through the very narrow and difficult to navigate Strait on condition that they first contact the Crimean sea port for permission that it is safe to do so. All vessels are required to proceed directly through the Strait and not perform any manoeuvres that endanger other ships.
According to the Russian authorities responsible for safeguarding the Strait the three Ukrainian ships gave no warning that they were entering it, ignored repeated requests to leave Russia’s territorial waters, and entered a stretch that had been temporarily closed to navigation.
In what was clearly a co-ordinated attempt to launch a serious provocation, at the same time, two more Ukrainian navy vessels left a Ukrainian port in the Azov Sea and approached the Kerch Strait from the other side. With the Ukrainians ignoring legal demands to stop and cease carrying out dangerous manoeuvres, the Russian navy opened fire and seized the three ships. The two Ukrainian ships approaching from the other side straight away turned back.
This staged incident was immediately seized upon by Petro Poroshenko, Ukrainian president installed after the imperialist-backed 2014 coup, to declare martial law across the country for 60 days, with the option of extension. While the bourgeois press has presented this as a case of Russian ‘aggression’ it is clear that the Ukrainian regime and its imperialist backers have been preparing for a military adventure in this area for months.
In October the Ukrainian military announced it would be building a new military base on the Azov Sea to ‘counter’ Russian threats. The Ukrainian regime have also been agitating for the 2003 agreement to be cancelled and the lifting of all restriction on ships through the Strait.
This would allow the navies of the EU and US unfettered access to the Black Sea and pose a massive military threat to Russia from imperialism. US imperialism has been busy building up and supplying the Ukrainian regime, with Congress approving $250 million in military aid for them by 2019.
Martial law is also a desperate attempt by Poroshenko to cling onto power. He is facing election in May next year under conditions where his popularity is zero amongst Ukrainian workers who are rising up against the regime as the country plunges into chaos and bankruptcy.
In July Ukrainian miners from across the country went on strike and held mass demonstrations in the capital Kiev over the non-payment of wages while railway workers and other sections of workers have been out over an economic crisis that has reduced the population to poverty.
Since the 2014 coup, up to a million Ukrainians have left the country to avoid the destitution and attacks on their rights perpetrated by the regime and the fascist groups it relies on to keep power. Under martial law Poroshenko would undoubtedly try to cancel elections as the only way for the regime to keep going.
This provocation serves the ends of Poroshenko to cling to power, and of imperialism which has set its sights on military domination of the strategic region of the Black Sea and to step up its military campaign of war to overthrow the property relations established by the 1917 Russian Revolution and restore capitalist exploitation to the country.
The Ukrainian workers will not stand for this, the fight will be to kick out Poroshenko and the gang of coupists he leads. In this they will have the support of the working class throughout Europe who are also fighting against a common enemy – capitalism which in its final imperialist stage can only offer war and poverty to the working class throughout the world. Only through the overthrow of capitalism through the victory of the world socialist revolution can peace be secured.