On May 25, 2019, Sputnik Abkhazia released an article, which outlines the Russian government’s position about the ruling of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) on the Kerch Strait dispute. The tribunal calls on the Russian Federation to immediately release 24 Ukrainian servicemen and three naval vessels detained near the Kerch Strait. The Russian government claims that ITLOS has no jurisdiction over the dispute.
The Russian Foreign Ministry: “Russia plans to defend its position consistently and prove that the tribunal had no right to deliberate on this issue.”
Russian news agency RIA Novosti quoted Alexander Molokhov, Russian President’s permanent representative, as saying that the tribunal had no jurisdiction over naval vessels.
Alexander Molokhov: “This tribunal has no jurisdiction when it comes to warships; neither the Convention on the Law of the Sea is actual in this case.”
Russia’s statement as if the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea has no jurisdiction over the Kerch Strait incident is a lie, because both Russia and Ukraine are parties to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, whereas ITLOS has been established just on the basis of this Convention and it has been authorized to deliberate on relevant disputes. Russia also lies when it says that the tribunal has no jurisdiction when it comes to warships, because Article 298 of the Convention restricts the tribunal’s powers in respect of military activities rather than warships.
1. The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea has jurisdiction over the Kerch Strait incident
The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea ratified by Russia in 1997 and Ukraine in 1999 regulates a legal order for the seas and oceans. The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea was established in 1996 on the basis of the Convention. According to Article 288 of the Convention, the tribunal shall have jurisdiction over any dispute concerning the interpretation or application of this Convention.
According to the same Article, in the event of a dispute as to whether a court or tribunal has jurisdiction, the matter shall be settled by decision of the tribunal. In its April 16, 2019 decision, the tribunal ruled that it has jurisdiction over the Kerch Strait dispute because:
- Ukraine and the Russian Federation are both parties to the Convention on the Law of the Sea.
- A dispute has arisen between the parties concerning the interpretation of the Convention provisions.
- Russian and Ukraine failed to settle the dispute by negotiation or other peaceful means, thus
- The both countries requested the tribunal to hear the dispute between them.
2. The tribunal has jurisdiction over warships
According to Article 298 of the UN Convention, the state has the right not to recognize the tribunal’s jurisdiction over the disputes concerning military activities.
This provision, however, refers to military activities rather than warships as claimed by the Russian side. According to Articles 32, 95 and 96, warships on the high seas, territorial and internal waters have complete immunity from the jurisdiction of any State other than the flag State. ITLOS ruled that the Ukrainian naval vessels were engaged in a peaceful transit from the coast of the Crimean Peninsula and toward their home port of Odesa.
Prepared by Giorgi Iaganashvili
Myth Detector Lab