For several months Russia has been preparing to an aggression in the Sea of Azov.
Andrei Sannikov, the leader of European Belarus campaign, ex-deputy minister of Foreign Affairs and former presidential candidate, told in the interview with Polskie Radio.
Andrei Sannikov believes that NATO could have prevented the aggression having indicated its presence in the region.
- The West cannot allow blocking of this water zone; it's about Ukraine and prevention of a greater war, he added.
The diplomat warns that the Russia's scenario has been known for several years already. It includes aggression escalation, occupation of new territories up to Odessa.
On Sunday morning the Russian navy attacked Ukrainian ships directing at the Ukrainian sea port of Mariupol. According to experts, within several months Russia's activity in the Sea of Azov has been aimed at blocking of the water zone in order to deprive Kiev from the sea access to its territories and to strengthen its positions in the south of Ukraine.
- It may indicate the aggression continuation, Andrei Sannikov stated. Russia, in his view, may try to occupy other territories in the south of Ukraine.
Former deputy minister of Belarusian Foreign Affairs ads that NATO could have prevent the situation, for example, at the invitation of Ukraine to enter one of its sea ports.
- It resulted in attack against Ukrainians in the Sea of Azov. The international community condemns the situation, Ukraine proclaims martial law. How do you assess the situationand what objective does Russia pursue?
- I assess it as other act of aggression of Russia and as an extremely hazardous situation. It's obvious that Russia has been preparing it. For several months Russia has been expanding its military presence and trying to push Ukraine back from its sea ports, first of all from one in Mariupol.
Ukraine is waging a war, though many people forget about it. What are aims of Russia? First, it's war escalation; then it wants to hit the economy of Ukraine - Ukrainian sea ports in the area of the Sea of Azov are of great importance for trade, including exports of steel and cereals.
Second, it's about interference in upcoming elections in Ukraine. Russia wants to undermine the election process and support its candidates.
Now it's urgent for NATO and the West to realize how hazardous the situation is and to take corresponding measures.
- What are possible scenarios for the situation? Russia has been acting there for a long time. Does it want to block this water zone or are its plans more extensive? Or is it a test for the West?
- This is a strategic step. Russia wants the Sea of Azov to become its inner sea, to make it closed first of all for the Ukrainian navy. This is the tragedy.
One should realize that it's the first time when Russia attacks Ukraine openly.
Now there are no "green ships". That was the Russian navy, which attacked openly the Ukrainian navy, Ukrainian tugboats. More than 20 people are taken prisoner.
It's an open aggression of Russia, not a proxi-war. The Sea of Azov cannot be blocked by Russia. It's not acceptable. It's needed for Russia to obey international laws and conventions. Ukraine cannot ensure it on its own.
Unfortunately, no one has thought over preventive measures. At the invitation of Ukraine, NATO could deploy at least one of its ships in the area of the Sea of Azov. It could serve as a preventive measure against the Russian aggression.
Now decisive and quick steps are needed. Of course, Ukraine should fight. The situation cannot be changed with statements solely.
- What can the West do?
- First, this is the direct intention of war; second, it's the violation of the international law. That's why all international organizations should deliver their response. The UN Security Council will discuss Ukraine's issue. But a decision made there will be vetoed by Russia and China.
Moreover, firm stance of the EU and NATO is required. The alliance should announce it intention to take measures aimed at the continuation of the international status of the Sea of Azov. It would be the first step.
The second step is strict sanctions on Russia and military assistance to Ukraine for strengthening of its military potential at sea.
- What else may happen? What is a scenario of Russia? Or is it too early for that?
- Not, it is not. Because Russian scenario never changes. Russia will do its best to keep Ukraine from defending its independence and becoming a democratic European state. It will continue doing this in future.
Closed the Sea of Azov may promote further agression of Russia against the south-east part of Ukraine. Russia will enhance its control over the Crimea and will rush, for example, to occupy new territories up to Odessa. I guess this is what Russian Generals plan.
Russia has been practicing it for more than four years. There is nothing new here. The Russian aggression and provocation are the only innovation. The West must deliver an appropriate response. The world should realize that it's not mostly about safety and survival of Ukraine, but also Europe, the world and about preventionism.
It should be taken into account while delivering a response to these events.