(Bloomberg) -- Ukraine said Russia had partially restored access to its ports on the Azov Sea following months of disruption and a week after its navy was fired on by its neighbor.
As of Monday, ships were allowed to move in both directions through the Kerch Strait separating the Azov and Black Seas, according to Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Volodymyr Omelyan. Russia is still stopping vessels to inspect them, he said Tuesday in a statement on the ministry’s website.
Tensions in the area had been building since Russia completed construction of a bridge connecting its mainland to the peninsula of Crimea, which President Vladimir Putin annexed from Ukraine in 2014. Ukraine says Russia has purposely held up its ships to choke its Azov Sea ports of Mariupol and Berdyansk, from which metals and agricultural goods are exported.
The situation came to a head late last month when Russia fired at, damaged and subsequently seized three Ukrainian navy vessels, along with 24 crew members who now face charges of illegal border crossing. Ukraine has declared martial law in some regions and banned entry to Russian men aged 16 to 60.
Ukraine’s Western allies have condemned Russia’s actions, though there’s no sign yet of additional sanctions. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday that there were “no restrictions” on vessels traveling through the Kerch Strait.
The passage at the start of this month of a small number of ships doesn’t resolve the issue, Ukraine’s Sea Ports Administration said Tuesday. Azov Sea ports have seen their cargo turnover drop by about half in recent years because of additional lengthy inspections and restrictions stemming from the new bridge, it said.
Ukraine protested the seizure of its boats and arrest of its sailors at the International Maritime Organization. It highlighted what it called discriminatory inspections of ships bound for Ukrainian ports, saying the checks violate maritime law and the countries’ bilateral treaties.
The Azov Sea is world’s most shallow sea. Small ships carry between 5,000 and 6,000 tons of grain from Mariupol and Berdyansk to Turkey and the European Union. Metal products from steel makers Azovstal and Mariupolsky Metallurgical Plant, both parts of Metinvest BV, also use those ports.
(Updates with complaint at International Maritime Organization in seventh paragraph.)
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