International Law and Russian harassment of a British warship near Crimea

1) Dan Sabbagh (Defence and security editor), “Royal Navy ship off Crimea sparks diplomatic row between Russia and UK; MoD and Moscow disagree over whether shots were fired at destroyer near disputed territory,” The Guardian, June 23, 2021 (19.08 BST).

2) Valerie Hopkins, Ivan Nechepurenko, and Isabella Kwai, “British Warship Deliberately Sailed Close to Crimea U.K. Officials say: The action, meant to demonstrate support for Ukraine, incited an international incident after Russia scrambled warplanes and Coast Guard vessels,” New York Times, June 24, 2021 (updated 3:53 p.m. ET).

It is important to understand the international law context in considering the significance of a British warship transiting the territorial sea along the coast of the Crimea, and being harassed by Russian military forces.

Russia conquered the Crimea by military force in February and March 2014. Later in March, Russia purported to annex the territory of the Crimea it had conquered by the illegal use of force in contravention of Article 2 paragraph 4 of the United Nations Charter.

Article 2 (4) is a norm of jus cogens or peremptory international law, from which there can be no derogation by agreement, not even by a treaty.

Consequently, the territorial sea off the coast of the Crimea, which under international law remains part of Ukraine, belongs to Ukraine, and Russia has no legal authority to regulate passage through what are Ukrainian waters.

The British warship was undoubtedly asserting its rights under international law, including the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Russian actions, purportedly in defense of its sovereignty, were in fact a continuation of its illegal aggression against the Ukraine.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.