The Daily Beast is most informative: Putin’s Navy Attacks Ukraine Gunboats and Hands Trump a New Crisis He’d Like to Ignore.
The transit of the Kerch Strait was announced in advance. (Wikipedia, Sea of Azov), “In September 2018, Ukraine announced the intention to add navy ships and further ground forces along the coast of the Sea of Azov, with the ships based at Berdyansk.”
- The gunboats were newly built in Ukraine. This implies long-term intent, not political theater.
- After seizure of the Ukraine, and prior to the new gunboats, the Ukrainian navy had few boats appropriate for “showing the flag” in the Sea of Azov.
- The Ukrainian mission was not routine, though similar events may have occurred since 9/24/2018. (Unverified source,To Inform is to Influence): Russians Harass Ukrainian Navy Units in Azov Sea and Black Sea (IMINT)
- The transit was an attempt by Ukraine to reestablish the norm formalized by the 2003 Russia-Ukraine treaty guaranteeing dual use of the Sea of Azov.
We have a bias against the Russian version because the Kerch Strait became a disputed area as a consequence of the illegal Russian seizure of the Crimea. The seizure of Ukraine vessels compounds previous aggression.
But for prediction of the consequences, we have to (temporarily) take the Russian point of view. They point out that Crimea was gifted by Russia to Ukraine in 1954. Had Russia not committed further aggression against Ukraine, this historical fact might have been the basis of a settlement.
The prediction is that this does not presage a Russian invasion. Neither is it a “political stunt” by Petro Poroshenko. It is a sad consequence of a changed reality based on Russian aggression:
- The Ukrainian desire to reinforce a right they, and the West in general, think they have, by a freedom-of-navigation transit similar in purpose to U.S. transits in the South China Sea.
- A possible mine sweeping (or mine laying) role (read down.)
- The Russian desire to reinforce their belief of the status of Crimea, which implies that the Kerch Strait is no longer an international body of water. Frustration with the stalled Minsk Protocol may also figure.
- Prior Russian aggression in Ukraine has been stealthy. It would be contrary to this pattern, with no apparent purpose, to telegraph an offensive.
Does the Ukrainian “mosquito boat” navy have an essential purpose, other than to show the flag? An assertion has been made: Ukrainian naval base in Azov Sea to counter mine threat. Quoting,
Ukraine’s naval base, which is to be set in the Sea of Azov by the end of the year in Berdyansk (Zaporizhia region), will counter mine threat, as the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Ukrainian Navy Andriy Ryzhenko told Hromadske.
“The main task of the base is to protect the ports of the Azov Sea and provide security of shipping, which means carrying out anti-mine measures. It’s a priority direction of the development of the naval forces,” he said.
This interesting assertion has not been corroborated. Alternatively, the Ukraine boats may have the purpose of laying mines. Ex-Navy commander suggests mining Azov Sea to prevent Russia’s attack.