Estonia, Poland deny entry to Russian ship over Crimea cadets

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a concert for the fifth anniversary of Russia's Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a concert for the fifth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Simferopol, March 18, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Yuri KADOBNOV)

TALLINN: EU states Estonia and Poland said Friday (Apr 12) they had blocked a Russian training ship from entering their waters because some on board are cadets from Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014.

Estonia’s foreign ministry had denied the STS Sedov sailing vessel permission on Wednesday after learning that it was carrying students from a maritime university based in Crimea.

Poland’s foreign ministry said Friday Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki had decided to follow suit for the same reason.

“The prime minister’s decision is to refuse” entry to the vessel to the port of Gdynia, foreign ministry spokeswoman Ewa Suwara said.

Earlier, Estonian foreign ministry spokeswoman Sandra Kamilova told AFP: “Estonia does not recognise the illegal annexation of Crimea and, in our estimation, issuing a permission to the training ship would have contradicted the Crimea annexation non-recognition policy.”

The EU considers Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea to be illegal and demands that it be reversed.

After Estonia’s statement, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova took to Twitter to describe the move as an “unfriendly and provocative step”.

Russian media then said the ship was headed towards Gdynia.

The diplomatic spat comes just days before a planned Moscow visit by Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid to open the renovated Estonian embassy there and to meet counterpart Vladimir Putin.

Relations between Moscow and Tallinn have been fraught since Estonia broke free from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991, joining both the EU and NATO in 2004.

More recently Estonia and fellow Baltic states Latvia and Lithuania have been spooked by their Soviet-era master’s annexation of Crimea and its more aggressive stance in what Moscow considers to be its own backyard.