Ukraine’s Infrastructure Minister Volodymyr Omelyan did not mince his words when he said Russia is trying to “destabilise the situation” Azov region of Ukraine. He accused Russia of using the Crimean Bridge and its naval force in the Sea of Azov to discourage shipowners from entering Ukrainian ports Mariupol and Berdiansk.

“But I am sure that our joint efforts with the partners in the region, who are members of the coalition against Russia, will prevent [Russia] from going through with,” Omelyan said on 112 TV channel.

“Bryansk and Mariupol experience certain problems, but the overall situation in the region is stable, the ports are functioning,” he added. “At the same time, we are working with our partners to introduce sanctions against Russian Black Sea port.”

As reported by Hellenic Shipping News online, he also said various scenarios of counteracting Russia are being hammered out, including restriction of calls of vessels with European registration at Russian ports.

According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), the Sea of Azov, a rich fishing ground in Soviet times that has been of great strategic importance to independent Ukraine, has emerged after months of growing friction as the latest flash point in the four-year conflict between Moscow and Kyiv.

As for the illegal Crimean Bridge project (worth $3.7bn) that Russia launched to link that occupied Ukrainian peninsula with southern Russia across the Kerch Strait – the gate to the Azov, it has led to stern condemnation and sanctions from Kyiv and Western governments.

The European Union in late July added six more Russian companies involved in the bridge project to its sanctions list.

In March, with the bridge nearing completion, Ukrainian authorities detained a Ukrainian-registered Crimean fishing vessel for illegally sailing under the Russian flag and arrested its captain and crew in the Sea of Azov, reported RFE/RL.

Since then, Russia has stepped up confrontation in and around the Azov.

“We have Russian vessels floating nearby, ready to attack from the sea. And each provocation may turn this situation into a war,” Galina Odnorog, a co-founder of the Mariupol Social Movement, a local non-governmental organization focused on issues related to the Sea of Azov, told RFE/RL. “We are in a tinderbox.”