Control of the Black Sea Straits: The Kerch Incident

Maritime Security and the Psychology Drama Triangle of Ukraine, Russia and NATO, Türkiye and the EU

doi: 10.32575/ppb.2023.3.7


This article addresses regional security in the EU’s South-Eastern neighbourhood. The current Russia–Ukraine relations represent a critical point within the historical power competition over the Black Sea straits between Russia–Türkiye and Russia–NATO. The Black Sea has three geopolitically significant straits. Two are controlled by Türkiye – the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus, connecting the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. One is currently controlled by Russia – the Kerch Strait, connecting the Black Sea and the Azov Sea. The unresolved regional security crises include the Kerch Strait incident from 2018, in which Russian vessels implemented military action against Ukrainian vessels.
This study is inductive. It addresses the Kerch Strait incident as a security crisis of two contrasting perspectives – first, that of maritime security and international law, and second, the psychological drama triangle – a model of interpersonal dependency, which I apply to international relations. These two approaches lead to a better understanding of ongoing processes. First, the maritime law perspective shows the inapplicability of international maritime law due to opposing vital security interests of the participants. Second, the psychological perspective suggests an alternative explanation of recurring crises in international relations. The findings suggest two solutions. First, based on international maritime law, the Kerch incident could be resolved only if Russia and Ukraine agree on the ownership of Crimea and its territorial waters. However, their differing perception of security threats is an obstacle to such resolution. Second, the drama triangle of human interaction examines interpersonal conflict in which the victim has to interrupt the cycle of victimisation. Applying this psychological model to IR suggests that Ukraine, if in the victim role, should aim self-empowerment to minimise dependencies on dominant international actors.


Black Sea Kerch Strait EU NATO Russia Türkiye Ukraine maritime security psychology drama triangle


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