Russian drilling rigs have been sighted at upstream sites in the Ukrainian sector of the Black Sea in what Kyiv has condemned as sustained illegal activity offshore Ukraine.
"While air-monitoring the water surface, Ukrainian border guard officers spotted jack-up rigs, stationary platforms and support vessels under Russia's national flag in the Odessa and Holitsyno gas fields,” Ukraine’s State Border Service said in a statement on July 25.
The fields lie in Ukraine’s Exclusive Economic Zone, which extends 370 km offshore and is guaranteed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
“The presence of support ships under Russia's flag within oil or gas fields may prove that Russia continues to illegally explore natural resources as well as operate facilities and buildings for commercial purposes without the permission of Ukraine's competent authorities,” the Ukrainian Border Service added.
According to local media reports, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry is currently preparing an official note to be sent to the relevant Russian authorities.
In mid-July, Ukrainian officials claimed that the jack-up rig Sivash was towed to the Holitsyno field from Chornomorskoye in Crimea by Russian vessels under armed guard. In December 2015, the rigs Petro Hodovanets and Ukraina were also escorted by Russian security services from the Odessa field and replaced by the modern unit Tavrida. Ukraine branded the removal of rigs and Russian operations in its waters as theft.
Russia responded last year, saying that the drilling rigs had been moved owing to an elevated “terrorist threat” and that the area in which the rigs were stationed had “undetermined legal status.” Ukraine is suing Russia in a Stockholm arbitration court over the seizure of Crimean infrastructure and the Odessa field, which accounts for 57% of total gas production onshore and offshore Crimea.
The rigs previously belonged to Chornomornaftogaz, which was a division of Ukrainian state energy group Naftogaz and exclusively responsible for the country’s exploration activity in the Black and Azov Seas. Some of the company’s assets were seized by Russian forces during Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in March 2014, effectively ending Ukrainian exploration efforts offshore.
The Black Sea was highly prized by Kyiv as a new frontier to boost domestic production and reduce the country’s dependence on Russian gas. Moscow’s takeover of Crimea was widely condemned by the international community as illegal and Kyiv has refused to recognise that the territory is under Russian jurisdiction.