Kremlin warns of possible conflict flare-up in eastern Ukraine after seizing ships

28 November, 2018, 06:36 | Author: Roderick Gutierrez
  • Several Ukrainian warships crossing Russia’s territorial waters and attempting to pass through the Kerch Strait

President Poroshenko's office described the Russian action against the Ukrainian navy ships as "an act of aggression aimed at deliberately escalating the situation in the waters of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait", and called for worldwide condemnation of Moscow and the imposition of new sanctions.

The flare-up is the first outright clash between Ukraine and Russian forces for years, although pro-Russian separatists and Russian "volunteers" have been fighting Ukraine's army in two eastern regions.

A newly built Russian bridge opened by Putin himself now spans the strait, which Moscow hopes will solidify its claim to adjoining Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula it forcibly annexed in 2014.

The UK condemned Russia's "destabilising behaviour in the region and its ongoing violation of Ukrainian territorial sovereignty".

A Reuters witness in Kerch, a port in Crimea, said the three Ukrainian vessels were being held there on Monday. "Ready at any moment for an immediate invasion of Ukraine".

When was asked about possibility of new sanctions against Russian Federation she answered, that any restrictive measures "must be adopted unanimously", and reminded reporters of the many sanctions already in place linked to Ukraine and Crimea.

The head of Ukraine's SBU security service, Vasyl Hrytsak, confirmed Russian reports that members of the service were on board the boats, but added that it was a "routine counter-intelligence mission" of a type that the Russian navy carried out regularly too.

"I don't think the move was militarily necessary", Clarkson told FP, adding that he thinks the move does, for Poroshenko, "act as a way of signaling the seriousness of the situation to the USA and European Union, as well as showing Ukrainian resolve to Russian Federation".

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday that Poroshenko assured him that martial law would be limited in scope. Russian politicians have accused Poroshenko of deliberately instigating the standoff to boost his flagging popularity ahead of elections in March.

"We see that Russian ships are stationed throughout the entire water area in the Sea of Azov, but particular concentration is seen in the Kerch Strait area".

At the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley called the Russian action a "violation of sovereign Ukrainian territory".

Russia on Sunday seized three Ukrainian naval ships off Russian-held Crimea in the Sea of Azov. It is an important economic lifeline for Ukraine, as it allows its ships to access the Black Sea.

President Vladimir Putin told German Chancellor Angela Merkel by phone on Monday that Moscow was ready to provide more details to bolster Russia's version of events.

US President Donald Trump later weighed in on the incident.

Klimkin told reporters in Kiev that the government is in talks with the Red Cross to make sure the captive seamen are treated as prisoners of war.

"These were targeted actions, with engagement of necessary aviation, electronic warfare, assault forces, special forces", the president commented on a recent incident when Ukrainian boats were attacked and captured by Russian forces near the Kerch Strait in the Black Sea.

With tensions spilling over, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas suggested on Tuesday that Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine could work together to resolve the tensions between Moscow and Kiev.

Just before parliament met to vote, he sought to allay those fears by releasing a statement revising his original martial law proposal from 60 days to 30, to "do away with the pretexts for political speculation".

"We do not like what's happening either way", Trump said, "and hopefully it will get straightened out".

United Nations chief Antonio Guterres on Tuesday called for "maximum restraint", urging both sides "to take steps without delay to contain this incident and reduce tensions".



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