Ukraine president proposes martial law after Russia’s ship seizure

Patrick Greenfield – The Guardian Nov 26, 2018

The Ukrainian president has proposed imposing martial law after Russian forces shot at and seized three Ukrainian navy vessels in the Black Sea, injuring six crew members according to Kiev, in a major escalation of tensions between the two countries.

The seizure sparked protests by dozens of people outside the Russian embassy in Kiev. Some placed paper boats outside the residence while others threw smoke grenades and set fire to tyres piled up outside.

Ukraine's President Poroshenko

Ukraine’s President Poroshenko

On Monday, Ukrainian MPs will vote on president Petro Poroshenko’s proposal following an emergency war cabinet on Sunday night. Poroshenko said such a move would not imply a declaration of war and was intended only for defensive purposes. The UN security council will also hold an emergency meeting on Monday about the incident following a request from Ukraine.

Sunday’s hostilities began when Russia prevented three Ukrainian navy vessels from passing beneath its bridge in the Kerch strait by blocking the way with a cargo ship. Two artillery ships and a tug boat were subsequently fired on and seized. According to the FSB, Russia’s principal security agency, three Ukrainian sailors were wounded, none of whom were in a life-threatening condition.

The Kerch strait connects the Sea of Azov with the Black Sea. Russia has constructed a $3.69bn (£2.7bn) bridge over the strait following its occupation of Crimea to link the Russian mainland and the peninsula. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, officially opened the bridge in May.

The FSB said its patrol boats had seized the three naval vessels, saying the boats had entered its territorial waters illegally. It was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying the Ukrainian ships “illegally entered a temporarily closed area of Russian territorial waters”. It said Ukraine’s ships were carrying out “provocative actions” and “their aim is clear – to create a conflict situation in this region”.

Ukraine said it had given Russia advance warning of the route its ships – which are obliged to pass through the strait to reach the Sea of Azov – would take.

Russian news agency RIA said the Kerch Strait had reopened to shipping on Monday morning.

In a televised war council meeting with the president, Ukrainian military commanders said 23 sailors had been taken captive by Russia and six had been wounded in fighting, two seriously.

After the president recommended the imposition of martial law, Pavlo Klimkin, the Ukrainian minister of foreign affairs, said it was “likely possible that Russia plans further acts of aggression at seas or on the ground” and said Ukraine must be “ready”.

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