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Seizure of Ukrainian Navy ships sparks alarm

By REN QI | China Daily | Updated: 2018-11-27 09:02

The Nikopol gunboat (left) and the Yany Kapu tugboat of the Ukrainian Navy tugged to the Kerch Seaport on Nov 26, 2018. [Photo/IC]

Kiev mulls martial law as EU, NATO call for restraint from both parties

Russia seized three Ukrainian naval ships in waters near Crimea, raising fears of military escalation and prompting an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Monday.

Moscow and Kiev blamed each other for the incident. Crimea was incorporated into Russia in March 2014 following a local referendum. Ukraine said the peninsula was annexed.

The Public Relations Center of the Russian Federal Security service confirmed the incident, saying Russia used weapons against the Ukrainian ships which it claims had illegally entered its waters before being boarded and searched.

"The Ukrainian Navy's vessels the Berdyansk, the Nikopol and the Yany Kapu, which violated Russia's state border this morning, made another attempt to commit illegal activities in Russia's territorial sea at 7 pm Moscow time on Nov 25," the FSB said.

"They did not respond to legitimate demands by the ships and boats of Russia's FSB Border Guard Service escorting them to stop immediately and performed dangerous maneuvers."

The FSB said "weapons were used to force the Ukrainian warships to stop".

As a result, all three Ukrainian vessels were detained in Russia's territorial waters in the Black Sea.

The FSB said Ukraine was aware of the procedure for the warships' passage through the area, adding that the three ships will be escorted to the port of Kerch.

Moscow will summon a senior Ukrainian diplomat to complain about the incident, Russia's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Monday.

Ukraine said a Russian border guard vessel rammed the tugboat in "openly aggressive actions" and then fired on the ships, immobilizing all three, AFP reported.

The Ukrainian Navy said it had informed Russia in advance about the passage of its vessels from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov through the Kerch Strait.

It said the Kerch Strait, which is claimed by Ukraine as a narrow waterway that gives access to the Sea of Azov that is used by both Ukraine and Russia, was blocked by a tanker and that Russian military aircraft were flying over the area.

The Ukrainian Navy said the boats had been hit and disabled as they tried to leave the area. It said six crew members had been injured.

However, the number was disputed by Russia.

Anton Lozovoy, an officer of the FSB State Border Directorate for Crimea, said only three Ukrainian military servicemen who sustained minor wounds have received medical care.

The incident raised several protests against Russia in Kiev, and a car with Russian diplomatic plates was burned in the vicinity of the Russian embassy in the Ukrainian capital late on Sunday, the Ukrainskaya Pravda reported.

'Dangerous' incident

The confrontation at sea is a dangerous development in the long-running Russian-Ukraine relations, diplomats said.

The UN Security Council was scheduled to meet on the latest developments at the request of Russia and Ukraine later on Monday, diplomats said.

The European Union said in a statement that it expected Russia to restore freedom of passage via the Kerch Strait and urged both sides to act with the utmost restraint to defuse the situation.

NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said "we call for restraint and de-escalation".

Russia reopened the Kerch Strait to shipping in the early hours of Monday morning.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko proposed parliament on Monday impose martial law in the country, while saying "Ukraine does not plan to fight anyone" over tensions with Russia in the Sea of Azov.

At an emergency meeting, Poroshenko said the introduction of the 60-day martial law does not mean that Ukraine will carry out any offensive actions.

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry earlier said the "Russian aggressive actions" were a violation of international law. Moscow said Crimea is part of Russia and the Kerch Strait is not an international passage.

Russian politicians accused Ukraine of acting at the behest of its Western allies and deliberately attempting to escalate the conflict.

Pyotr Tolstoy, deputy speaker of the Russian parliament, warned on Facebook that "the Ukrainian authorities... are risking unleashing a large military conflict".

AFP, Xinhua, Reuters and AP contributed to this story.

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