Putin warns against 'reckless acts' as Kiev declares martial law

A detained Ukrainian navy sailor (at right) being escorted by a Russian security service officer before a court hearing in Simferopol, Crimea, yesterday. Moscow detained 24 sailors and seized three Ukrainian ships on Sunday, saying they illegally cro
A detained Ukrainian navy sailor (at right) being escorted by a Russian security service officer before a court hearing in Simferopol, Crimea, yesterday. Moscow detained 24 sailors and seized three Ukrainian ships on Sunday, saying they illegally crossed into Russian waters.PHOTO: REUTERS

Russia says Ukraine's move may further raise tensions, claims Kiev planned Sunday's clash

MOSCOW • Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned Ukraine against any "reckless acts" after Kiev declared martial law in response to Moscow's seizure of three of its navy vessels.

The Ukrainian Parliament late on Monday voted in favour of President Petro Poroshenko's request for the introduction of martial law in border areas for 30 days.

The move came after Russian forces fired on, boarded and captured three of Kiev's ships on Sunday off the coast of Crimea, sparking the most dangerous crisis between the ex-Soviet neighbours in years.

The incident was the first major confrontation at sea in the long-running conflict pitting Ukraine against Moscow and Russia-backed separatists in the country's east.

It has raised fears of a wider escalation in a conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people since 2014 and prompted international calls for restraint.

Martial law gives the Ukrainian authorities the power to mobilise citizens with military experience, regulate the media and restrict public rallies in affected areas.

In a phone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Mr Putin expressed "serious concern" over the introduction of martial law, the Kremlin said in a statement yesterday.

Ukraine has accused Russian border patrol vessels of ramming the tugboat, which was accompanied by two small warships, and of firing on the Ukrainian vessels.

He said he hoped Berlin could intervene with Ukrainian authorities "to dissuade them from further reckless acts".

Moscow has accused Kiev of planning Sunday's confrontation as a provocation aimed at drumming up support for Mr Poroshenko ahead of elections next year and convincing Western governments to impose further sanctions on Russia.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters yesterday that Kiev's martial law threatened to cause an "escalation of tensions in the conflict region" in the east of the country.

Moscow has so far resisted calls to release the three ships or the 24 sailors it has detained.

Ms Emine Avamilyeva, a lawyer for one of the sailors, told the Agence France-Presse that 21 of them were expected to appear later yesterday before a court in Simferopol, the main city in Russia-annexed Crimea. Three others were wounded in the weekend clash and were being treated in a Crimean hospital, the lawyer said.

Moscow accuses them of crossing illegally into Russian waters and of ignoring warnings from its border guards, with officials suggesting they could face criminal prosecution.

Sunday's incident has been playing out on Russian and Ukrainian television screens, with dramatic footage of Russian ships chasing down a Ukrainian tugboat that was trying to pass through the Kerch Strait from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov.

Russian state television late on Monday aired footage of some of the captured sailors being questioned by Moscow's security services.

One of the sailors is heard saying "the actions of the Ukrainian armed vessels in the Kerch Strait had a provocatory character" - parroting the version of events put forward by Russian authorities.

Ukraine's naval commander Igor Voronchenko said the sailors were pressured into giving false evidence.

"I know these sailors. They were always professional. What they are saying now is not true," he told the Interfax Ukraine news agency. "They (the Russians) could even say that we came from the sky on a spaceship."

Ukraine has accused Russian border patrol vessels of ramming the tugboat, which was accompanied by two small warships, and of firing on the Ukrainian vessels.

Western governments have rallied behind Kiev in the dispute, accusing Russia of illegally blocking access to the Sea of Azov and of taking military action without justification.

Austria, which holds the rotating European Union presidency, said yesterday the bloc will next month consider further sanctions against Russia over the latest flare-up.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2018, with the headline 'Putin warns against 'reckless acts' as Kiev declares martial law'. Print Edition | Subscribe