UNITED NATIONS • The US has warned Russia that "outlaw actions" such as the seizure of Ukrainian ships in the Sea of Azov are preventing normal relations from developing between Washington and Moscow.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told an emergency meeting of the Security Council on Monday that "the United States would welcome a normal relationship with Russia. But outlaw actions like this one continue to make that impossible".
Tensions have flared after the Russian navy on Sunday boarded and seized three Ukrainian ships off the coast of Crimea, accusing Ukraine of illegally entering Russian waters in the Sea of Azov.
The confrontation at sea raised fears of a wider military flare-up.
Ms Haley put the blame for the clash firmly on Russia, calling the seizure of the ships an "outrageous violation of sovereign Ukrainian territory" and slamming "yet another reckless Russian escalation".
But she did not specifically threaten further sanctions, and instead called for a de-escalation of tensions over Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014 in a move never recognised by the international community.
US President Donald Trump told reporters in Washington that he disapproved, but suggested that European governments would handle the crisis.
"We do not like what's happening," said Mr Trump.
"Hopefully it will get straightened out. I know Europe is not - they are not thrilled. They're working on it too. We're all working on it together," he added.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned "this aggressive Russian action" in a statement calling for Russia to return the Ukrainian vessels and release the detained seamen.
Reports that the Russian vessels rammed and fired on the Ukrainian ships, injuring Ukrainian crewmen, before seizing three vessels, represent "a dangerous escalation and a violation of international law", said Mr Pompeo.
Ms Haley said her remarks at the UN Security Council followed conversations with Mr Trump and Mr Pompeo, reflecting "concerns at the highest level of the American government".
The US warning comes ahead of a planned meeting between President Trump and his Russian counterpart, Mr Vladimir Putin, on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Argentina later this week.
Russia's envoy accused Ukraine of provoking the confrontation to justify the imposition of martial law and a delay of elections as polls show Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko faces possible defeat.
France and Germany, which lead European diplomatic efforts to end the conflict in Ukraine, urged Russia to hand over the seized ships and release the seamen.